Silicon Valley Needs To Get Its Act Together On Sexual Harassment & Discrimination

from the this-is-bad dept

You may have heard, recently, about a series of reports about sexual harassment (and general sexism and other similarly awful behavior) in Silicon Valley. It's not a new thing, but it's getting a lot of necessary attention right now and it's seriously messed up. It's unacceptable. It needs to stop -- and people need to speak up about it, and to come down hard on anyone who's engaging in it or letting it slide. If you're doing the kind of crap being discussed, stop it now (and go apologize). If someone tells you you're acting inappropriately, listen to them. And if you see someone else doing something awful, tell them to knock it off and then follow through.

It's no secret that, in general, I'm a fan of Silicon Valley and the innovations that are created here. Indeed, it's been argued by some that I'm too supportive of Silicon Valley at times. But, to me, it's the innovation that's important, and the way that it can make our lives better. When companies are doing bad things that can negatively impact that innovation, they should be called out on it. For example, a few years ago, we thought it was a good thing that many companies in Silicon Valley got into serious trouble for colluding to prevent poaching of workers from one another. That was bad news, anti-competitive and anti-innovation. As we've discussed for years, widespread job mobility is a key component to innovation in the tech sector.

Another thing that's a key component to innovation? Diversity and a range of perspectives and ideas. That's one of the (many) reasons we've advocated for more immigration for high tech workers and also against this administration's effort to restrict immigration of all kinds. The basic human issues behind it are most important, but the diversity of viewpoints and perspectives is in there as well. To create better innovations that help the world, we need it to be driven by more than just a subset of the population who come from similar backgrounds.

That's another reason why it sucks to see more and more evidence of massive, and widespread, sexism and sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. Again, this isn't something new. It's been going on for a while. But it's finally getting some necessary sunlight. It kicked off with a somewhat horrifying post by Susan Fowler about her experiences at Uber, in which the HR department appeared to bend over backwards to not do anything in response to repeated reports of seriously inappropriate behavior at the company. The Guardian has now published a similar account from an engineer at Tesla.

The Guardian also has another article detailing even more horrific stories of totally inappropriate behavior towards women. I've seen some arguing that at least some of these claims are exaggerated, but that doesn't matter and it's a bullshit excuse. Just the fact that anything even remotely like this happened is disgusting and unacceptable.

Haana was so repulsed by what happened to her, she covered up her mirror so she wouldn’t have to look at herself. The Silicon Valley tech worker said that after drinks with startup colleagues last year, a male executive at her company put his hand up her shirt and groped her while they walked down the street.

“I felt disgusted for months after that,” said Haana, who requested that the Guardian not include her full name or identify the small tech startup where she used to do marketing. “It affects me on a level that I wish it didn’t.”

I know that this doesn't happen everywhere and it doesn't happen to everyone, but it appears to be happening. And if it's happening anywhere it's happening too much. The NY Times has a story mostly about the situation at Uber, but it also includes the following anecdote:

“This stuff is deeply entrenched,” Ms. Kapor Klein said, relaying a story she had recently heard about a group of programmers at a different tech company. “I heard about this engineer who said that what he and his friends do at work for fun is rate women job applicants according to who they wanted to marry, or who they wanted to kill, and there was a third thing.” Suffice it to say the third thing was not the women’s qualifications for the job in question.

You know what the third thing is. It's a dumb party joke game that has always been stupid in that kind of setting. Bringing it into the office is horrifying. I'll admit that I don't get to experience this. I'm a white guy in Silicon Valley. But the more you talk to people, the more you find out how frequently this happens. I've wanted to believe that it's not widespread around here -- but that doesn't appear to be the case at all. It is widespread, and it's happening all the time. There are just too many stories -- and each time it's allowed, it just enables more to happen. That has to stop.

Part of the lore of Silicon Valley is that so-called "disruptive innovation" sometimes involves breaking some rules, or at least pushing the boundaries of norms. And, for the sake of innovation, that's often worthwhile. But it needs to be done for the sake of innovation, and it shouldn't mean that all other basic human decency goes out the window at the same time. Silicon Valley has faced a lot of criticism over the last couple of years -- much of it unjustified in my opinion. But shit like this undermines all of that on so many levels. It's disgusting and inhumane. It's stupid and self-defeating.

For a long time, I've resisted the description many (frequently outsiders) have given to the culture at many Silicon Valley startups and tech firms that it's a "fraternity-like culture." Because so many of the people and companies I've known are absolutely nothing like that. But it's clear that some are very much like that -- and, no doubt, the success and money and public attention that Silicon Valley has been getting has driven more people to show up believing that's the culture, and then making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's bad.

It needs to stop. It should stop because treating women that way is just wrong -- full stop (treating anyone that way is just wrong -- but it mostly happens to women). You shouldn't need to read beyond that (and you should really know that already). But if that's not a good enough reason for you (and if it's not, check your priorities, because they're messed up), you can pile on many others: a lack of diversity (which goes beyond just the male/female issue) is really damaging for innovation. It leads to less innovation and less interesting innovation. Having a diversity of perspectives and insights is what makes innovation happen faster and it makes that innovation more powerful. You get more with diversity and it should be embraced, celebrated and sought after. You also can get a better understanding of a much larger market. Building products solely from a singular perspective and viewpoint limits who will use your products and how. On top of that, Silicon Valley and many of its innovations are under attack from a variety of different directions -- and that's likely to continue. Giving more ammunition to critics by doing stupid stuff like harassing women and treating people like crap makes things much, much worse. But, again, even adding these justifications seems silly to me, because the first one should be enough.

Yes, people like to make fun of the "we're changing the world" attitude that is often exuded from this region of the country. But here's the thing: it's often true. Many of the innovations from this small area of the world really have changed the wider world around us, and there's plenty of opportunity to do more of that. And over the years, I've met and dealt with tons of people for whom changing the world and making it a better place truly is a driving force. But, there are a lot of people here and not everyone is driven by the same motivations. And some people just don't know how to behave. If Silicon Valley is going to continue to lead the world in innovation, it needs to stamp out this kind of behavior completely. It is completely unacceptable and it shouldn't be left just upon those who are the vicitims of that kind of activity to speak up. We should all be speaking up and should be calling out any sort of inappropriate behavior like that.

Filed Under: discrimination, diversity, innovation, sexism, sexual harassment, silicon valley
Companies: tesla, uber

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2017 @ 10:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Cry me a river. I've had a female friend go homeless for four months, another end up in the hospital with a cardiac arrest after 6 months of blackmail, coercion, and death threats to his family, and a female acquaintence jump in front of a train to kill herself in part because of this McCarthyist witch hunt.

    My bar for caring rose immensely after my acquiantance committed suicide. I no longer care about *anyone* who demands my respect and fealty. I've seen where that route goes.

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