THE WOMEN LEADERS DRIVING LYFT’S IMPRESSIVE GROWTH

FOURTEEN OF LYFT’S TOP 30 EXECUTIVES ARE FEMALE, INCLUDING TWO BIG NEW HIRES. HERE’S WHY THAT MATTERS TO THE FAST-GROWING COMPANY’S FUTURE.

While new Lyft CMO Kira Wampler was an intern at Intuit during business school, two female executives at the company came back from maternity leaves to huge promotions, running large parts of the business. Wampler had an offer to work at Intuit after graduation, but explored opportunities at other companies that were recruiting her. “I would ask them, can you give me an example of someone in your organization who is roughly this age, who has roughly this number of kids, who just had a promotion?” she says. “Very few could do that.” Knowing that she wanted to grow both her career and her family, she returned to Intuit, where she worked for six years as an early leader in word-of-mouth marketing.

Kira Wampler

“If you see leaders in your organization who are able to succeed as whole people, that gives you the confidence that you can do that, too,” she says. “We want to keep as many of these great leaders in the workforce and in our companies, bringing rich experiences to make our products and our services better.”

Wampler joined Lyft in December from her most recent post at Trulia as part of the ridesharing company’s expanding executive team after a year of reported five-fold growth in rides and revenue. This month, Lyft’s top-level hires also include VP, Product Tali Rapaport, the former director of product development at Groupon. The arrival of Wampler and Rapaport means that 14 of Lyft’s 30 executives at the director level and above—or 47%—are women, and these include leaders in engineering and operations.

Tali Rapaport

In a Silicon Valley culture that has a serious gender diversity problem, and a corporate America where the top 100 companies’ executive committees were recently found to be 83% men, Lyft’s executive gender balance is significant. Beyond important issues of equal opportunity, there is a wide range of well-documented reasons that having more women leaders is better for business. For Lyft in particular, where 60% of riders and 30% of drivers are female, gender diversity in decision making is critical to the company’s experience-based growth strategy.

One of the areas where I see a lot of changes is that the technology businesses that are growing today often have women as prominent users,” says Rapaport. “I got to know Lyft as a user before knowing it as someone who’s working on making it better. It’s easier to be a great leader in a product space when you can anticipate the needs of your users.”

Both Wampler’s and Rapaport’s first priorities at Lyft are closely related to driver and rider experience, which Wampler calls “a more human environment” than other transportation options. The company has worked hard to build a casually quirky, inclusive image that positions riders and drivers as peers (the biggest icon of this vibe, Lyft’s big pink mustache, has just been downsized—it’s a way-too-easy metaphor for the increased influence of women on Lyft’s culture, but we’ll put it out there anyway).

As Lyft’s first CMO, Wampler’s job is of course to communicate the company’s mission, and that mission is explicitly gender-inclusive.

Our vision is for every ride to be a Lyft ride, where we fill every seat in every car,” says Wampler. “We’ve achieved that vision when the mom in the minivan is Lyft enabled, because technology has removed any friction for her to pass by my house when I need to get to the BART station and that’s on the way to where she’s going. But it’s also the sense of humanity that [Lyft co-founders] John [Zimmer] and Logan [Green] came up with—sitting in the front seat, the fist bump, these rituals. For every ride to be a Lyft ride, we have to fill every seat, and you can’t do that if you’re only sitting in the back. And by the way, she’s not going to pick you up if you only want to do that, she’s already chauffeuring other people.”

In her work on Lyft’s product, Rapaport identifies three transportation pain points that will be a priority: streamlining users’ commutes, keeping rides affordable enough that the service can be used regularly, and coordinating rides for third parties. And just as Wampler’s minivan mom represents the ideal Lyft driver, Rapaport connects the third use case closely with the needs of families. “Whether a mom can call a Lyft for a kid, or someone can call a Lyft for a parent to take them to the doctor, it can really be a flexible, affordable way to get around that I think solves some very acute pain.”

Aside from questions of how to provide optimal service for a diverse user base, Lyft and its main rival Uber are under ongoing fire for the potential safety risks of the ridesharing model for both passengers and drivers. The safety of women riding or driving alone is a particularly important issue—and another big reason, says Lyft’s VP, People Ron Storn, that “it is important that we have strong, smart women making decisions for this company’s direction.” He also notes that having talented female leaders “helps recruit at all levels across all functions” and “has helped differentiate from the competition.”

MEET THE REST OF LYFT’S FEMALE LEADERSHIP TEAM AND READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON FAST COMPANY HERE.

WILAB LOVES is a series of articles and blog posts from across the web that Women’s iLab supports. This article was written by  and published on Fast Company on January 22,2015.