Silicon Valley is the world capital of transformation, shaping the technologies that change how we live, work and play.
And yet here are some of the headlines that have screamed across the globe in recent months: “Silicon Valley’s Sexism Problem” (The Economist). “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” (The Atlantic) “Women Engineers on the Rampant Sexism of Silicon Valley” (Wired).
The media doesn’t publish such articles without a news hook, and Silicon Valley, sadly, has been serving up plenty of them.
Like the Uber fiasco – the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination that, among other legal and ethical scandals, cost CEO Travis Kalanick his job.
Or the U.S. Department of Labor investigation and federal lawsuit over alleged compensation disparities between men and women at Google.
Or earlier accusations of sexual harassment accusations at GitHub, Tinder and other companies.
Or the “Elephant in the Valley” survey that revealed a host of shocking findings about the issues facing women in the workplace, including that 60 percent of the 200 women interviewed had experienced unwanted sexual advances and that two-thirds felt excluded from important social and networking opportunities.
It’s mind-boggling to me that sexism is very much alive and well in 2017, and so much so in the place I’ve called home for more than 20 years and consider the embodiment of innovation and social progressivism.
Fact: Among the hundreds of startups we’ve represented, it’s rare to find a woman among the executive leadership.
Fact: I’ve seen eminently qualified women lose out on promotions to men more times than I care to count. (Twenty-one percent of American tech executives are female, compared with 36 percent in other industries, according to PayScale).
Fact: Men interrupting women, talking over them or punishing them for speaking out continues to be a thing.
It’s been years since I experienced discrimination personally – must be a combination of luck and hanging around with the right people – but I’ve heard too many war stories from too many colleagues and friends.
So am I surprised that Uber board member David Bonderman thought it was acceptable to joke that the addition of a second woman on the board would result in “more talking” (yuk yuk)?
Or that a woman wrote on the New York Times’ Facebook page: “I work in the STEM tech-education industry. I have a mathematics degree, a geology degree and 15 years experience in teaching both math and science in a public school. In meetings with male peers where I am invited — because of my expertise, not my secretarial skills — I am asked a lot (80 percent of the time) to write important things down or to take notes. I have stopped taking my notebooks and pens to meetings”?
No. And even my own profession isn’t immune, as evidenced by this story: “All-Male PR Panel Tells Women They Can Fix Sexism by ‘Speaking Up More Loudly.’ “
It’s time to stop the madness. Every company in the Valley – established firms, startups, VCs, everybody — must adopt a strict zero-tolerance policy for sexual discrimination in all its obvious and subtle forms.
That includes wage disparity. Though several large firms in the Valley, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple, claim to have eliminated their gender wage gaps, inequality persists. According to recruiting firm Hired, women are paid less than men for the same job at the same tech company nearly seven out of 10 times. That’s shameful and must stop.
One of the answers to improving women’s status in tech is to get more women into tech. While women make up 47 percent of the overall work force, they represent only 23 percent in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professions, according to a government report.
This is why our company and our client Distil Networks, along with Foundry Group, TechStars, Cooley, Yesware, Help Scout, Cloudability and Full Contract, recently announced the creation of the Women Forward in Technology Scholarship Program. The annual program will award several $3,000 scholarships to female undergraduate and graduate students committed to a STEM career. (For more details, see the press release.)
Concrete action is needed to solve Silicon Valley’s sexism problem once and for all. Surely, a region that has given the world everything from the microprocessor to ubiquitous mobile computing, intelligent robots and self-driving cars is smart enough to fix this.
Joanna Kulesa has been building successful agencies in Silicon Valley for 20 years. Her passion for outstanding client service is matched by her dedication to agency employees—reflected in its naming by Fortune as a Best Place to work for Camaraderie and a Best Place to Work for Women. Contact Joanna at firstname.lastname@example.org