Sil­i­con Val­ley: the new Hol­ly­wood

Cast­ing couches, over­doses, bad be­hav­iour, power suits and law­suits… Not Tinseltown, just an av­er­age day in Sil­i­con Val­ley

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS - Chris Smith

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.

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