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Tales From the Valley: Bias, Sexism & Worse

Sarah Thomas
1/12/2016
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Most women in the technology industry have likely come up against unconscious biases and skewed company cultures, but what about slights that are purposeful, even illegal? Unfortunately, it turns out they are a common occurrence as well.

According to a new survey, entitled Elephant in the Valley and first reported on by Re/code, the majority of women working in the Valley have been a witness to or victim of discrimination, sexism and sexual harassment.

Results from the survey were released this week, chronicling the experiences of more than 200 women, primarily based in the Bay Area and with at least ten years of experience. Seventy-seven percent of the women were over 40 years old, 75% have children and 25% are CXOs, coming from companies ranging from startups to big names like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW). (See A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap.)

The survey was inspired by the Ellen Pao lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in which she sued her former employer for gender discrimination. Pao ultimately lost the suit, but her trial cast a light on the ugly side of working in the Valley -- something, it turns out, a lot of women can relate to. (See Women in Tech Coming Into Focus.)


Light Reading's Women in Comms non-profit helps to provide information, networking, mentorship, access to jobs and support for women in the next-gen communications industry. Visit Women in Comms and get in touch to learn how you can get involved too!


The results include a number of disheartening personal stories about being unwittingly and purposefully left out, discounted and -- at worst -- sexually harassed in the workplace. It also includes a number of staggering stats, such as:

  • 84% of women have been told they are too aggressive, half of them hearing it on multiple occasions
  • 66% felt excluded from key social/networking opportunities because of gender
  • 90% witnessed sexist behavior at company off-sites and/or industry conferences
  • 88% have experienced clients/colleagues address questions to male peers that should be addressed to them
  • 75% were asked about family life, marital status and children in interviews (which, by the way, is illegal)
  • 60% of women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances, 65% of which came from superiors, and -- of those that reported it -- 60% that reported them were dissatisfied with the course of action

"Experiences included being groped by my boss while in public at a company event. After learning this had happened to other women in my department, and then reporting the event to HR, I was retaliated against and had to leave the company," one woman shared (and, yes, this was last year, not from a Mad Men episode).

The survey results are disheartening, albeit probably not surprising to many women in the industry (although most likely to many men). The authors, including former KPC&B partner Trae Vassallo, who was one of Pao's key witnesses, are still collecting stories with the hopes of shedding light on the issues -- an important first step to rectifying them.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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anusha
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anusha,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/15/2016 | 2:54:46 PM
Re: discouraging...but not surprising
@Ariella, @Sarah, yes it is discouraging but not surprising. @Ariella, there are more barriers to even 1) Raise a hand to ask a question 2) Be picked to ask a question. Once you are past those two, its worse to be called "Too emotional".

@Sarah I will also answer yes to the top 4 in the survey.

As a woman of color, its twice as hard for me. Somehow women in tech and business are judged rigorously. There are stereotypes and expectations that they are not smart enough to write the most efficient code or to make the best product/business decisions.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/13/2016 | 10:08:47 AM
Re: discouraging...but not surprising
@Sarah some men really don't even realize they're just falling into that kind of stereotyping. I noticed that the man who gives a lecture sometimes dismisses some women raising questions on what he said with "Now let's not get emotional." I really doubt he would say that to a man.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
1/13/2016 | 9:50:32 AM
Re: discouraging...but not surprising
Not sure if they specifically asked, but it did note that women are either seen as too tough or too soft. I am sure that's come up a lot as well. You're either a bitch or a pushover! Ugh.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/13/2016 | 9:41:01 AM
Re: discouraging...but not surprising
Did the poll not include a choice to say that they've been told they're "too emotional" or "making too much" out of something? I believe women get that quite a lot, making them sound irrational when actually they are picking up on something with great accuracy. 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
1/12/2016 | 2:10:41 PM
discouraging...but not surprising
The survey was discouraging, but not surprising to me. I would have answered "yes" to the top four bulleted questions. Obviously, there are bad seeds and some real action needs to be taken in the case of sexual harassment, but I think companies -- and the men in them -- may not realize how big of a problem other more benign slights are, like not addressing the women in the room, assuming they are secretaries or excluding women. Creating awareness is a good first step, so I'm glad to see this survey and the sharing of personal stories. You can't ignore them! 
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