Sur­vey: 60% Of Women In Tech Re­port Un­wanted Sex­ual Ad­vances In The Work­place


Sto­ries and even court cases about the up­hill bat­tles women work­ing in tech­nol­ogy face are noth­ing new. Now, a new sur­vey puts data be­hind the chal­lenges women in Sil­i­con Val­ley en­counter.

There are sev­eral dis­heart­en­ing re­sults in the sur­vey ti­tled The Ele­phant In The Val­ley, which fo­cuses on the ex­pe­ri­ences of fe­male ex­ec­u­tives in Sil­i­con Val­ley. A to­tal of 222 women re­sponded to the sur­vey, all of whom had worked for at least 10 years in the tech mecca. Of the women who par­tic­i­pated, three-quar­ters held ti­tles of vice pres­i­dent or above, three-quar­ters had chil­dren and three-quar­ters are 40 years of age or older.

Two of the co-au­thors of the sur­vey, Trae Vas­sallo and Michele Madan­sky, dis­cussed the re­sults of the sur­vey with Kara Swisher, the ex­ec­u­tive editor of Re/code, on the lat­est episode of the out­let’s pod­cast. Ac­cord­ing to the in­ter­view,

the Ellen Pao trial was the event that re­ally got the sur­vey in mo­tion. Vas­sallo, a for­mer gen­eral part­ner at Kleiner Perkins, was sub­poe­naed to speak in the trial and share her ex­peri

ences with dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment. Fol­low­ing her tes­ti­mony, Vas­sallo said that count­less women be­gan shar­ing their own per­sonal sto­ries of ha­rass­ment with her. She soon part­nered up with Madan­sky to shed light on the is­sue.

“It is just to get some un­der­ly­ing data with­out that fin­ger point­ing to say that it is not the ex­cep­tion—it is the rule,” ex­plained Vas­sallo. “It is hap­pen­ing all over the place and it’s not hap­pen­ing just to women who you could point to and say that there are some is­sues where they caused it. The women in this sur­vey are in­cred­i­bly ex­pe­ri­enced. They are CEOs, they are founders, they are VPs of or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, 60% of women who work in tech­nol­ogy have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances in the work­place. Of th­ese women, 65% re­ported hav­ing re­ceived such ad­vances from a su­pe­rior.

“This isn’t ask­ing your co-worker on a date. Th­ese are power play sit­u­a­tions where you are turn­ing some­one down in a sex­ual way and there is some sort of mean­ing­ful im­pact on your abil­ity to do your job,” stressed Vas­sallo.

Ad­di­tion­ally, 66% of women sur­veyed said that they have felt ex­cluded from key net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties or so­cial events, with 90% say­ing that they have wit­nessed sex­ist be­hav­ior at com­pany off­sites or in­dus­try con­fer­ences.

“The real bond­ing hap­pens at the af­ter party and we are not in­vited—nor do we want to go in some cases,” said Madan­sky.

Be­yond the more bla­tant ex­am­ples of sex­ist be­hav­ior in the work­place, Vas­sallo and Madan­sky broad­ened their sur­vey to in­clude other, more sub­tle in­stances. The duo ex­plained that they didn’t just want to fo­cus on con­scious bi­ases, but also un­con­scious bi­ases that women face ev­ery day. Of the women sur­vey, 88% said that they have had clients or col­leagues ad­dress ques­tions to male peers that should have in­stead been ad­dressed to them. An­other 84% ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple not mak­ing eye con­tact with them but mak­ing eye con­tact with their male col­leagues.

The sur­vey also fo­cused on one on­go­ing, ma­jor is­sue for women in the work­place: fam­ily. Of the women sur­veyed, 75% were asked about fam­ily life, mar­i­tal sta­tus and chil­dren in their in­ter­views and 40% said that they felt the need to talk less about their fam­i­lies in or­der to be taken more se­ri­ously. In re­cent months, both ma­ter­nity and pa­ter­nity leave have been graced with a good deal of me­dia cov­er­age be­tween Mark Zucker­berg an­nounc­ing his two-month pa­ter­nity leave and Marissa Mayer an­nounc­ing her two week break af­ter giv­ing birth to twins. The sur­vey found that 52% of the women short­ened their ma­ter­nity leave be­cause they thought it would neg­a­tively im­pact their ca­reer.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, the most dis­tress­ing sta­tis­tics are those re­gard­ing the res­o­lu­tions of th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences and the few num­ber of women who re­ported ha­rass­ment in the work­place. Of those ha­rassed, 39% did noth­ing be­cause they thought it would neg­a­tively im­pact their ca­reer and 30% did not re­port th­ese oc­cur­rences be­cause they wanted to for­get about them. Of those who did re­port, 60% were dis­sat­is­fied with the course of ac­tion.

Vas­sallo and Madan­sky say their sur­vey can help bring aware­ness to the prob­lem.

“We think that just get­ting the story out there and just let­ting peo­ple know how preva­lent some of th­ese be­hav­iors are will just spur the con­ver­sa­tion,” said Madan­sky. “Maybe 2016 will be the year of the con­ver­sa­tion?”


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