Another look at Silicon Valley and women — and it isn’t pretty

A cover story in the April issue of the Atlantic titled “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women” might resonate with other women who work elsewhere. But the spotlight on the center of the tech universe is understandable — after all, it claims to care, to be progressive.

The stories, taken from conversations writer Liza Mundy had with dozens of women working in tech, counter the image that the valley has tried to work harder to cultivate lately.

There’s the job candidate who was dismissive of the women who were among his interviewers, then who actually told a new male employee of the company he encountered afterward, “finally, somebody who knows what’s going on!”

There are stories of unwanted sexual advances, which are timely considering Uber is facing a high-profile sexual-harassment lawsuit, and a woman suing Tesla recently spoke out as well.

A couple of other examples that might seem familiar include women being interrupted at meetings, or some people directing their questions to men instead of the women who are experts in their field — slights that amount to “death by a thousand cuts.” It’s a term that has been mentioned by Ellen Pao, the valley executive who lost her gender-discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers two years ago. The Atlantic piece, as others have before it, called the Pao trial a “watershed.”

Findings from “Elephant in the Valley,” a 2016 survey inspired by the Pao case, include: 60 percent of women in tech have dealt with unwanted sexual advances; 88 percent of them have seen questions directed at their male colleagues instead of them; and 84 percent of women said they had been told they were too aggressive. The piece mentions other similar studies with findings that run along the same lines.

How are women supposed to navigate the workplace? From the Atlantic piece: “[Entrepreneur and investor Susan] Wu learned how to calibrate the temperature of her demeanor: friendly and approachable, neither too intimate nor too distant.”

The article also mentions that women who aren’t white face even more issues, because they also have to deal with people’s racial attitudes.

Despite all the problems and issues the piece addresses, it also points to some causes for optimism. People are talking about this stuff. Pao has teamed up with others to start Project Include. The valley is under more pressure to do better on racial and gender diversity, and companies are throwing money at programs to help them achieve their goals.

Some companies are funding programs to try to help women choose STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields; providing unconscious-bias training — and what do you know, there are apps for that; recruiting from a broader group of colleges.

And when it comes to compensation, companies such as Salesforce, Apple, Facebook and Intel have said they are paying women the same as men; other companies have pledged to do the same.

Another report on gender diversity in Silicon Valley, which we wrote about last week and which looks at the numbers of women in leadership positions in tech companies, says the gains are coming slowly and surely.


Illustration from Thinkstock



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  • DoctorJay

    I liked the piece. I hated the title. This kind of sexism is culture-wide, not specific to Silicon Valley.

    Just this week a piece circulated about a man and woman that worked at a resume rewriting service and the man swapped email sigs with the woman for a week and reported how he was taken much less seriously.

    Silicon Valley is not the tech industry. The tech industry is not the culture. The culture has the problem. The meaning of “Woman” does not include technical expertise. Silicon Valley has these problems, and so does everybody else. I kind of hate the smug “those people are so terrible” stance. Everyone is propagating the attitudes that give us this problem. Take the log out of your own eye.

    The actual piece, though, is fine. It reports on problems in Silicon Valley that are real problems, that really happened, and that I, and many other men here in Silicon Valley would like to do better than.

  • Anthony Stegman

    I will say that Man Jose has been very good to women! Any women who haven’t benefited tremendously must be living in a cave somewhere.

  • anonyma phila

    I’d have to say my parents and relatives and pastors are more prejudiced against women than all the men and women in Silicon Valley combined, yet they love the women in their lives very very much…but that love doesn’t include wanting to assign them tasks and jobs or wanting to respect them as they do their sons jobs and dreams or feeling it a blessing to the kingdom for them to be succeeding that way.
    And anyway, people don’t believe in God exists despite all testimony, I suppose a student is not above her teacher and one must suffer being nonexistent to people … at least they think we exist but just don’t believe we exist to do those things. But God is fair. Women say a lot but they actually don’t think women should be as important in those ways and judge each other a lot more for other life matters. There is a serious lack of faith. People spend so much time and energy and finances trying to get girls interested, and they do get interested because of the fun things they hear, but then they don’t get supported after they graduate from college to continue. They don’t lack interest from women, older women too, they’re all just trying to keep their jobs and that includes pretending to want more people to join a career they had to fight tooth and nail to get themselves. So of course it’s kind of ridiculous to think they seriously want to help sincerely someone else to join in that work.

    Also, Silicon Valley is fundamentally about sons…like Stanford is built upon the loss of a son and from a priestly standpoint it’s about sons and this is a big influence in this area what with the seminary and things like that. They literally have nuns that used to be in science but while priests are encouraged to use their background as part of their service nuns are not really using it and end up in education or nursing or accounting if they work at all. It’s that whole mother, father, template and stress about making women defined and men defined based on these outward things that is the zealous undertone of everything. In fact, one nun wrote in her biography that science was something that was not good to focus on..and then the religious wonder why people think religion is against science. They might prove they aren’t against men being in science because it kind of fits the whole authority of men as divine and head because of examples in history, but they don’t seem to mind not naming any women. So it seems they only bother because they want to reach the men in the world that are in science already. So of course if family life and spiritual life does not have that as a necessity and an integral part of who women are in it, business and world matters will follow suit. I only say this not to speak anything against any group, but it’s just ridiculous to spend and justify education research professors in science for example and spend time and energy and funds trying “get girls interested” or veil their real intention when saying they’re trying to study how students learn when they really mean how men learn best, when the answer is staring you in the face and you know those family and spiritual centers will never change their minds or be enthusiastic really . They must know that all their efforts are quite useless unless the heart issues are not changed in a person that comes from their personal background. Spiritual and family life might even change now, but it’s too late for older women to benefit from that as they’ll just target young girls, make some half-hearted show of an attempt and then say see we proved that women aren’t fundamentally designed to be interested…so all those that may have helped will draw back and let women die career wise like uriah the hittite. And the whole cycle goes on and really if you read some things from long ago, hundreds of years ago, people were still talking about these issues. So really they don’t really want anything to change…it would upset everything they believe is a simple and necessary way of ordering things that leads to salvation and truth. It’s not about giving more help, it’s something people almost don’t have control over in their attitude toward men and women because of their experience with their family and spiritual leaders influence. They have this attitude also that it comes somehow inborn like a Calvinistic belief ..and that is very popular to believe that among even non traditional Christian groups like charismatics. But they just don’t see all the social influence and helps along the way and the plans of mothers and fathers make.