Elizabeth Holmes, the real-life “girl genius” is currently facing up to 20 years in prison for fraud. The infamous Theranos founder rose to fame after claiming to have created a device that could diagnose diseases and administer treatment from a single drop of blood. She stole nearly 1 billion dollars from investors and put hundreds of thousands of people at risk before it was discovered that her device was completely ineffective. Despite her unforgivable wrongdoings, at the height of her fame she was taking the worlds of both technology and medicine by storm. She created and operated the most rapidly successful (by monetary measurements) startup in Silicon Valley, and she was a woman. In the famously male-dominated industry of Silicon Valley, she rose above and beyond them all and did not discard her femininity in the process. Although it goes without saying that we should not follow in her footsteps, the level of success she was able to attain in such a short period of time was admirable and appears to expose some of the nuances of male-dominated workplaces.
Before she was the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire, Holmes was putting her famous drive and ruthlessness to work at her startup: Theranos. John Carreyrou’s expose, Bad Blood, noted that she was, as a woman, used to being underestimated in the male-dominated medical, business, and technological fields. Holmes was able to use her passion for her work and reportedly intense charisma to persuade the CEOs of Walgreens and Safeway to partner with Theranos to roll out their new blood-testing products. She was so convincing that when her fall from grace began, both men risked their reputations and financial security and their nationally-known companies to continue to support the sale and use of Theranos products. She used this same charm to attract a plethora of the nation’s most powerful men to Theranos’ board of directors. At its height, her executive team was composed of two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense, a retired Marine four-star general, the former CEO of Wells Fargo, and the former director of the CDC. In addition, Holmes was able to attain 99 percent voting rights on the board. Men that I can almost guarantee were used to being in charge and getting their way were reduced to mere figureheads in Theranos and a means to anything Holmes needed done during their membership.
According to Rolling Stone, “being a ladyboss means never having to say you’re sorry,” which honestly sounds like a nice change of pace. Women employed in male-dominated workplaces are statistically more likely to be critiqued on the work they produce, which leads to a reputation of over-apologizing and mitigated language for females in professional situations. Holmes preferred to argue her case when she was accused of something. When she was accused of being dramatic or blowing things out of proportion, as many women are, she would quite factually point out that if a man was making the same argument or behaving the way she was, he wouldn’t get called out on it. Holmes was the ladyboss of Silicon Valley, and her lack of apologies, along with the tight grip she held on the tech-med industry, catalyzed her meteoric rise and equally dramatic fall from billionaire to jailbird. Women surrounded by men in a professional context are often treated as if they are less than competent, according to a study done by Pew Research Center. Holmes held a prominent position in the male-dominated Silicon Valley culture, and refused to allow herself to be seen as less than due to her gender. Despite her clear lack of moral competence, Holmes identified and took advantage of her strengths as a woman and an entrepreneur in order to achieve success while simultaneously proving to anyone who tried to bring her down that toppling her was no easy task. There is something to be said for a woman who recognizes that although she doesn’t alone have the power to change the misogynistic game of the professional world, she does have the power to play it.
John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood