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A new report analyzing the state of women in Silicon Valley came out this week and the results are far from encouraging. Coauthored by Trae Vassallo, Ellen Levy, Michele Madansky, Hillary Mickell, Bennett Porter, Monica Leas, and Julie Oberweis, “The Elephant in the Valley” survey sheds light on the rampant discrimination, harassment, and unconscious bias women still face in the tech world.
Vassallo, a former partner at venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins, was inspired to work on the report after testifying at a gender discrimination trial. (Former partner Ellen Pao filed a suit against Kleiner Perkins in 2012.) After Vassallo shared her harassment story during the trial, a number of peers approached her and relayed their own similar experiences. “Anecdotally, it seemed like more than half of all the women I talked to had had a horrific set of experiences,” she explained on Kara Swisher’s “Re/code Decode” podcast last week.
The study polled more than 200 women working in tech, all with at least 10 years of experience, largely from Bay Area– and Silicon Valley–based companies, including Apple and Google. The statistics published in their report were astounding. Below, a few of its most upsetting figures:
60 percent of women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances
65 percent of those women had received those advances from a superior at work
90 percent of women witnessed sexist behavior at company offsites or at a conference
84 percent of those surveyed were at one point told they were “too aggressive” in the office
While many women have faced overt examples of harassment and discrimination, coauthor Michele Madansky (formerly of Yahoo) explained that another major problem in the industry is unintentional bias from male coworkers. “There’s so much of this conscious and unconscious bias that does happen, and that’s the broader story to be told,” Madansky said during her “Re/code” podcast interview. Swisher, a long-time tech world reporter, expressed doubt that there was anything unconscious about the discrimination taking place in Silicon Valley. “This is a group of smart people who know precisely what they’re doing,” she responded. “If they can code all of Google, they can figure this out.”
One of the most interesting findings of the study revealed that gender bias often occurs even before female employees receive a job offer. According to the survey, 75 percent of women said they were asked about their family life, marital status, and children during job interviews. One woman revealed to the coauthors that she was asked, “How do we know you’re not going to run off and have a baby?” Another said she was questioned about her views on abortion and religion.
Of course, unconscious and conscious gender bias during job interviews isn’t limited to the tech industry. In fact, these anecdotes and statistics recalled an old piece of advice I once received from a family friend: He warned me to never wear a wedding ring during a job interview because a band on my finger would alert my future employer that I was most likely going to have children in the near future, which would be an automatic disadvantage in the hiring process. To quote Jennifer Lawrence’s equal pay essay: “For some reason, I just can’t picture someone saying that about a man.”
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