The tech industry is still very much a man’s world. In this world, where women are underrepresented, sexual harassment is rampant, according to numerous reports.
A startling 60 percent of women surveyed in Silicon Valley say they have been sexual harassment victims. Now that this ugly situation has been revealed, expect more lawsuits to delve deeper into this toxic environment. On many levels, the tech culture resembles a frat-boy culture, and it’s time for those boys to grow up.
Is it Disruption or Discrimination?
Silicon Valley’s favorite buzzword, disruption, is often used as a cover for what in any other industry is blatant discrimination.
Startups often have little in the way of an HR department, and the young – overwhelmingly male – founders have little interest in disciplining male colleagues. Successful startups make founders rich beyond their wildest dreams, and the combination of money and inexperience is a recipe for over-the-top entitlement.
So far, most women in tech who have been victims of sexual harassment or discrimination have sought other work opportunities or settled harassment claims behind closed doors. They remember what happened to Ellen Pao, and her losing suit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
That was two years ago, a lifetime in tech.
Widespread allegations of sexual harassment in the industry may encourage more women to come forward and file suit.
Women outnumber men at top schools. Yet, in Silicon Valley, they make up only 20 percent of tech staff at top companies. The boards of the major Silicon Valley companies are just 11 percent female. Is all that venture capital money pouring into Silicon Valley? Only a tiny amount goes to female entrepreneurs and very few venture capitalists are women.
Smear Campaigns – Allegations Against UBER
When women do come forward, they may find themselves victims of smear campaigns. That’s what software engineer Susan Fowler has experienced since she published her blog post about her “one, very, very strange year” at Uber.
On her first day at work, her manager sent her various messages – over the company chat – saying he was looking for women with whom he could have sex. Fowler reported him to the HR department but was told the man was a “high performer” and this was his first offense.
Fowler was told she could either find another team to work with or stay on this man’s team – and almost certainly receive a poor performance review from him. She chose to join another team, and over the next several months heard similar stories from female engineers. When Fowler began her job at Uber, 25 percent of the organization was female. By the time she left a year later, the number had dropped to 6 percent.
Fowler reports that after the blog post went viral, she heard from friends and acquaintances that they were asked for damaging information about her. Uber denies that it was behind this. Fowler tweeted, “I don’t know who is doing this or why. If someone contacts you, please send me their contact information immediately.”
Facing a public backlash, Uber has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate claims of sexual harassment at the company. Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington, an Uber board member, is also assisting in the investigation alongside Uber’s general counsel and its HR chief.
Torment at Tesla
In February, A. J. Vandermeyden, an engineer at Tesla, filed a harassment suit against the company alleging a culture of pervasive harassment.
Still employed at Tesla, Vandermeyden told The Guardian, “Until someone stands up, nothing is going to change. It’s shocking in this day and age that this is still a fight we have to have.” Her complaint states not only was she paid less than male engineers whose work she took over, but she also had to endure “inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls” when out on the factory floor.
Vandermeyden also claims she was retaliated against after raising concerns about cars sold in a “defective state.”
Technology Employment Law
Because of this toxic tech environment, technology employment law is a booming field. It’s the only way this new old boy’s club will change its ways. Not long ago, companies across the country were rife with similar accusations of gender discrimination and harassment.
While incidents still occur, those company cultures now take discrimination and harassment seriously. Silicon Valley will learn the hard way that in this regard, they are not exceptions.
Are you a victim of Silicon Valley’s culture of pervasive sexual harassment or retaliation? Our team of lawyers can help. Contact one of our Experienced Sexual Harassment Lawyers to learn your options. Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944.
All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation. Our legal services are handled on a contingent fee basis meaning no legal fees or costs unless we win.)