In the past few weeks, there has been renewed attention to the issue of gender discrimination in Silicon Valley. James Damore, a former software engineer at Google, recently made headline news after posting his now-infamous memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” In his ten-page screed, Damore railed against diversity initiatives and “political correctness,” arguing that women are rightfully underrepresented in the tech industry because of their innate biological differences from men. He cited their “stronger interest in people rather than things,” their “neuroticism” and their “higher levels of anxiety.”
Unfortunately, Damore’s views and those of his defenders are hardly unique. They represent a larger industry-wide trend in which women in tech are perceived as less capable, intelligent or deserving of their positions. Studies show that women are not only hired in lower numbers than men are, but also leave tech at more than twice the rate that men do. They are interrupted in meetings more often than men, less likely to receive opportunities for promotions and less likely to receive funding from venture capitalists. A recent survey of 200 senior women in tech, called “Elephant in the Valley,” found that nearly all of the respondents had experienced sexist interactions.
Yet racked by a number of recent scandals and the subsequent resignations of high-profile executives, the predominantly male tech industry is facing growing public backlash. More and more women in tech are speaking out about their experiences and are demanding reform.
These four articles from September address some of the challenges women continue to face in tech—from hiring biases, to a persistent and toxic “boys’-club” culture, to overt sexual harassment and intimidation—and what some women are doing about it.
It’s no secret that there is a large gender imbalance in tech. Maia Bittner, an engineer and co-founder of tech startups Pinch and Rocksbox, argues that the problem is a hiring process that itself favors men. “In the traditional interview, men are faster and more confident. But that doesn’t make a good engineer in the workforce,” she said. Bittner describes the “boot camp” hiring model she initiated at Rocksbox, which involves having a candidate work with a lead engineer on a problem together for about two weeks. This more involved method reveals if the candidate is a good fit and has the appropriate problem-solving skills, instead of relying on interview ability and snap judgments (which are often biased). Bittner used this method to hire 10 new engineers, five of whom were women.
This piece from Vanity Fair is a troubling indictment of the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. After Susan Fowler published a damning and powerful blog post in February about sexism at Uber, the C.E.O. Travis Kalanick resigned. Mike Cagney, the C.E.O. of $4 billion startup Social Finance, announced his departure following allegations of sexual misconduct by company executives. The venture fund 500 Startups saw the resignation of its founder David McClure this month amid allegations of sexual harassment of female entrepreneurs. The article notes, “Even tech leaders who haven’t been accused of sordid harassment are grappling publicly with their complicity in an industry culture that has too often treated women as sex objects instead of equals. Still, it says much about Silicon Valley that so much of its self-reflection has been extracted at knifepoint.”
Blake Irving, the C.E.O. and Board Director of GoDaddy, addresses the problem of gender imbalance and pay disparities in the tech industry. He argues, “It’s a problem that extends far beyond any business’s walls, but is also contained within them…. Change begins by looking inward.” Irving provides an interesting perspective on inclusivity in tech as something that starts with every employee and requires a deeply embedded culture of diversity. He also emphasizes transparency and the importance of acknowledging the good and the bad. GoDaddy, for example, shares the results of its gender balance and pay equity studies every year. Irving acknowledges, “We’ve made strides that tell us our methodology is working, but we haven’t come nearly as far as we’d like; in some areas, we’ve lost ground. But my overriding hope with this data is that transparency will help us shine a light on the dark corners within our culture that would otherwise be ignored.”
Five years ago, Ellen Pao famously, and unsuccessfully, sued venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for gender discrimination and retaliation. Speaking up had a cost—after the trial, Pao was effectively blacklisted from the venture capital world, maligned by her peers and had trouble finding work. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Pao reflects on whether anything has really changed. She notes that people are now publicly acknowledging the problem of sexism in tech, citing the growing number of women reporting workplace harassment, internal investigations, apologies from company leadership and new commitments to diversity initiatives.
But Pao warns us not to be blinded by optimism: “Their behavior is part of much broader and deeper culture problems that permeate all tech…. They continue to pay only lip service to diversity and inclusion, favoring tepid diversity initiatives over real solutions. It’s all superficial until we see leaders actually changing company cultures by making hard decisions, leading uncomfortable conversations — and firing those who are unwilling to include everyone.”
Every month, GovFem compiles a list of the top articles about women in government from around the web. If you have an article you think should be included in next month’s reading list, email [email protected] with your suggestions.