• Diane Valat

Toxic Brotopia: Silicon Valley’s Biggest Hack

Sexual Harassment in our Globe’s Biggest Tech Utopia
California's Silicon Valley

“Everybody will always look at you as a woman first and an engineer second. They will never be unbiased”. “I think this is the breast hack ever”. “How do you plan to balance your work life and personal life if you have kids in the future?”.

These are all comments you might think are too sexist or objectifying to be told in public, especially in the 21st century. But unfortunately, this is a small part of all the depreciatory and belittling treatments women in the tech industry face on a daily basis.

Silicon Valley’s essence of diversity, inclusion and disruptive work environments is clashing with the reality of discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment and overall unconscious biases targeting women and other minorities in the tech industry.

From the hiring process to the development of their professional careers as entrepreneurs, engineers or CEOs, women’s roles, skills and legitimacy are constantly being questioned by their male counterparts, who in turn perpetuate gender inequalities and the toxic “brotopia” (male-dominated work culture) enshrined in the tech industry.

From Stereotype to Reality

Studies show that sexism and sexual harassment are still commonly faced by women on a daily basis in the workplace. In Silicon Valley there are currently less than 5% of leadership roles are women and over 75% of employees in general are men.

And this disparity translates into a toxic workplace environment. In another recent survey, a study conducted by a group of women in the tech industry more than 87% of women said they had experienced demeaning comments from their male counterparts and 59% felt they did not have or were not offered the same opportunities as their male colleagues.
Gendered discrimination in the tech sector

Why is the tech field so gendered against women? One of the reasons is because the image of the typical engineer and scientist who is good at solving complex problems and finding disruptive solutions revolves around characteristics considered “masculine”: leadership, cognitive skills, fast learner, ambitious and proactive.

Thus, the lack of female role models in the industry excludes the gender as a whole from the common image of an engineer or tech employee. Furthermore, the language and behaviours used to describe women are diverging from those usually used for men.

In the Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations study, results showed that managers have greater bias in favour of men over equally and even better performing women. To justify their choice, they used the argument that computer science, mathematics and having a genius mind are traits and skills traditionally pertaining to men.

Even when it comes to facing a challenging situation at work or disagreeing with someone else’s point of view, a person’s gender will be taken into account to describe the scene. A man raising a point with passion during a meeting will be described as confident and possessing natural leadership skills, while a woman would be portrayed as hysterical, temperamental or bossy.

Gender Biases All Around
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's former CEO

These gender biases are faced at all levels by women ranging from position legitimacy, salary negotiations, exclusion from social events to the “maternal wall”. For example, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former CEO, was late for a meeting because she had to take her kids to school, which sparked a huge controversy and made the headlines for not fitting with the image of a conscious CEO.

These sorts of experiences of degradation and humiliation for woman balancing working and maternal life have been confirmed by all in the tech industry: more than 90% of women witnessed and/or faced a similar situation of maternal wall biases.

Furthermore, the Hacking Tech’s Diversity Problem study shows how women are more expected than male counterparts to prove their skills and legitimacy in the workplace. There is a constant need for women to show and prove their legitimacy in holding positions within tech companies and commitment to break the glass ceiling.

Despite the challenges faced by women in the tech industry, social movements have risen to raise awareness about discriminatory practices trying to change the current status quo. The #MeToo Movement allowed the emergence of women-led initiatives in Silicon Valley sparking hope in implementing radical and concrete changes.

The use of social media platforms as a way of belittling and sexualising women in the industry have instead been used as an instrumental tool to develop women-in-tech movements to allow them to collaborate with each other and empower themselves to publicly denounce all discriminatory practices and other unethical behaviours faced on a daily basis.

Initiaves, such as the Fairyfodboss, an online platform of community of women sharing their opinions and reviews on their workplace, allow for more transparent information about companies’ discriminatory practices and sexual harassment cases.

Tech companies themselves are now directly targeted to change their internal processes and “brogrammer” culture to avoid further persistence of gender biases and sexual harassment in the tech sector. With Project Include created by Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou and other great women in the tech industry, open discussions and targeted programs are created to help companies become more aware of unconscious biases to provide a more effective response to discriminatory practices and in turn offer a more inclusive and respectful environment to all employees.

However, despite improvements made by the Californian legislation in recent years with respect to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, these issues are still present. With the emergence of women-led initiative and more allies’ support within the industry, the path towards empowerment have been strengthened to change the current status quo and provide a real inclusive work environment for all.

Now CEOs and leadership boards in Silicon Valley have to listen to these claims and adapt them to change their corporate culture into a more inclusive, diverse and ethical one to promote their employees' well-being to in turn be more productive and profitable.


Written By: Diane Valat, Research Ambassador at Metta Space

Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space

95 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All