Tech's sexual harassment problems persuaded Linda Crawford to come out of retirement as a CEO

Key Points
  • Linda Crawford spent nine years at Salesforce.
  • As CEO of Helpshift, she'll be working with gaming companies as some of her biggest clients.
  • Crawford says she wanted to become a CEO to be a role model for women in tech.
Linda Crawford named CEO of Helpshift.
Source: Helpshift.

Former Salesforce executive Linda Crawford thought her 20-plus-year career in Silicon Valley was over.

But with reports about gender bias plaguing the industry, Crawford decided she wasn't doing enough to advance the representation of women in tech.

Crawford announced Thursday she's coming out of retirement to become CEO of Helpshift, a technology company that helps companies manage customer support better. Her return is especially notable in that many of Helpshift's most successful clients are in gaming, an industry that's notoriously difficult for women. In 2014, the "Gamergate" controversy involved cyberattacks against female game developers.

Crawford herself is no stranger to sexual harassment in the technology industry, having been groped by a customer in front of a colleague who said nothing. She spent nine years at Salesforce and was most recently an executive at Optimizely, before leaving in February.

Gender bias remains a troubling issue in tech, whether at companies like Uber and Google or at prominent venture capital firms. As she was considering whether to come out of retirement, Crawford talked to more than 80 people in the industry, and she said only seven were women.

She realized that change needed to come from the top.

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"Aside from Helpshift being this tremendous technology platform, when I decided to get back into the workforce, I pretty quickly decided that I needed to be the CEO," Crawford said. "The people who are recruiting, investing, are in large part men. We need to have more women."

Crawford said she's already in the process of persuading two female friends to come out of retirement, specifically to become CEOs.

"Get off the bench, don't stop as a C-level exec," she said. "Go for CEO."

Crawford said she was disappointed that Uber picked a man to lead the way after the tenuous tenure of Travis Kalanick came to an end and the company's harassment problems became national news.

Even though she's been out of an operational role, Crawford said she's been mentoring women on how to "take control of their destiny" and advising men to help them see how the technology industry can improve.

"When you have women in your company and on your board, it begets diversity," she said.

Women tend to wait "for someone to recognize our good work," she said. "You need to put yourself out there. Every one-on-one with your manager, tell them something good that you did."