In tech, sex­ism is in the wa­ter

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Melissa Batch­e­lor Warnke Melissa Batch­e­lor Warnke is a con­tribut­ing writer to Opin­ion. Fol­low her @vel­vetmelvis on Twit­ter.

It’s been a very bad sum­mer for Sil­i­con Val­ley bros.

James Damore, the Google en­gi­neer and au­thor of the now-in­fa­mous memo on gen­der, “Google’s Ide­o­log­i­cal Echo Cham­ber,” was fired Mon­day, just as Uber co­founder Gar­rett Camp an­nounced that Travis Kalan­ick, among the bro-iest of tech bros, would not be re­turn­ing as CEO of the com­pany af­ter he was re­vealed to have fos­tered a work cul­ture of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

This week’s news fol­lows a se­ries of New York Times re­ports chron­i­cling wide­spread sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women in tech. As a re­sult of one story, Chris Sacca of Low­er­case Cap­i­tal, Dave McClure of 500 Star­tups and the start-up ad­vi­sor Marc Can­ter all is­sued mea cul­pas. In a clunky and tone-deaf state­ment, Can­ter ac­knowl­edged that his be­hav­ior was “en­demic of the bro cul­ture” that per­me­ates the tech in­dus­try.

It will take more than a hand­ful of PR crises and fir­ings to change the cul­ture in Sil­i­con Val­ley, of course. But we can con­sider it progress that tech com­pa­nies and their lead­ers are be­ing forced to com­mit pub­licly to bet­ter prac­tices, as Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai did Tues­day when he said in a state­ment that Damore’s memo is “con­trary to the com­pany’s ba­sic val­ues and code of con­duct.” Let’s hope that the sum­mer of 2017 is the first of sev­eral stormy sea­sons.

When I worked at Google as an as­sis­tant five years ago, it was not easy for em­ploy­ees to dis­cern what the com­pany’s ba­sic val­ues were. I never heard any­one re­fer to an of­fi­cial code of con­duct. We talked a lot about “Goog­li­ness,” which the com­pany de­scribed as “a mashup of pas­sion and drive that’s hard to de­fine but easy to spot.”

The un­of­fi­cial code of con­duct was com­mu­ni­cated in other ways. Though the Sil­i­con Val­ley bros who fell from grace this sum­mer had ob­jec­ti­fied or de­meaned women in fla­grant ways, when I worked at Google, it wasn’t sex­ual in­frac­tions that caused many women in my depart­ment to bris­tle. Rather, we were ag­gra­vated by struc­tural in­equities that our male man­agers prob­a­bly didn’t even no­tice.

Here’s the wide-an­gle pic­ture. Five men helmed the of­fice as di­rec­tors, while sev­eral very ca­pa­ble and in­tel­li­gent women shared their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties but not their ti­tles. Gen­er­ally, the more se­nior women suc­ceeded in so-called fe­male realms, such as PR, hu­man re­sources and ad­min­is­tra­tion — depart­ments that were po­si­tioned to as­sist the di­rec­tors rather than col­lab­o­rate with them — and were rarely al­lowed mean­ing­ful ac­cess to the cor­ri­dors of male power.

Most of the di­rec­tors had a wife who worked pri­mar­ily in­side the home. The se­nior women who or­bited them had hus­bands who did not. The di­rec­tors all had as­sis­tants and, in emer­gen­cies, ac­cess to a team of ad­di­tional as­sis­tants. The se­nior women had no as­sis­tants and were re­spon­si­ble for or­ga­niz­ing their own pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives.

Ageism and sex­ism went hand in hand. Younger women of­ten rose faster and were given more in­ter­est­ing roles than older women, per­haps be­cause the younger women were viewed as un­sad­dled with fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties or un­likely to present a threat. Or maybe the di­rec­tors, all of whom had daugh­ters, re­spected the am­bi­tions of younger women more than the ex­pe­ri­ence of the older ones.

I worked at Google for only a year, and I was not shy in my exit sur­vey: I left be­cause I had watched women fight to en­dear them­selves to men who had hap­haz­ard and un­re­spon­sive man­age­ment styles. Even the most suc­cess­ful of the se­nior women did not get what they wanted. They were al­lowed to gather crumbs, but they were not given a seat at the ta­ble.

I never met a James Damore, a Travis Kalan­ick, a Chris Sacca, a Dave McClure or a Marc Can­ter at Google. The men I knew — and still know — had no par­tic­u­lar an­i­mus to­ward women. I doubt any of them knew how the women in our depart­ment, es­pe­cially the more se­nior ones, strug­gled.

To ad­dress the cu­mu­la­tive sex­ism I wit­nessed, Google would have to in­vest time and re­sources into fig­ur­ing out how the in­di­vid­u­als in our 60-per­son group re­lated to one an­other. For this to hap­pen, women would need to be able to tell the truth with­out risk­ing their jobs. Al­pha­bet, Google’s par­ent com­pany, has more than 60,000 em­ploy­ees. Ex­am­in­ing the struc­ture of each depart­ment to this de­gree would be a tall or­der.

The worst bros are the eas­i­est to make cases out of, and I’m glad some of them have had a very bad sum­mer. Their down­falls will move the nee­dle for­ward. But ca­sual, ev­ery­day sex­ism is in the wa­ter in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Marcio Jose Sanchez As­so­ci­ated Press

AN EN­GI­NEER called Google an ide­o­log­i­cal echo cham­ber.

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