Gender Discrimination In Tech
The internet was created by boys. Outrageously brilliant and wildly successful boys who went from chess club and pocket protectors to ruling the new age world. Lets face it, Silicone Valley is no Wall Street. Gordon Gekko pales in comparison to Mr. Spock and Bright Lights Big City gives way to World of Warcraft. So let’s give these guys a break. Without them we wouldn’t know what our old classmate from 9th grade biology was eating 3 minutes ago while sitting in traffic.
But is our perception of the tech world really as it seems? Is it filled with innocuous good guys who befriend and welcome all those around them, or is it more closely aligned with the boys only, cut-throat world of investment banking- where women can not catch a break.
Most would admit that there is quite a stark gender gap in technology companies, not just at the high-end positions but all the way through the ranks. Some may argue that this gender gap is due in large part to the fact that women are simply disinterested in the area. Think of computer programming and those who study engineering. Even on an academic level, the area of computer science is heavily saturated with men. Nevertheless, even amongst those women that do pursue a degree in computer science, few get placed in IT companies; when looking at the level of top management- they seem almost non-existent. The reason? Many agree it has to do with the hostile work environment.
Recently, there has been an onslaught of attention regarding women in the tech world. The media attention began when Ellen Pao, a junior partner in the prominent venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the company.
The complaint, something that seems more appropriate on the pages of 50 Shades of Gray rather than a court docket, is laced with accusations of retaliation, harassment, and discrimination following Pao’s brief affair with a former co-worker had gone wrong. Kleiner, the firm that gained its reputation in the late 90′s after financing several massively successful technology start-ups including Amazon, Netscape and Google, vehemently denies any wrongdoing on their behalf.
This trend is spreading throughout the Valley. Google, a company long known for its support and hiring of female employees and executives is beginning to see the tides turn as well. Following Larry Page’s hiring as CEO in April 2011, high level women quickly began losing ground- being pushed out of his inner circle and passed over for promotions according to a recent article in the New York Times. They include Marissa Mayer, who left last month to run Yahoo after being sidelined at Google.
In fact, since Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as CEO, he reduced the number of his committee of close advisors from 15 individuals, four of whom were women, to 11; with only one female member remaining.
Perhaps our biggest window of insight to the tech-culture can be found from a recent story converged on NPR’s Marketplace. The story, which aired in May 2012 introduced us to the concept of the “brogrammer”. Described as part programmer, part fraternity brother- he is effectively the guy that used to be a geek in high school but is suddenly finding himself a part of the cool clique swimming in a world filled with beer, broads, and booze.
Tasneem Raja, interactive editor for Mother Jones online, recants her recent encounter with “the brogrammer” at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. There she attended a session on how to get a job at a startup. The lecture, given by the vice president for business development at the social network Path- Matt Van Horn, was so full of derrogatory comments about women that several women left the lecture mid-way through. Many of them later tweeted about the incident.
Raja herself walked out on the lecture only to tweet the following: “Biz dev vp of Path just cracked lame jokes about nudie calendars… and gang bang… cue early exit.”
With the introduction of social media, many inappropriate comments and jokes that were once reserved for quiet conversation amongst co-workers are now being published for the world to see. A programmer at twitter recently tweeted “Learning how babies are made.” Under it, a photo of his company’s “Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention” pamphlet.
We are moving in the direction where one day women will hold equal positions of power in corporations and government. But since this issue is also deeply rooted in how we, as a culture, view women and their roles in society, it will take some time to get there.