Sexism in the technology industry
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Sexism in the technology industry is occupational sexism in the technology industry. It has been variously argued[by whom?] in the media that a high ratio of men to women, graduation rates for engineering degrees, and the culture of the industry itself cause sexism in the technology industry.
- 1 Statistics
- 2 Media reports
- 3 Possible causes
- 4 Effects
- 5 Proposed solutions
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Incidents
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
In 1970, 13.6% of U.S. computer science and information science bachelor's degrees were awarded to women. By 1984, that number rose to 37.1%. In 2011, however, only 17.6% of undergraduate computer science degrees went to women.
In January 2015, the New York Times said "the largest technology companies have released reports showing that only 30% of their employees are women", with the percentage of technical employees being even lower.
A Fortune Magazine review of data available for the 92 US-based venture capital firms which had raised "at least one fund of $200 million or more" between 2009-2014 found "only 17 had even one senior female partner", and 4.2% of "partner level VCs" were female.
An Open Diversity Data website has been created to provide access to diversity data for specific companies.
Only 11% of Silicon Valley executives and about 20% of software developers are women. At Google, only 18% of technical employees are women. On Forbes' 2015 Top Tech Investors list, of 100 investors, only 5% are women. Women in technology earn less than men, with men earning up to 61% more than women. "Bias against women in tech is pervasive", according to an October 2014 op-ed in The New York Times.
A 2015 survey entitle "The Elephant in the Valley" conducted a survey of two hundred senior-level women in Silicon Valley. 84% of participants were told they were "too aggressive" in the office, and 66% said that they were excluded from important events due to their gender. In addition, 60% of women said that they received unwanted sexual advances in their respective workplaces – the majority of which came from a superior. Almost 40% did not report the incidents out of fear of retaliation.
The New York Times obtained a copy of Google's Salary Spreadsheet in 2014, which depicts each employee's salary and bonus information. This spreadsheet reports that at Google, women receive lower salaries than their male counterparts for five out of six job titles that are listed on the spreadsheet.
In 1997, Anita Borg, then a senior researcher at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) complained that women "run into subtle sexism every day." At the time only one woman, Carol Bartz of Autodesk, was a chief executive officer (CEO) among the largest Silicon Valley technology companies, and only 5.6% of the area's 1,686 major tech firms were run by women. It was even harder for female entrepreneurs. Of the $33.5 billion in venture capital invested in tech from 1991 through the second quarter of 1996, only 1.6% went to companies launched or headed by women.
Multiple gender harassment and discrimination lawsuits in Silicon Valley have received media attention. One of the most widely reported was Pao v. Kleiner Perkins, a discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins by then Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao, which went to trial in 2015. Pao's lawsuit, which alleged that Kleiner Perkins indulged in double standards and denied her the senior partner position, resulted in a verdict for the defendant. Three jurors cited Pao's "increasingly negative performance reviews" as the primary reason.
On September 20, 2016, Tesla employee AJ Vandermayden filed a lawsuit against her company alleging sex discrimination, retaliation, and other workplace violations. Vandermayden brought about this lawsuit after learning her salary was lower than those of the eight other employees, all male, with whom she worked most closely, despite the fact that some of them had just finished college. She was also subjected to a much harsher standard in order to receive a promotion and pay raise that many of her male colleagues had received simply for working at the company for a certain period of time.
There are several possible causes and theories behind sexism in the technology industry.
Investment of grants and conscious belief in intellectual sex differences
Some scholars studying discrimination in the tech industry argue that since decision-makers in the tech industry often believe that men are inherently more technically competent than women, they think that it is economically a better investment to employ male tech personnel and to give higher budgets to the male staff than to the female staff. According to this model, those investments lead to more opportunities for male staff to produce high quality results, which in turn reinforces the statistical bias and is used as an argument for male technical superiority, causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. These scholars argue that the main problem is not unconscious bias, but conscious belief in allegedly scientific notions of sex differences, citing that the percentage of women in the highest quality tech work have decreased despite a decline in traditional and unconscious gender bias and quotas of women at lower levels of tech (though supposedly scientific claims of sex differences have increased and can account for the increased discrimination at top tech). While this model states that there is systematic discrimination towards women in tech, it explains it as a result of specific economical investment issues and does not presume a society-wide patriarchal structure nor even that discrimination must necessarily favor men in all aspects of society.
Men are typically more authoritative and influential than women. In tasks that are perceived as masculine by society, women have less influence and are not considered experts. Only when a task is stereotyped as feminine will a women have more influence or authority than a man. Violating gender-stereotypic norms results in social penalties.
Men are believed to be more self-assertive and motivated to master their environment [while] women are believed to be more selfless and concerned with others.
No sexism exists at all
According to studies of early childhood development in human children, boys preferred technical toys (e.g. wheeled vehicles) while girls preferred social toys (e.g. furry animals). The same obtains for non-human children: rhesus and vervet monkeys, who cannot be said to be "socialized". Thus sex-based preferences for STEM subjects are innate and assuming third-party bias is wrong in itself.
There are various criticisms of these claims however. One is citing that since infants interact with other humans from birth, if only their parents, and rapidly absorb accents, the concept of a pre-socialized stage is spurious. These critics argue that the monkeys that have been studied in primatology are ones that have lived close to human settlements and imitated human habits, and are therefore not non-socialized either. Other critics buy the existence of a pre-socialized stage, though they argue that there would be no evolutionary function for a brain mechanism that starts to distinguish social phenomena from other phenomena before socialization starts. Therefore, these authors argue, distinctions between toys that predate socialization are unrelated to interests later in life.
There are primatologists who argue that since female chimpanzees in some groups hunt and use tools at least as much as the males, there is no innate universal primate bias towards technology being male.
Against the cultural deterministic approach, the Norwegian documentary Hjernevask presented a few arguments that cause a widespread debate, particularly with the first episode, The Gender Equality Paradox, which also might have contributed to the Scandinavian government's decision to stop funding the regional gender studies institute.
Science, engineering and technology (SET) culture
A 2006 project run and sponsored by private sector (and thus not peer-reviewed by academia), the "Hidden Brain Drain", analyzed the careers of women in SET industries. According to the authors of the post-project review,[note 1] the following characteristic of the SET culture, sometimes called the "Athena Effect" may exclude women workers:
- Masculine communication style and masculine group activities
- Unsustainable working hours
- Pressure to have or care for children
- Lack of organizational support when taking risks
Despite the satisfaction that many women find in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, studies show that a main reason young women do not engage in STEM from an early age may be cultural messages inclining them to other subjects. Women be uncomfortable engaging in STEM. However, the technology industry itself is not solely responsible for the lack of women in STEM careers. According to Brown and Leaper, "Many parents tend to have higher expectations of sons over daughters in math, science, computers, and sports". Therefore, childhood upbringing may also contribute to the alleged gender bias in the technology industry.
Male dominated environment
According to an essay in The Atlantic, women leave the tech industry at twice the rate men do. In addition to this, according to different studies, there is an imbalanced gender ratio in the technology industry to begin with. Women are estimated to only make up 25% of employees in the industry. Furthermore, 11% of executives in the technology industry are women. Google has released the gender breakdown for just their company: 17% of the company's employee's are women. Since men are a majority in the industry, corporate events and industry conferences tend to cater to their taste, occasionally in ways which some women perceive as hostile, such as by hiring sexually provocative female performers and product promoters. Instances of sexual harassment at such events are also widely reported. This along with more subtle hostility such as offensive male humor can turn women away from the industry, further exacerbating the demographic imbalance already present.
Lack of awareness about sexual harassment
The principle of sexual harassment has only recently been recognized by the federal government as a legal issue. The first reported case that led to the recognition of sexual harassment as a legal concept was in 1977, in which a woman was fired from her job for refusing her boss' sexual advances. Nine years later, in 1986, the Supreme Court recognized cases like these as sexual harassment and as a violation of the Civil Rights Act. Still, the idea of sexual harassment was not truly recognized by the public until a 1991 case against a Supreme Court nominee was brought forward to Congress. Overall, sexual harassment was not fully recognized by the United States until the late 1900s, yielding a lack of reported incidents up until that point, as well as an increasing, but not yet fully developed, public awareness of the issue.
As of 2004, only 4% of the engineering workforce in the UK were women. In information technology (IT), the Dice Salary Survey estimated that between 2008 and 2009, women earned an average of 12.43% less in salary than males. However, it is unclear if the Dice survey specifically addresses sexist discrimination as a possible cause for women to earn lower average salaries in technology, or if the pay gap between men and women can be accounted for by differences in training, seniority, competence, overtime, or other variables that can effect salary. In addition to unequal pay, one study suggests that women are often excluded from informal work networks and become targets of bullying such as sexual harassment.
Current gender roles and expectations may hold back women from entering, sustaining, and advancing in the technology field. To combat sexism in technology, researchers have suggested that companies take responsibility and change their organizational structure issues instead of expecting women to adapt to the current state of the work environment. One proposed change would be to have more than simple diversity programs; companies need to ensure that their work environments allow people with various backgrounds and thought processes to work collaboratively to achieve organizational objectives. According to Schiebinger, women should not assimilate to the profession, they should modify it; increased minorities in IT means nothing if there is an unaccommodating industry. Ray McCarthy, a Middle School technology education teacher, believes that schools have a role to play in the solution to sexism in technology industry. He suggests classrooms have a welcoming feel that engages all students, validate their interests, and support positive inquiry.
Several conferences such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conferences have afforded women in technology the ability to pursue their career interests in a separate space from most men who dominate the profession. Such events represent both part of the technology industry which is created by and for women, and allows them a platform from which to impact the rest of the industry.
Another proposed solution is presented by Project include, a nonprofit organization that was established with the purpose of giving everyone a fair chance to succeed in the technology industry. Using the three key values of inclusion, comprehensiveness, and accountability, the organization works to find solution to diversity and inclusion issues that are present in the technology industry.
- inclusion: companies should improve opportunities for underrepresented groups
- comprehensiveness: seeking solutions covering all aspects of the company, including culture, operations and team
- accountability: companies should track the results of their efforts in order to hold themselves accountable for their success
In July 2014, a young, male computer science major at Yale College wrote in Forbes that although women only constitute 16% of the tech workforce, they also only account for 18% of computer science undergraduate degrees awarded to U.S. residents. He opined that the low numbers boiled down to "ultra-capable, math-savvy women" having "a different profile of interests, on average, than their male counterparts."
Forbes columnist Joseph Steinberg wrote of witnessing multiple sexist situations, including a technology company founder referred to as a "Booth Babe" at a trade show. He blamed disproportionate technology-industry sexism, and a low number of females in the field, on a large number of computing-related startup companies hiring primarily young workers, thereby creating "an environment in which many firms' technical teams consist largely of workers who are just out of college, sometimes giving the businesses fraternity-like cultures, leading to sexism that discourages female participation." Douglas Macmillan of Bloomberg Businessweek has referred to this phenomenon as "brogrammer culture".
A cover story appearing on the January 15, 2015 issue of Newsweek magazine, titled What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women proved controversial, both due to its illustration, described as "the cartoon of a faceless female in spiky red heels, having her dress lifted up by a cursor arrow", and its content, described as "a 5,000-word article on the creepy, sexist culture of the tech industry". Among those offended by the cover were Today Show co-host Tamron Hall, who commented "I think it's obscene and just despicable, honestly." Newsweek editor in chief James Impoco explained "We came up with an image that we felt represented what that story said about Silicon Valley ... If people get angry, they should be angry." The article's author, Nina Burleigh commented, "Where were all these offended people when women like Heidi Roizen published accounts of having a venture capitalist stick her hand in his pants under a table while a deal was being discussed?"
In 2012, women created "creeper move" cards, in red, yellow, and green, to hand out at the DEF CON security conference as an indication of what they perceived to be inappropriate behavior from men. The conference in 2013 featured a game show called "Hacker Jeopardy" (a spoof of Jeopardy!), in which hostess Vinyl Vanna presided by removing an article of clothing with each correct answer.
In March 2013 at PyCon, attendee Adria Richards overheard a conversation by two men where they joked about a "dongle" as well as saying they'd "like to fork his [the speaker's] repo" (a non-sexual phrase meaning they'd like to build on the speaker's code). She photographed the men and Tweeted their photo to complain to the Pycon staff. This led to a controversy that came to be known as Donglegate, which included counterpoints that Richards herself had recently made jokes online about the penis size of a man. As a result, one of the men was fired along with Richards herself.
In September 2013, an application called Titstare made its debut at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Its subject, men staring at women's breasts, proved too much for several commentators. After he defended the app against allegations of misogyny on Twitter, Business Insider Chief technology officer Pax Dickinson was forced to resign. Dickinson later wrote an apology, which was published on VentureBeat. His cofounder and former business partner, Elissa Shevinsky, wrote an article titled That's It — I'm Finished Defending Sexism In Tech, and said "I had defended DefCon's right to do whatever they want. I had suggested on Twitter that Women 2.0 and the Hacker Dojo start an alternative security conference. I was wrong. I take this back. We shouldn't have to." Much of the criticism appeared on Twitter, with one representative tweet stating, "There goes my attempt to teach my 9 [year old] girl how welcoming tech industry is to women."
At the 2015 SXSW festival, White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith was interrupted multiple times by Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt during a panel discussion on "Sexism in Technology". The head of Google's Unconscious Bias program pointed this out during the discussion and received applause from the audience.
On October 5, 2015, software developer Sage Sharp, known for contributing USB3 support to Linux and coordinating Outreachy, revealed that they had stopped writing kernel patches after feeling antagonized and seeing what they called "subtle sexist or homophobic jokes" on the mailing list. Although noting that the community's lack of resources was partially to blame, they referred to past discussions in which they sharply criticized the attitudes of Linus Torvalds and Ingo Molnár. The following day, Matthew Garrett stated that he would also leave kernel development and agreed with Sharp's assessment of Torvalds' communication style. One kernel developer, James Bottomley, urged them to reconsider and stated that the mailing list had made efforts to increase civility in the two years since the most vocal clashes involving Sharp.
One month after the posts by Sage Sharp, Eric S. Raymond addressed readers to claim that women's advocacy groups were looking for opportunities to accuse Linus Torvalds and other open source figures of sexual assault at technical conferences. The post contained logs of an IRC chat with an anonymized contact who claimed that the Ada Initiative had such goals. The source claimed that "They have made multiple runs at him.", and as a result he was no longer willing to risk mentoring women who are already in the technology industry. He then elaborated that Linus Torvalds no longer spends any time alone at conferences, to which Eric S. Raymond responded by stating that he would take his source's implied advice.
In 2015, Ellen Pao, an employee at Caufield & Byers, accused the firms of creating an environment riddled with sexism that greatly impacted her career. On a business trip for the firm, an incident occurred in which a male employee came to her hotel room and propositioned her. The firm neglected to recognize the behavior of this man as sexual harassment, even though other similar incidents about this individual had been reported.
Gender-discrimination cases in the technology industry often concern not only gender, but race as well. Women of color are affected especially by gender-discrimination as they face two vectors of oppression: sexism and racism. It has been reported in a 2014 diversity report that women make up 17% of Google's employees. In that same report, it was found that Hispanics make up 2% of Google's workers and African-Americans make up only 1%. Because it is a field that is viewed as a meritocracy, tech companies are often hesitant to change the demographic of their employees.
While speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on 9 October 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella responded to a request for what his advice would be for women who are uncomfortable asking for a raise. Nadella stated: "It's not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along," Nadella said, according to a recording on the website of the event.
"Because that's good karma," Nadella continued. "It'll come back because somebody's going to know that's the kind of person that I want to trust."
After the comments produced a strong backlash in the media and in social media, Nadella issued an apology, "Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias" he tweeted several hours after his remarks.
Microsoft also issued a memo on its website in which Nadella wrote: "I answered that question completely wrong," said the memo. "I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it's deserved, Maria's advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."
In November 2013, a HASTAC user named Arielle Schlesinger, studying the relation between feminist theory and programming paradigms, made a post soliciting feedback on the creation of a feminist programming language.
Later that year, a group calling itself the Feminist Software Foundation released a language called C Plus Equality with syntax similar to C++. Although announced as the type of feminist programming language that Schlesinger had in mind, the alleged purpose of the code was satirizing the social justice–oriented part of Internet culture and included numerous references to rape, boogeyman and trigger warnings.
C+= was originally posted to GitHub but was removed on December 14 after numerous complaints of sexism. The repository was moved to Bitbucket but after a debate with the legal team, it was removed on December 19. The code is currently hosted on Gitorious and has since reappeared on GitHub.
"Google's Ideological Echo Chamber" memo
An internal memo on Google's ideological stance toward diversity, where it is argued that Google had shut down the conversation about diversity, and suggested that gender inequality in the technology industry was, in part, due to biological differences between men and women.
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