Old-School Sexism in a High-Tech Industry
Leaders like Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook have made an incredible impact on the high-tech industry and are admired for their accomplishments by men and women alike.
Yet, their positions in the industries are the exception. Sexism in the technology industry runs rampant, and the inequality between genders can have long-term consequences in regards to U.S. tech companies’ ability to compete with others on a global scale.
In March 2014, Julia Ann Horvath, an engineer with GitHub, a distributed software management program for developers, resigned from the company after repeated incidents of sexism and harassment from a GitHub founder, his wife and her fellow colleagues.
From early on, Horvath said she felt unwelcomed by her male coworkers, to the point her character was discussed on job documentation. “I had a really hard time getting used to the culture, the aggressive communication on pull requests and how little the men I worked with respected and valued my opinion,” she remarked to TechCrunch.
In addition, a founder’s wife continually harassed her to intimidate her from reporting any violations and was retaliated against once she did so. When she turned down the advances of a colleague, the individual began altering her code and projects. When she reported these issues, executives were sympathetic but did nothing to stop the incidents. Finally, Horvath believed she had no other option than to leave GitHub and share her experiences to help put an end to the boys’ club mentality.
The continuation of sexism and its effects
While Horvath’s experience at GitHub is shocking, it’s not rare. According to a number of publications, sexism is still a major problem in the tech industry. As modern as the industry is, it’s behind in equality when it compared to other industries who’ve had decades to adjust to changes in the office environment.
In September 2013, two controversial apps were presented at the TechCrunch Disrupt technology conference in front of an audience featuring both females and children. One app showed off people looking at women’s cleavage while another was promoted using simulated masturbation. While TechCrunch editors immediately issued an apology to conference goers, reaction to the apps from the male-dominated audience was mostly positive.
In 2013, the chief technology officer of Business Insider was terminated for posting misogynistic tweets. After the PyCon developer conference, a female developer was fired from her job for complaining about male attendees’ inappropriate jokes. Even Sandberg has been exposed to the sexism in the industry, sharing how a fellow executive had trouble hiring women because they were “not all are as competent as Sandberg,” but in actuality, he confessed he was worried about sleeping with them.
The continued sexism in tech is disheartening to women striving to make a difference in the industry. The Silicon Valley Index found that only 3 percent of technology companies backed by venture capitalists are run by females. In addition, only 2 percent of computer science engineers are women.
Reported The Los Angeles Times, “Women say the problem begins in computer science class where they are marginalized and persists throughout their careers as they are passed over for jobs and promotions.”
In order to stay competitive on a global market, it’s imperative tech companies staff their departments with talented engineers, designers, developers, and executives of both genders. Women are needed to keep up with the demand on companies, and a diverse workforce helps a company uncover new solutions and generate new opportunities. But if the industry continues to chase off women with their “brogrammer” culture, it’s the companies who will lose out the most.
GitHub, for instance, has publically stated that it has learned from its experience with Horvath and is working to make changes company-wide to become more inclusive of all workers. According to GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath, the company lacked an experienced human resources department because of its rapid growth and has since suspended its founder.
“We still have work to do. We know that,” Wanstrath said to CNN. “However, making sure GitHub employees are getting the right feedback and have a safe way to voice their concerns is a primary focus of the company.”