Reddit COO Jen Wong is no stranger to achievement.
Since 2018, she’s leading business growth at news aggregation/discussion website Reddit, primarily by dramatically expanding its advertising business. Before that, she was global head of business operations at AOL, chief business officer at PopSugar Inc. and chief operating officer at Time Inc., where she oversaw the company’s digital properties, including People, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.
She’s frequently been lauded for her accomplishments: In 2022 alone, she was named #1 on Fast Company’s Queer 50 list and nabbed a spot on Gold House’s A100 list, which honours the most influential Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders every year.
For a long time though, Wong’s biggest goal wasn’t to stand out, but to fit in.
Here, Wong chats with the Globe Women’s Collective about what drew her to Reddit, how her background impacts her leadership style and her own personal evolution as a leader:
Did you always know you wanted to work in tech?
Not at all. I majored in quantitative finance and I needed a proper job out of college that would cover my loans, so I got a job in that field. It was fine, but it was not really for me. At some point, I had to dramatically hit the reset button.
I was getting my MBA and I knew I wanted to move toward consumer product, because that’s what I always cared about – culture and zeitgeist and being in more of a creative environment. But it took me a while to come over; I did some consulting before I could start working in digital media and consumer businesses.
I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be now, but it was a journey for sure.
What drew you to Reddit?
[When this job came up], my oldest son had just been born and I was planning to stay home and spend time with him. Plus, I live in New York, not San Francisco. But I met Steve [Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Reddit] in San Francisco and got really excited about the opportunity.
I think our mission – [bringing] community, belonging and empowerment everywhere in the world – is energizing. It’s also rare to have such a large platform that has no business model. It was an open canvas to build a business.
Reddit hasn’t always had a great reputation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Was the company’s past a deterrent for you?
No. Prior to Steve’s return in 2015 [he left the company in 2009], we had a reputation for being a wild place. [But] that was a moment that’s really behind us. We’ve done a good job since Steve’s return of crystallizing and evolving our policies, and investing in content moderation and governance tools that enable our community, and us, to moderate everything that happens in terms of the content.
We also have one of the most diverse leadership teams – our executive team is gender balanced, and it’s a very ethnically diverse team. There’s more to be done, but I do think the best part about Reddit is that [our] diversity comes through in how we operate the company and how we reflect the values of the platform.
Can you tell me about how your values and principles show up in your operations now?
Reddit is a very decentralized platform in the sense that it’s actually about 100,000 communities, and they each get to write specific rules that sit on top of our global rules. Moderation is done within the subreddit, with context, in that community. So, as a result, our company treats each community as an animate, living, equal partner. We’re very open and transparent. When we’re making changes, we get feedback.
We’re in a time of intense misinformation, and Reddit is all about exchange of information. So, how do you balance the company’s values and the things that your community wants with your responsibility to ensure the site doesn’t become a hotbed of misinformation?
Number one, we have a federated set of rules that we enforce. But the fact that all our communities have rules that are written and enforced by their moderators allows us to scale moderation within the context of communities at a level that is unique and distinctive.
The second thing is, Reddit isn’t like follower-driven platforms, where there’s more of a tendency to be performative or curate a point of view for the purpose of garnering more audience. On Reddit, it just doesn’t work that way. You have to post into a community and everybody gets to vote up or down based on the idea. Nobody cares who you are, they only care about your idea – and it’s very hard to fool experts in a community on a topic.
How do your own professional and life experiences impact your approach to leadership?
My parents were immigrants, I’m obviously Asian, I have a wife and two kids – and I think, in the early part of my career, all I wanted to do was fit in and not be different. Over time, though, I realized that other people take risks and suffer no consequences, or no real consequences, for talking and having orthogonal points of view, and I gained more confidence to try to express myself more.
It has been a journey to evolve from being pretty quiet to being really comfortable taking risks and being more willing to offer different perspectives.
I’m very open. I lead with all aspects of who I am. And I think that has become one of my strengths; I’ve observed that my openness makes it more welcoming for people on my teams to bring their full selves and share more personal aspects of themselves. But it has been a journey. I mean, we’re talking about an evolution over a decade; it was not a matter of two years.
You’ve also helped spearhead real changes for Reddit employees. Do you think that’s linked to the ways you’ve personally evolved?
It’s all part of the same journey, in my mind.
For example, I am the executive sponsor for the Trans@Reddit employee resource group, and I really wanted to do that because, despite being part of the LGBTQI community, I didn’t have as much cultural fluency with the trans community as I wanted to. So, being the exec sponsor allowed me to build my cultural fluency. One of the outcomes of that was saying, ‘Okay, let’s have a discussion about health benefits. Let’s have a discussion about what it’s like to transition at work, and all these administrative challenges that we want to work through.’
Not everybody’s going to have cultural fluency with every single community out of the gate. But as part of the journey, you can always continue learning. And that helps the community and helps you, I think, be a better leader and effectuate change, in areas that may not have been visible to you before.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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