[Read on Parade]

Julian Guthrie is an award-winning journalist and author who finds and tells some of the most remarkable stories of our day. Her book, Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime (Currency), shines a light on four women who have made waves in the tech industry yet received little to no recognition for their work. Here, Guthrie shares an essay about why most of us don’t—but should—know these women’s names.

Silicon Valley, the world’s high-tech hub south of San Francisco, has long been a welcome arena for ambitious men, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Elon Musk (Tesla). We can see signs of that male dominance in the area’s hoodie-wearing tinkerers and its “brogrammer” culture. But there is another, lesser known Silicon Valley story: the extraordinary women who have worked largely behind the scenes to finance and build some of the most important companies of our day. This is the story I tell in my new book, Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime.

Meet the Alpha Girls

These women, the hidden figures of tech, invested in and built companies that automated how businesses interact with customers. They helped make the Internet safer and faster. They were among the earliest e-commerce engineers and evangelists, and ushered in major social media companies. They are engineers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. They are Magdalena YesilMJ ElmoreSonja Perkins and Theresia Gouw, to name a few of the female stars of Silicon Valley.

So why are these women not household names, even though they have played such important roles in creating companies that changed our lives? The reasons for their relative anonymity speak to everything from cultural norms and unconscious bias to stereotypes. Women sit on far fewer corporate boards than men. Women are asked to speak at fewer high-profile conferences and industry events. Women are often overlooked or passed over by journalists and storytellers in favor of stories driven by men. In this way, the women of Silicon Valley are like so many women who have been written out of history.

In this way, the women of Silicon Valley are like so many women who have been written out of history.

Yet the reasons for this Silicon Valley history gap go beyond the normal biases: Even the women themselves played a role. They were careful to keep low profiles as they rose through the ranks in an industry that wasn’t always hospitable to women. They wore the uniform of the day and played down their looks. They were team players, joining in intramural football games and participating in downhill ski races (even if they could barely ski). They did what women too often do: Say “we” when referring to work they did alone. As they developed specialties and began to tally successes, they were careful not to overshadow their male peers.

Climbing the Ladder—But Not Too Quickly

Consider one of the alpha girls, Theresia Gouw, the overachieving daughter of Chinese immigrants who grew up in a blue-collar town where her first job was flipping burgers at Burger King. She went on to graduate top of her class from Brown University with an engineering degree, before earning her MBA from Stanford. She joined a startup in Silicon Valley and couch surfed her way through the heady days of the dot com boom. She landed a job as a venture capitalist at Accel Partners in Palo Alto, where she was the only woman investor.

Theresia faced challenges unique to being a woman. When she landed a lucrative deal with a giant cybersecurity firm, Theresia learned that some of her male competitors were spreading ridiculous gossip that she was flirting or sleeping her way to deals. Theresia had spent years ramping up her knowledge of cybersecurity, not to mention that she was married and pregnant at the time of this crucial deal. But Theresia knew that successful women disturbed the natural male hierarchy. She didn’t let the idle chatter slow her down; she would not allow some rumormongers to stop her from doing important deals.

But Theresia knew that successful women disturbed the natural male hierarchy. She didn’t let the idle chatter slow her down.

Theresia was also instrumental in helping jumpstart a monumental meeting between investors at Accel and Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, 20, who at their first meeting was wearing pajama pants, T-shirt and Adidas slides—and handing out his business cards reading: “I’m CEO, Bitch.” Accel’s $12.5 million investment in Facebook would be worth billions a handful of years later. She was with two male colleagues when they marched six blocks down to the Facebook offices to present the term sheets. There, Theresia took in the fraternity-like office, with edgy graffiti-inspired murals of scantily clad women and a half empty bottle of Popov Vodka.

Much has been written about how Accel landed the Facebook deal, and Theresia’s name has been mentioned maybe once. Theresia has always been careful to downplay her role. To this day, fourteen years later, there are bad feelings between the alpha males at Accel over which one of the guys played a bigger role in the deal. For her part, Theresia intentionally stayed out of the spotlight.

When Forbes magazine recently wanted to do a piece on Theresia and single her out as “America’s top female venture capitalist,” spotlighting her huge financial wins, she wavered on whether to say yes. Success and money are fraught for women. Women who marry someone wealthy are often called gold diggers. Women who like money and want to make a lot of it may be perceived as greedy, while men who pursue money are ambitious. Theresia’s successes and increased visibility also created tensions in her marriage. So, again, she learned to play down the awards and recognition. Theresia eventually agreed to the Forbes piece, in large part to shine a light on the charities and nonprofits she supports.

Rewriting the Rules

Today, the women of Alpha Girls are part of a nascent rebellion in Silicon Valley. They are beginning to rewrite the rules for venture capitalists and startups. They are running their own companies, launching women’s investment groups, and beginning to share their own stories. They are adopting the mantra: It’s not boasting when it’s based on fact. They are great and scrappy American success stories, underdogs who came to California with nothing more than dreams and determination.

It’s not boasting when it’s based on fact.

And Theresia Gouw? After leaving Accel, she cofounded her own firm, Aspect Ventures, with another female star of venture capital, Jennifer Fonstad. Their headquarters in Palo Alto, California, just happen to be in the very same office where Theresia marched with her colleagues to present Mark Zuckerberg with an offer. (The racy murals and Vodka bottles are a thing of the past.) Not bad for a woman most people had never heard of, who started out flipping burgers at Burger King, and who now has a net worth of more than $500 million.