MICHAEL MACLEOD: #METOO IN TECH PART ONE
Michael MacLeod, journalist and media producer, hits hard with this piece about sexism in the tech industry. Bitches, you will be shocked.
Most history books will document 2017 as the year women exposed sexual abuse in Hollywood. For the technology world, 2017 will go down as the year women exposed scandal after scandal on a truly world-changing scale.
Eight months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the tech industry was rocked by allegations that led to confessions exposing a culture of workplace sexual assaults, unequal pay, harassment and bullying.
It was the year the world woke up to the fact that men controlled the worst of the internet and women should fix it. There is undoubted male-bias behind the scenes of the web and the career ladders linking its architecture. The social media platforms that many people believe resulted in a Trump presidency were mostly built by men.
Billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his 2018 goal was to ‘fix’ Facebook, implying that even he regards it as broken.
To its credit, Facebook does do a lot to encourage and celebrate the women in its workforce. But that’s because it can afford to. Smaller companies point to a supply chain that doesn’t meet their ideal recruitment demands.
Despite some wonderful efforts, the likelihood – right now in 2018 – is that any employer seeking a software developer will end up hiring a man. Why?
Only seven percent of UK students taking computer science A level courses are female, according to careers advice group Women In Tech. Of those young women, only half landed a job in the same field.
That’s an absolute tragedy for equality.
As a result, women make up just eight percent of the UK’s technology engineering workforce according to the most recent ONS figures.
A huge 70 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s SVB Startup Outlook Report 2017. The global survey reflects the answers of nearly 950 startup firms.
“We cannot be deceived by our seemingly large network of talented and successful female founders, investors, board members and innovators,” admits Claire Lee, the Managing Director and Head of SVB’s Early Stage Practice. “The data show us these women remain a lonely minority in the technology world.”
The disparity is cemented into the very building blocks of the internet. Brick by brick, those blocks need to be rebuilt, with women involved at every level: research, user experience, design, programming, testing, project management, analytics, marketing, team management, business development, thought leadership and boards of directors.
When you consider most of these roles are dominated by one gender, it’s no wonder we’ve got an unfair internet. Shutting out women, denies innovation, shuns valuable community links and misses out on clear ideas of what the internet can and should be. It lacks a true reflection of the world and humanity.
I almost submitted this blog post every week over the past six months. But every week brought another gender-related scandal within the tech world. This piece would be tens of thousands of words long if I listed them all. So, here’s a summary of 2017’s biggest gender-related tech sector scandals. Some of these stand-alone reports were the result of dozens of brave women uniting to share their stories.
February 2017: Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, blogged about a pattern of sexual harassment during her time there. I strongly urge you to read that blog post and reconsider whether you want to have the Uber app on your phone. Her claims sparked internal investigations exposing a rampant workplace bullying and sexism culture. After many setbacks, Fowler was finally vindicated. Her strength to speak out ultimately resulted in the resignation of the multi-billion-dollar firm’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/technology/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick.html
June 2017: Four months before the Harvey Weinstein accusations surfaced: an avalanche. Dozens of female entrepreneurs told the New York Times that sexual harassment was rife in the technology industry.
Their bravery paid off. Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck admitted making unwanted advances in the context of business deals. His company collapsed as investors withdrew. Read him groveling after-the-fact here. His apology warned that this was only the beginning. “It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I’ve done,” he said. “The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.”
July 2017: A memo written by a now ex-Google engineer sent Silicon Valley into uproar. James Damore claimed ‘biological causes’ made women less suitable for intense jobs like his. He even moaned that ‘every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression.’ Google fired him , scrambling to distance itself from his comments, but the impact was huge. Among his controversial ‘solutions’ to tackling gender imbalance was a section titled ‘De-emphasize empathy.’ I’ll spare you the detail but here’s the link for transparency.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. James Damore’s diatribe rallied some in the alt-right, newly emboldened by Donald Trump’s defence of Charlottesville white nationalists as ‘very fine people.’ They saw Damore as a martyr and called on people to boycott Google for firing him.
One of the most celebrated responses to Damore came from another former Google engineer, Yonatan Zunger, who said: “The conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards.
“It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones.” Something odd happened in the summer of 2017. As the executives tumbled, their confessions began morphing into strange rallying cries for diversity and inclusion. In one case, an admission led to an apology followed by an almost never-ending essay of pitiful wealthy white male privilege masquerading as a manifesto to change the entire industry.
It’s rarely a good idea to read the comments, but the comments below this apology from investor and former Google executive Chris Sacca are a fascinating debate.
Sacca apologised after entrepreneur Susan Wu accused him of touching her without his consent.
Ms Wu said: “There is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the industry often end up in distressing situations.” At one large firm, a working group had more men called Matt than women, according to this excellent New Yorker report published in November.
Did you realise it was this bad before? Truth is, it’s probably worse. These are the stories of the women who felt able to speak out. It’s certain there are others who haven’t and that these examples are the tip of the iceberg that women in tech have been up against. But there is a fightback. Coming soon, on this blog, we’ll meet the women leading it.