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#MeToo Comes Out of the Shadows

Emily Chang (Photo: Paul Sakuma)

Call it #MeToo2.0.

As the tech industry’s issues with sexual harassment, workplace mistreatment, and abuse of power move out from the shadows, employees are holding their companies accountable with public displays of activism.

Sexism in Silicon Valley is the topic of Brotopia, a new book by Bloomberg Television host Emily Chang, who sat down with David Kirkpatrick on November 12 at Techonomy 2018 to talk about the insights gathered while writing it.

“I’ve learned that it’s far more systemic than even I thought,” Chang said. “When you don’t take action, it only gets worse. And it allowed this culture to fester…and now we see the result.”

At tech companies, that culture includes bias against hiring women, executive leadership that’s male-dominated, and, in many cases, incidents of workplace inequality and sexual harassment that are swept under the rug. Chang said she is heartened to see employees of both sexes becoming activists, unafraid of repercussions, and holding their employers up to public scrutiny.

Still, it’s no surprise that women struggle to not only enter the tech industry, but also to stay. Today, only 18 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women, according to Chang, and that number has been flat for the past decade. In 1984, women were earning 37 percent of computer science degrees, said Chang.

“To me the smoking gun was when you go back into the history of how and why the tech industry became so male dominated, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, women actually played a huge role in the early computing industry in the development of software,” said Chang. “Then in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you started to see women essentially get pushed and profiled out of an industry that they were already succeeding in.”

That’s because “the stereotype of the antisocial mostly white nerd started setting in,” which quickly turned into “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“[The tech industry] started doing these personality tests and aptitude tests to identify good programmers. They decided that good programmers ‘don’t like people.’ The research tells us that if you are looking for people who don’t like people, you’ll hire more men than women,” said Chang. “There’s no evidence to support the idea that people who don’t like people are better at this job than people who do.”

What’s more, if we aspire to solve big problems, it would make sense, Chang said, that we would need programmers who do care about people and who do have empathy for them. This rings especially true when it comes to building artificial intelligence, and what kinds of biases robots learn from the humans behind them. “Will robots share our values?” Chang asked.

“We are right now at a huge inflection point where technology, AI, machine learning is exploding,” she said. “There’s never been a better time to make sure that the people who are building that technology come from a diverse range of backgrounds.”

That means not only women, but also people of color, and particularly women of color.

“It’s making sure that [they] feel like they have a voice and that they can succeed over the course of a long career.”

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