Sexism in Silicon Valley & STEM

No room for gender discrimination in growing industry

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At a time when the tech industry is advancing at remarkable rates, its progress on gender equality is doing exactly the opposite. Women make up only 18.2 percent of technology jobs across nine of the largest tech companies in the world. Not only are there very few women in technology and leadership roles, many face routine discrimination.

Illustration by Lizzy Choi

This July, James Damore, a former Google employee, published a memo on the injustices men face in tech. In his opinion, biological personality differences between men and women contribute to “women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up and leading.”

These comments are just a small sample of the growing gender bias women face daily in the tech industry.

Elephant in the Valley, a survey of more than 200 women, most of whom have at least 10 years of experience working in the tech industry, showed that 84 percent of those surveyed were told they were too aggressive. Fifty-nine percent felt they were denied opportunities on the basis of gender and 90 percent witnessed sexist behavior at conferences and off-site events.

Contrary to Damore’s statement, there are no biological factors that explain gender discrimination in the tech industry. However, there are plenty of societal factors that lead women to occupy fewer leadership roles, such as hiring discrimination and a pervasive boys’ club mentality in the workplace.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Tracy Chou, a software engineer, described working with one other woman in a male-dominated tech startup as “not feeling like we were good enough to be there — even though, objectively speaking, we were.”

Gender discrimination doesn’t just occur in the work field. It’s also present in college level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Regine De Guzman, a third-year computer engineering major at UC Santa Cruz, said that in her classes the female students sit by themselves or with each other and rarely converse with the male students. De Guzman often hears her male peers say things like, “These assignments are really heavy and I don’t want to risk it,” regarding collaborations with female students.

Along with gender bias, sexual harassment is another barrier many women face in Silicon Valley, with a majority of surveyed women in tech disclosing unwanted sexual advances. More than one-third of women who are sexually harassed  do not report for fear of losing their jobs, which keeps male supervisors in a position of sexual control. Sexual and verbal harassment contribute to a culture where women in tech are seen as objects rather than experts in their fields.

Gender-based social disadvantages coincide with economic ones. The gender pay gap is alive and well in the tech industry. Female executives make, on average, 5.6 percent less than their male counterparts and female employees also tend to receive smaller bonuses than their male colleagues.

De Guzman points out that public reactions to the treatment of women in tech help push the industry in the right direction.

“With all the news coverage in 2017 […] It has opened a discussion,” De Guzman said. “We’re a little bit more comfortable talking about what’s really going on behind all those tech companies [but] I definitely think that there’s still a lot of work to do.”

According to De Guzman, who has worked with several female tech initiatives such as Girls Inc. and ProjectCSGIRLS, one major step forward would be for men in tech to stand in solidarity with their female colleagues.

Women need to be taken seriously and represented in the tech industry. This means they must be paid equally to their male peers and treated as the professionals they are, so the next generation of young women in tech will feel empowered to pursue careers.

If we want to continue making progressive technological advances, we must reflect that progress in our workforce in the form of diverse representation and equal treatment.

“It’s all about endurance and perseverance,” De Guzman said. “Women have, historically, really pushed to [get to] the point of being actually in tech and it’s definitely looking up, but it’s going to be a gradual change for sure[…] The future of tech is going to be female.”