“Can I just ask you one question?” my parents’ financial planner says to me, upon finding out I’m from Silicon Valley.
OK, here it goes, I tell myself. I’m sitting in Canada, which is the land of diversity. I’ve been here for one month and I’ve heard the same question many times, so I brace myself and answer:
“Yes, there is hidden sexism in Silicon Valley.”
“Actually, I wanted to ask you if the real Silicon Valley is like the HBO show,” he says.
Ever since the Uber sexism fiasco, and then the second Uber sexism fiasco, people outside of Silicon Valley want to know if the techie promise land is all that it’s cut out to be. That, and the fact that everyone loves a good tale of debauchery.
And the Bay Area did not disappoint this summer. Just as people are forgetting the Uber mess, along comes Google.
But let’s step back for a minute and do a recap of these clusterf**ks.
Uber starts of the year fabulously, with a blog post from a former engineer Susan J. Fowler. In her blog post, she details how her manager made sexual advances towards her. She blogs about how she reported these advances to Uber’s HR team and how they refused to help, calling her manager a “high performer.” She speaks about other women at Uber and how they faced the same sexual harassment and the same response from HR.
Eventually, this scandal blows up and Uber’s CEO resigns. While the dust is settling on that matter, an Uber board member makes a tasteless and sexist comment about women talking too much in meetings (which is complete and utter bulls*t, as women have been shown to talk less in meetings than their male counterparts.)
This may have been a forgivable offence (after all, it’s just regular old tech talk) but people have now had enough of Uber and sexism.
Damore’s manifesto speaks about gender roles and embraces ideas of New Feminism, which for those who know, has nothing really to do with actual feminism. His ideas, like the ones of New Feminism, serve as a rationalization for gender discrimination— these are ideas that reiterate the biological differences between the sexes and focus on women “knowing their rightful place”. Think of these ideas as the gender equivalent of the words “black on black violence.” These are ideas meant to justify and even applaud discrimination instead of condemn it.
Damore has since been fired by Google.
And in the aftermath of Google’s leaked memo, tech companies are scrambling to get out messages of inclusion and diversity to their employees.
That’s nice, I say. I did get the warm fuzzies yesterday when my CEO sent out a company-wide message of inclusion. It’s important for those on top to send the message down, as I truly believe that top-down messaging is one of the more effective ways a company can build a culture of diversity.
But it’s only the first step in redressing the problem.
Is there a culture of sexual harassment and sexism in Silicon Valley?
As a woman who works in tech, I can unequivocally say yes.
I’ve witnessed and experienced this with my own eyes.
Take, for example, the director I once worked with at a Silicon Valley tech company— the guy had a fetish for east-Asian women. I was in his office when he received an e-mail from a woman with an Asian name. Immediately, he paused our meeting and called the woman in to his office to “discuss” her email, and flirted. Then, as she left, he stared at her behind.
Or the time a former boss at a different Silicon Valley tech company told me that he wanted to give me administrative work instead of real legal work, because I had kids and he said he didn’t want me to work too hard. And how the same manager constantly referred to his boss (a VP) and her boss (the Chief Legal Officer) as idiots, and said that his boss “was used to barking orders to her kids.”
Or the countless amount of “mansplaining” I get from other male lawyers and engineers—and the fact that I have to go into a meeting and preemptively always throw out words like “source code,” “object code,” and “white label” just so they know I can talk about something other than makeup and cooking.
And I’ll never forget the time a year ago, when I sat down at my then-company’s table at an offsite negotiation retreat in Lake Tahoe and saw the faces of one of the men fall—only to find out later that he initially was furious that the company was letting “college interns” attend. No, I explained to him, I graduated college fifteen years ago.
But how can Silicon Valley be so discriminatory, people ask. After all, us Californians have gained a reputation of tolerance and acceptance.
The sexism in Silicon Valley isn’t obvious. It’s hidden. If you’ve worked in the semiconductor industry, you’ve heard sexist comments, been mansplained, or worse, been discounted as an “idiot”. If you’re an ambitious woman in Silicon Valley, chances are that a man has tried to take advantage of your ambition and made unwanted advances, hoping that you’d be foolish enough to trade in your integrity for the chance of success.
So to answer the question “is there sexism in Silicon Valley”, the answer is a resounding YES.