The Women Are Not the Elephants

There is a very real problem in the Silicon Valley. I’m not talking about the lack of big data companies or the exorbitantly high rental rate or even how way too many Californians use the word “hella” (other variations include “hecka” and “hell-ya”). We must address the issue of sexual harassment and inequality in Silicon Valley. For too long we have glossed over this issue like icing on a cake. And when I mean we, I mean you and I as men who are working in or pursuing the tech industry. We have accused the education system, evolutionary psychology and even women themselves by continuously shifting the blame towards everyone but ourselves. It is time that we stop ignoring the elephant in the room because we are the elephant in the room.

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“I’m sorry but I just don’t see an elephant.” – HR of many tech companies.

There’s a lot of talk about how the education system has effectively deterred women from pursuing the engineering sciences, specifically software engineering. In fact, there can be a whooping 134 pages on why the education system is failing in this sense which is wonderfully written by the American Association of University Women here. But let’s just say that the women who wanted to pursue the tech industry had the adequate resources to do so. The amount of women who work hard and study hard in order to get the tech job they wanted and then leave is an astonishing 56%. According to Catherine Ashcraft and Sarah Blithe from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, “this is more than double the quit rate for men. It is also higher than the quit rate for women in science and engineering.” In fact, while we are on the topic of astonishing statistics, according to Elephant In the Valley:

  • 47% have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do (e.g., note-taking, ordering food, etc.)
  • 66% say they’ve been excluded from social or networking opportunities because of gender
  • 88% have had clients or colleagues address questions to male peers rather than to them
  • 87% have been on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues
  • 75% say they were asked about marriage and family in interviews

First off – clearly this isn’t a sexual harassment problem specific to the science fields. This is tech and tech alone. Second – wow. But why is this happening?

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa would explain this phenomenon by saying that this kind of “subjection” to “abusive, intimidating, and degrading treatment” had been practiced by men with each other long before women entered the labor force. Basically he states that, “men are not harassing women in this fashion because they are treating women differently from men (which is the definition of discrimination under which sexual harassment legally falls), but the exact opposite: men harass women precisely because they are not discriminating between men and women.” Before I go any further, I would also like to point out that Kanazawa is a bigot. This is completely illogical. It’s not like men were groping each other and asking for sexual favors before the 1960s, before women entered the work force in large quantities. This argument that sexual harassment and workplace hostility should be the norm disintegrates completely. But another arises. Evolutionary psychology states that men are more likely to read signals from women as sexual advances due to the scarcity of the female egg. Therefore, men are more persistent to proceed with sexual advances even when the woman says no. There seems to be a biological reasoning as to why this is and I see where this argument stems from. Yet in no other field of work are 56% of the female employees quitting their jobs due to work environment hostilities. These actions must be condemned. The perpetrators of this behavior should be the ones who stop and change their actions, not the recipients.

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Generalization at its best. Thanks @xkcd

It’s rather disappointing when so many talented people can’t work at their dream job because of bias and discrimination. Think about all the lost human capital. These people have worked tirelessly to get their foot through the door, only to have that foot stepped on. Seems unfair doesn’t it? These people are the skilled women who have defined and redefined the tech industry. It doesn’t matter what gender a person is so long as he or she gets the job done. Any logical CEO would agree. It’s time the elephant shrank back down to a human, because that’s what we all are – human.

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