I first met Jenni Snyder when I moderated a panel on Moms in Tech for the 2015 Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco. The panel included women who had each struggled to figure out how to be a mom in the predominately male-dominated tech world.
The lack of women in the technology industry has been garnering headlines for years and came to a frothy head in 2014 when industry giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others revealed their paltry employment statistics. Most of the biggest names in tech couldn’t muster more than an 18 percent female headcount in tech-related jobs.180
“How could that be?” everyone asked.
“It’s the pipeline,” everyone answered.
There is no doubt there is an issue when it comes to the pipeline. The data shows that since the mid-1980s, the number of women graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math has dropped significantly.181 Since there are so few “qualified” women to hire, well, of course, that must explain why there are so few women in the industry.
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But women in tech are more than just technical professionals. There are marketers, product managers, customer support leaders, human resource executives, operations managers, and so on. These jobs typically don’t have many women in them either, aside from the “pink collar” jobs of marketing and human resources. The data released by the Googles and Facebooks of the world revealed that there wasn’t just a dearth of women in technical careers, but women in the tech industry overall. On average, the companies reported just 29.1 percent of their entire workforce were women.
“How could that be?” everyone asked.
“It’s the sexist environment,” everyone answered.
The argument goes that the industry is so sexist it won’t hire women and when they do get hired the hostile workplace and “bro” culture sends them packing. In 2013, an app called TitStare that showed men staring at women’s cleavage was released at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference (one of Silicon Valley’s biggest annual events). At the same conference, one of the organizers simulated masturbating on stage. When TechCrunch organizers apologized for the incidents, another key technologist, Pax Dickinson, previously the CTO of Business Insider, tweeted out that he thought an apology was kowtowing and that it was just a little bit of “minor” misogyny.182
By 2014, women such as former GitHub software developer Julie Ann Horvath began sharing their stories of harassment and abuse via social media. Finally, the experiences of women in tech were shown to not be just isolated cases, but a pattern of more than “minor” misogynistic behavior. And then there was the Ellen Pao lawsuit against venture capital firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which became a lightning rod for the challenges many women in tech (and beyond) were experiencing. Ellen claimed she’d both been harassed and faced gender discrimination while she worked at Kleiner. They claimed she was a “bad fit” and didn’t have the chops to be a successful venture capitalist. She eventually lost her case on all counts, creating more anger and resentment amongst women in tech.
The tipping point came during the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in October 2014. The event, an annual gathering of women technologists, is hosted by the Anita Borg Institute. Over the past five years, the conference has gotten bigger and bigger. That fall’s event was the largest they’d had with more than 8,000 women coming from all over the country.
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