What It’s Really Like to be a Woman in Silicon Valley

Misogyny is alive and well in Silicon Valley. Here’s how we can change it.

I work in Silicon Valley, a community where six- and seven-figure investments are routinely tossed at ideas that sometimes soar to success but more often than not, burn out like meteors. Silicon Valley is known for being forward-looking about technology, yet stunningly backward when it comes to gender.

The show Silicon Valley, with its all-male “incubator” of young, pot-smoking, coding geniuses making and losing millions, hits closer to home than one might think. Google “Silicon Valley” and “frat boy culture” and you’ll find dozens of links to mainstream news articles, blogs, letters, videos, and tweets, containing everything from threats of violence to sexist jokes to casual misogyny, not to mention the reports of gender-based hiring and firing and a financing system that rewards young men and shortchanges women. In this sense, Silicon Valley’s culture echoes New York City’s Wolf of Wall Street culture of the 1980s and ’90s.

But while Wall Street today seems tamer — thanks to lawsuits and diversity consultants in every corner — in Silicon Valley, the misogyny continues unabated. A potent shot of that Wall Street wolf-ism among Northern California’s venture capital boys’ club has created a particularly toxic atmosphere for women in Silicon Valley.

In fact, a recent report on women entrepreneurs by the Kauffman Foundation identified the chief challenges to female success in entrepreneurship. Of the 350 female entrepreneurs they interviewed, the majority cited “lack of available mentors” as one of the major obstacles preventing them from becoming successful entrepreneurs. Attrition among female professionals is only one reason for the scarcity of mentors for younger women. Another is that women who stay in the game beyond their late 30s may be sidelined by the rampant ageism in the industry.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for women in Silicon Valley. I believe that women can – and must – help other women, and there are certain things companies can do to help the cause.

 

Mentoring and Advising Young Women Entrepreneurs

Only by building communities can women address gender-related issues, combat inappropriate behavior and remarks in the workplace, and help younger generations develop career goals.

And in order to counteract the aforementioned Kauffman study findings that cite lack of mentors as a major obstacle to women in tech, more women must serve as mentors to the next generation of women entrepreneurs or startup employees.

 

Paying Men and Women Fairly

Companies that pay women 20 to 30 percent less than men may think they are getting away with something, but it will cost them in other ways. Undervalued employees can ascertain via contextual clues that they’re being undervalued even if they don’t know by how much — and they will respect founders less for it and behave or leave accordingly.

If a startup has funding to pay for engineering work, it can pay for all the other forms of labor that go into growing the value of the company.

Celebrating Employees Equally

Navigating a work environment in which you are both undervalued and overworked is exhausting. This dynamic only adds to the unsustainability of the tech industry for many women.

The solution lies with the founders, the investors, and the startups themselves, who should all treat women and their work as valuable and important.

Removing "Locker Room Talk"

We can all relate to feeling paralyzed in the face of what is clearly inappropriate talk or behavior simply because we don’t know what to say. But the onus is on every employee to curb these inappropriate conversations at the onset and not let them mushroom into something that will have a lasting impact. Companies should provide lessons in what’s unacceptable and encouragement to speak up when something inappropriate is being said as part of the onboarding process.

Additionally, when top execs model professional and respectful behavior, it helps foster a positive work culture where certain behaviors and stereotypes (such as expressing sexist or racist beliefs) are not tolerated.

Only when we enact these changes (among many others) will the prospect of being a “woman in tech” be something that is less an obstacle course and more a long-term career to enjoy.

Join the Discussion

2 Responses to “What It’s Really Like to be a Woman in Silicon Valley”

  1. Luis Valentino

    Great article, April. I agree with your assessment about misogyny in Silicon Valley. It has been, and will continue to be, of major conern. However, I should also point out that discrimmination based on race is also prevalent across the tech industry. Truth is, being white, male, and young in Silicon Valley perpetuates the legacy concept from which most of these “frat boys” emerged. It defines what is normal in Silicon Valley. Anyone not reflective of these genes is the other, who will struggle for legitimacy and opportunity. And while the sprinkling of people of color and women will continue to be represented, self-management for the creation of diversity is not in the tech industry’s vernacular.

  2. mokkes

    unfortunately, the inappropriate comments, sexual innuendos and unwanted touches happen in many workplaces
    i work in healthcare and as a provider i feel we are put in a unique situation
    we are expected to physically care for patients but we are barraged with sexual comments such as “it is nice to have a great looking doctor” (considered “harmless” by administrators) to patients asking us to ‘bend over a couple more times’.
    one patient actually ran his hand down an assistant’s back to her butt while she was taking a blood pressure.
    i’m so sick of it.