Silicon Valley: the new Hollywood
Casting couches, overdoses, bad behaviour, power suits and lawsuits… Not Tinseltown, just an average day in Silicon Valley
Stateside by Chris Smith
Silicon Valley, spiritual home of the global tech industry, is a solid sixhour drive away from Hollywood, California. Just lately, though, it seems the metaphorical distance between those two super-affluent cities is shrinking.
Tech Town residents have created their own exclusive, money- and power-fuelled Garden of Eden, and guess what? They’re singing from the original Hollywood score when it comes to certain personal habits.
Consider the following… Google executive Forrest Hayes died in November last year on his luxury yacht. It emerged recently he’d received a hot dose of heroin from a high-class lady of the night, who security cameras showed finishing her glass of wine and stepping over his dead body on her way out. Manslaughter charges have been brought. Does that sound like an end for a high-powered, 51-year-old dotcom millionaire with a wife and four kids? It’s far more like the wayward movie star or film producer of old Hollywood legend (and occasional contemporary reality).
Soon after this story broke, an executive at a major Silicon Valley player was sued for sexual harassment after allegedly coercing favours from a subordinate with, as the victim tells it, classic casting couch manipulation. The complainant claims she was forced to have “oral and digital sex” (okay, not quite classic casting couch). The executive has dismissed the allegations and, in true Hollywood style, counter-sued for defamation. It’s sordid and sad, but I just can’t… stop… reading about it.
How about Whitney Wolfe, the cofounder and former VP of marketing at Tinder? She claims she was called a “whore” in front of the CEO, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, CMO and fellow cofounder Justin Mateen. According to the suit, her requests for help from CEO Sean Rad were ignored – if that’s true, I’d suggest she swipes left on the pair of ’em.
While it’s, of course, not unheard of to see distastefully misogynistic behaviour towards women, for female execs to be belittled and marginalised in a rich, white, male-dominated environment is pretty much page one of the Hollywood rulebook.
Silicon Valley seems to have a pretty big problem with women and minorities, too. Recent Bloomberg figures show that just 30 per cent of employees at Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter are women. Numbers of black and Hispanic employees are also proportionately very low. Indeed, a recent NPR report highlighted that it’s really only non-profits that are making a concerted effor to give minorities their big break.
Of course, as with Hollywood, none of this seems to reduce Silicon Valley’s allure. Aspiring movie stars have waited tables for those they seek to emulate for decades, regardless of how they treat them; now the trend is moving to the Valley, with wannabe tech stars working at fast-food restaurants, hoping to serve a hungry Larry Page a burger as they await a chance to show their worth to the hottest new startups.
So when you thumb your next shiny smartphone, picture an African-American woman paying the rent with a job at Taco Bell, churning out Doritos Los Tacos for tech frat boys, in the hope that one day she’ll get to shine. It’s both what makes the US great and what makes it grate.