Take Real Steps to Fight Sexism in Tech

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Harassment in the workplace. Sexism. Genderism. Bigotry and prejudice. Brogramming. Not just everywhere, but also in high tech, which – you’d think – should have been advanced past that backwardness.

Silicon Valley too. Blue city, blue industry, in a blue state. If you’ve been off the grid for a while, read this from the New York Times, Or google “Dave McClure Apology”, “Chris Sacca apology”, or “Justin Calder harassment” and you’ll see. Or just go straight to google brogramming. And these are just the most recent tip of the iceberg.

I don’t want to just wring my hands and write how bad it is (although I can’t resist some of that, but I’m putting it at the end, below) … I have compiled some lists of what, concretely, you can do about it.

Steps to fight sexism in tech. Seriously. Now.

Minda Zetlin published a three-point list in this article in Inc:

  1. VCs must publish the percentage of their funds they invest in women- and non-white-led startups.
  2. Hire more female VCs.
  3. Create an organization where women can make anonymous complaints.

Stephanie Manning of Leher Hippeau Ventures published a five-point plan (excerpts):

  1. Talk about it. Blog about it, Tweet about it, or reach out to your team about it. Acknowledge that this is unacceptable behavior and communicate to your team that this isn’t how you do business. Don’t think this isn’t my fund, this isn’t my co-investor, this isn’t my problem. It’s a problem for all of us.
  2. Don’t be creepy. Just don’t. Don’t put yourself in a position where actions or words could be misinterpreted. If you think “could this be crossing the line?” go out of your way to make sure you’re on the right side of the line and then take 5 steps back.
  3. STSD. Shut that sh*t down. If you are a male leader or any male within your organization and hear or see inappropriate things coming from your colleagues, shut it down. Right then and there. You can choose to do it in front of everyone or pull that person aside, but do it in real time. Make sure to follow up with the female who received the inappropriate comment to let her know that behavior will not be tolerated, you’ve confronted the individual, and you’d like to know if anything else comes up.
  4. Diversify. Look at your team, maybe you have all male leaders/partners/executives but where are the women? If they are already on your team, include them in important meetings and decision making. Studies show diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones so it’s mutually beneficial to bring more women to the table.
  5. Educate yourself. Don’t use the few women on your team as the go-to “token females” to answer all your questions about gender diversity. Seek out feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Reach out to friends at companies that tackle diversity and inclusion exceptionally well.

Human rights of women entrepreneurs

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, published a manifesto titled The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs that concluded with a pledge that all of us should take. He has his own list of three points (excerpts):

  1. VCs should understand that they have the same moral position to the entrepreneurs they interact with that a manager has to an employee, or a college professor to a student. If you are interested in pursuing a business relationship of some kind, you forfeit the prospect of pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship.
  2. If anyone sees a venture capitalist behaving differently from this standard, they should disclose this information to their colleagues as appropriate – just as one would if one saw a manager interacting inappropriately with an employee, or a college professor with a student.
  3. Any VC who agrees that this is a serious issue that deserves zero tolerance – and I certainly hope most do think this way – should stop doing business with VCs who engage in this behavior. LPs should stop investing. Entrepreneurs of all genders should stop considering those VCs.

And finally, an earlier list, 5 Ways For Men in Tech to Support Workforce Equality While Barely Trying, published in 2015 by Megan Berry, head of Product at OctaneAI and previously RebelMouse (also one of my four daughters). Megan wasn’t in the specific context of venture capital and investors, but was very much immersed in the day-to-day of high tech. She had her own 5-point list (again, excerpts)

  1. I’ll get it”. It’s all too common for the woman in the room to be asked to get coffee or water or pick up lunch. It’s usually done casually, even unintentionally, but all too often. Here’s a thank you to the guys who interrupt the ask to the only woman in the woman and say “I’ll get it.”
  2. Actually, you’re the pretty face.” True story. I was once leaving the office to give a talk, accompanied by a male co-worker. As we were getting ready to go, he made a joke about how I was the “pretty face.” A coworker told him, “Actually, you’re the one we’re sending to be the pretty face. She’s giving the talk.” Whenever you can turn a sexist joke back on the joketeller, women everywhere will thank you.
  3. Come grab a drink with us!” It’s easy for the only woman in a group to feel unsure if she’s welcome at the happy hour, the casual beers in the office or similar situations. These casual environments are important for anyone’s career. You gain mentorship, bond with your coworkers and get the insider knowledge to advance in the company. Don’t assume she feels welcome, welcome her.
  4. What do you think we should do?” Women are more hesitant to speak up in meetings than men. This is a generalization and not a rule (just ask my coworkers, I’m sure they’ll assure you I have no issue speaking up), but if you find yourself in a meeting with only one woman in the room, it can’t hurt to make sure she feels comfortable speaking up. It’s so easy to do and, hey, maybe she’ll have the best idea in the room.
  5. It’s so easy a dad could use it” The examples we use in everyday language and business are surprisingly powerful. If you talk about it being so easy a “mom could use it” I encourage you to push your creativity a step forward to think beyond the simplest of stereotypes.

OMG it’s 2017!

Jeez! This sh*t was obsolete years ago. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and even then, already, my mom taught me better than this. And, God knows, there was a whole lot of bias back then. (Mad Men was realistic for my generation. But it’s been 50 some years since Betty Friedan first published The Feminine Mystique. And 35 years since my sister encountered sexism in her career in Silicon Valley high tech. And 20 since one of my daughters first encountered it.

For those of us old white guys, it’s way too easy to forget, or ignore, that this is going on. I was shocked when my sister encountered it in a 1980s tech company that eventually went public. Shocked and saddened, when I discovered, via my daughters (I have four daughters, all in tech) first encountered it was they merged into the work world beginning in the late 1990s. Dismayed when my youngest got it in a San Francisco SOMA startup in 2012.

For the record, I haven’t been ignoring it. I’ve been fighting it. It’s been a thing in this blog for 10 years. I may be older white male, but I do know right from wrong.

Sexism in tech is a cancer. Stop it.



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