If you’re Sue Gardner, you’re forever thinking about fundraising drives, bringing more women onto your team and cooking up new ways to expand one of the most-visited and well-known websites in the world.
The Wikimedia Foundation executive director was the only Canadian named this week to Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World list, joining the likes of Hillary Clinton, Lady Gaga and Queen Elizabeth.
Gardner came in at No. 70, just below World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin, and above Malawi President Joyce Banda.
The foundation grew from “eight people working in a strip mall in St. Petersburg, Florida” to over 120 employees based in San Francisco, working alongside thousands of contributors and editors all over the world.
“Everyone who works at the Wikimedia Foundation is proud that Sue’s leadership and dedication to the Wikimedia movement over the past five years has been recognized so publicly,” said a statement released Thursday by the Wikimedia Foundation.
Just recently, the foundation inked a deal with two telecommunications companies to ensure that citizens living in some of the world’s poorer countries can check out the website without paying data charges.
Not bad for a graduate of Ryerson University’s journalism program, who started out in print media in the pre-Internet age, writing primarily concert revues — “probably stuff about Megadeth” — for The Ryersonian and The Eyeopener, two of the school’s student newspapers.
Her connections at Ryerson led her to an internship at CBC Radio’s As It Happens in the early ’90s. From there, she hopped from one position to another, until she found herself in charge of the CBC’s website.
Richard Stursberg, who was the CBC’s executive vice-president of English services during Gardner’s final years at the corporation, remembered her as “very clever, very intense, and very hardworking.”
“I’m thrilled that she’s been named to the list. There’s no question that what she’s doing at Wikimedia has made it one of the most influential web projects in the world.”
In total, Gardner spent 17 years at the CBC. But with revenue continuing to decline, bringing a gloomy mood to the newsroom and hindering the innovation of its reporters, she said it was time to get out and try something new.
“I’m old school. I wanted the government to give the CBC more revenue. . . . Good journalism needs money,” she said. “That was part of the reason for me leaving Canada and the corporation. I wanted to be a part of something that was growing.”
“I wouldn’t particularly say I got a good, warm reception,” she laughed, saying she learned the art of discussing ideas with colleagues before implementing them. “They learned to trust me because I was trustworthy, and I was trustworthy because I completed the things I said I was going to do.”
“I would go to meetings and have only men there. It took months before I met women who were doing anything other than bringing in glasses of water at those meetings,” she said. “It was tough at first for me to take this in because there were so many women working at the CBC. I had gotten used to that.”
Despite the most talked-about female additions of late to Silicon Valley, Sheryl Sandberg as COO of Facebook and Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo (both of whom can be found on the Forbes list), she said the gender gap is still far too obvious.
“I think honestly, a rational woman would not necessarily want to go into the technology field, if the deck is stacked against them,” she said. “But I’m glad there are still women who go in despite this.”
She said that as long as that infamous deck continues to remain stacked, be it in technology, politics or any other field, perhaps it is necessary for Forbes to continue maintaining a separate list for the most powerful women.
“It’s just a stage in the evolution of the culture, so I would say that the fact that we have a separate list for the most powerful women suggests that this list is relevant, that we’re not yet ready to have a list of the most powerful people that includes a lot of women,” she said. “We just haven’t made it there yet.”
FORBES’ TOP FIVE MOST POWERFUL WOMEN IN THE WORLD, 2012:
2) United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
3) Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
4) Philanthropist Melinda Gates
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