It’s 2020 & The Tech Industry Still Hates Women. Why?
Two things have happened to me the last month that have reminded me of the misogyny that is alive and well in the tech industry. First, I started watching the new BBC and HBO show Industry. Watching young interns get bullied by their line managers as they desperately seek a permanent role reminded me of the humiliation I endured in the early years of my career, almost always at the hands of men who had more authority than me. It reminded me of DMs I receive regularly from women in tech detailing the bullying and abuse they face at work. These DMs always give me flashbacks to times I was mistreated.
The second, was a conversation I had with my Acumen Academy fellows. We debated how companies, industries and systems can change when the people with the power to change really, truly care about making a difference. I work in a tech industry that can launch rockets into space but can’t pay us women the same as men for the same roles, invest in our startups at the same pace as men, promote us to board positions or even protect us from sexual assault.
I have to ask myself — does the tech industry really care about women? A decade into my journey I’m struggling to find convincing evidence.
Just last week Timnit Gebru, a prominent AI researcher at Google was fired. Why? Because she refused her manager’s request to retract her from an academic paper that raised ethical concerns about recent advances in AI that processes language. AI that forms a critical part of Google’s business model.
In July, two Black women publicly resigned from Pinterest. Ifeoma Ozoma, a Facebook and Google alum, and Aerica Shimizu Banks another Google alum both shared their fights to achieve fair compensation and the retaliation they faced for being assertive.
And how about male investors, who faced allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct from numbers of women, who are now back operating in our ecosystem, signing checks like nothing ever happened?
It makes me wonder what the wins have been for. Yes, we’ve seen an increase in venture capital initiatives targeting women founders. Yes, we’ve seen an increase in recruitment initiatives aimed at getting more women hired in tech. But where can I find evidence of systemic change?
Men are leveraging their privilege in patriarchy left, right and centre to mistreat and oppress women where it benefits them to do so. One day it’s interrupting a woman in a meeting for the umpteenth time. The next it’s retaliating against a woman’s act of assertiveness. Next week, who knows? Casual groping perhaps? A side of gaslighting in your next Zoom call?
I’m making an appeal for evidence of lasting systemic change in our industry. If you have seen any, please share it. I’d like to end this year with some hope for the future we are building. I want to see evidence of the tech industry believing the stories of women, actually believing them. These are stories of women who speak out against bullying, unfair treatment and sexual assault.
I want to see fewer stories that focus on the failures of women leaders in tech without addressing the unique obstacles they face navigating patriarchal society. And most of all I want to see misbehaving men held accountable for their unethical actions. I’m not calling for cancellations, I’m calling for consistency when it comes to calling out injustice. I’m calling for an acknowledgment from all of us techies that misogyny is alive and well, and if you aren’t the one calling it out, you are likely the one perpetuating it.