Sexism in Silicon Valley is a hot topic right now, thanks to Ellen Pao, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers junior partner who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former coworker who she claims acted inappropriately around her for years. But the way some outlets are covering the issue makes it clear that we have a long way to go in changing the ratio.
For example: the New York Times was apparently unable to write about the lawsuit without a cringeworthy lede that should go under "Mansplaining" in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: "Men invented the internet." Is it really impossible to wonder if "these men [are] trapped in the past even as they create the future" without first adding the caveat, "Without men, we would never know what our friends were doing five minutes ago"? Hold on, I have to go bow down to the "sexy men of computer science" shrine I have pasted up on my wall.
Silicon Valley veteran and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin made an excellent point when she wrote that it's not that men invented the internet: it's that men are credited with inventing the internet, adding:
Radia "Mother of the Internet" Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.
Xeni tried her best to read the article without getting too upset by the atrocious headline, "A Lawsuit Shakes Foundation of a Man's World of Tech," irrelevant details about Pao's husband's sexuality, and the oft-repeated point that the suit is "surprising" because Kleiner Perkins is known for being one of the few firms that does typically hire and promote women ("Well, duh," she writes, "If a VC firm does not hire any women VCs, then there are no women VCs at the firm to sexually harass."), but she couldn't get past this line: "You don't really hear about randiness and mistreatment of women. That doesn't prove it's not there, but that's not the lore."
I worked in Silicon Valley, and in technology startups in other regions, and have experienced sexual harassment and gender bias. It's as normal and constant a part of the landscape as the fabled foosball tables.
Where to begin with this quote, really? First, "randiness" isn't what causes sexual harassment. Men don't pressure junior female co-workers into unwanted sex because they're "randy." And the fact that it's not in the fucking "lore" doesn't mean it's not real.
You guys, I figured it out. These Kings of Tech are so wise that they were able to invent a time machine that took us all back to the 1950s without our consent. This explains everything.
Sure, articles like this one perpetuate sexist viewpoints, but a way larger problem contributing to the gender-imbalance issue is a lack of role models early on, a number of women programmers and engineers told the AP. Boys tend to dominate computing conversations, and girls who are interested in the subject feel the "social cost" when female friends flock to other topics. If there are less women going into the field, there are less women to hire.
As Jocelyn Goldfein, a director of engineering at Facebook put it: "The reason there aren't more women computer scientists is because there aren't more women computer scientists." The snowball effect continues, because if companies don't hire women, women don't want to work at those companies. "It becomes a death spiral, it becomes self-fulfilling," said Rockmelt CEO Eric Vishria. "You have 15 guys in a room, that's your company, and it becomes harder and harder to hire your first woman."
A recent tweet from ASUS's trip to Computex 2012 is a lovely reminder of why women might feel uncomfortable working at certain tech companies. "The rear looks pretty nice. So does the new Transformer AIO," the company proclaimed, attaching a photo of a model's ass. Classy. Looks like the road to gender equality in the tech world is going to be a long one.