Women, Tech and their Battle

There is a very real problem in Silicon Valley. I’m not talking about the exorbitantly high rental rate or even how way too many Californians use the word “hella” (other even more egregious variations include “hecka” and “hell-ya”) but about the issue of sexual harassment and inequality in Silicon Valley. For too long, men in tech have shifted the blame of workplace harassment and discrimination to the education system, evolutionary psychology, and even women themselves. As the perpetrators of this level of discrimination, men must look towards themselves and their actions in order to alleviate the hostile environment women face in the tech industry or face the legal system forcibly stopping the perpetration of these actions. I write this blog as a male college student who aspires to one-day work in the tech industry.

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The elephant blocking the view to the board. What a metaphor.

Men who argue that education has been a disservice towards women are actually correct. Numerous studies, such as the American Association of University Women, have shown just how effective the education system has deterred women from pursuing the engineering sciences, specifically software engineering. This, indeed, does support the notion that the education is at fault for bringing women into the tech fields. But it doesn’t justify the actions taken against women who arrive at the tech. Many male coders at Reddit and startup companies look down towards female coders. The men believe that women just aren’t destined to work in technical field work due to their biological makeup. That no matter what education they come from, they will inheritably be inferior to their male counterparts. The amount of women who work hard and study harder in order to get the tech job they wanted and then quit that same tech job is at an astonishing 56% because of this discrimination. 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 on women in tech, 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 should have been directed 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

Clearly this isn’t a sexual harassment problem specific to the science fields. Though gender discrimination has been prevalent within the scientific field, this no-where equates to the amount of discrimination and harassment experienced by women in tech. But why is this happening?

Evolutionary psychology describes workplace sexual harassment as a form of equality and not inequality. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, explains in his book, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, 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. 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 has been denounced by numerous evolutionary psychologists as a bigot. Kanazawa’s dismissal by the scientific community serves as proof that his claim 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 as this disintegrates, 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. From a biological perspective, men are more persistent to proceed with sexual advances even when the woman says no. The biological reasoning is sound, yet in no other field of work are 56% of the female employees quitting their jobs due to work environment hostilities. Other fields of work employ women too. Therefore, these actions committed by men within the tech field 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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Caption not needed.

But women aren’t just sitting passively as their careers and ambitions are unfairly taken away from them whether it be in the modern tech era or the pioneering gold rush era. When companies discriminate, women have taken to the judicial system to find justice in a world of prejudice. Ah Toy is referred to as an early feminist hero by JoAnn Levy in her book, They Saw the Elephant: Women in the Gold Rush. Toy was a Chinese prostitute in San Francisco during the 1850s. When she saw that customers were cheating her of payment by using brass filings instead of gold dust, Toy utilized her English skills and understanding of the American judicial system to plead to the court for her case. She ended up winning that case, a major step for women and their economic standings. In light of her success, Fanny Seymour appeared before the district court to sue Augusta Ridgeway and Julia Lawrence for not paying rent. Ellen Pao is a modern techie who was the interim CEO of Reddit. On May 10th 2012, Pao filed a lawsuit against her employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the basis that she was discriminated against in the workplace due to her gender and unfairly fired in retaliation for her lawsuit. Pao was denied participation in meetings at Kleiner Perkins that had potentially lucrative deals. These meetings were allegedly exclusively male. In a grueling five-week trial, Pao lost the case. However, despite the loss, Pao walked away knowing that she started the process of reversing gender discrimination from male tech workers through judicial methods. In 2015, Chia Hong filed lawsuit for gender discrimination against her former employer, Facebook. Tina Huang has also accused Twitter for discriminating against women in the way it promotes. As Joan C. Williams, a law professor at UC Hastings College of the law, states, “it is pretty striking that since [Pao], there have been two major cases filed against different tech companies in San Francisco. Maybe they would have been filed without Pao, bit it is quite a coincidence.”

“It is pretty striking that since [Pao], there have been two major cases filed against different tech companies in San Francisco. Maybe they would have been filed without Pao, bit it is quite a coincidence.” – Joan C. Williams

Both Toy and Pao have effectively utilized and inspired the women of two different eras to fight back against discrimination through the legal system. But I think it’s rather disappointing when so many talented people can’t work at their dream job because of societal bias and discrimination and have to resort to the law to fight for their case. Where is the American dream and ideal for doing what we are passionate about? 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 worked with determination to define and 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 for men to let go of pride and work with logic to not discriminate or see stricter judicial rulings against the companies they own or work for. It’s the easy way or the hard way. Your call.

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