"Regarding protections, opportunities for advancement and recognition of women and minorities, Big Tech finds itself today where Wall Street was a generation ago". -TQC
When Bloomberg news anchor Emily Chang published “Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys Club of Silicon Valley” in February, 2018, the timing was ideal. This book was published in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s devastating fall from grace and the growing influence of the #MeToo movement. Although the book received a healthy endorsement from reviewers, its central topic, the sexist and misogynist culture of Silicon Valley, fell by the wayside. That most of the general public, and many women in particular, did not include Big Tech in its call to arms defies logic. The “boys club” culture of Silicon Valley has been well documented and not just by Ms. Chang but many others. So how is it that this particular segment of industry is somehow exempt from the basic tenets of society’s improved professional mores? Have the power players of the tech sector been spared simply as a result of the massive wealth they have generated for themselves and their shareholders coupled with the “cool” factor missing from old economy companies?
By comparison, largely-vilified Wall Street has made a lot of progress by acknowledging its culture problem and then taking action to foster a more inviting workplace environment for women and minorities. Regarding protections, opportunities for advancement and recognition of women and minorities, Big Tech finds itself today where Wall Street was a generation ago. Ironically, many of the same people who work in the technology sector -- which politically leans disproportionately Left -- while quick to express outrage over even an inkling of malfeasance at banks and brokerage firms, are less inclined to call out members of their own community for identical sins.
Recent reports of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ extramarital affair speaks to this point. Mr. Bezos did not appear the least bit embarrassed by the details of his ongoing romance with Lauren Sanchez. On the contrary, he seemed quite pleased with himself and was seen glibly strutting around in public with a newly buff physique. Mr. Bezos, and others tech barons, has been given a wide berth by his company’s board, its shareholders and many in the general public; not least because of the massive amount of wealth he’s created for himself and others. This reality has neutered board members and shareholders alike, rendering them seemingly incapable of demanding higher standards. Had a traditional “old economy” Fortune 500 CEO been found in a similar position, the repercussions would have almost certainly been more severe. At the very least, they'd have to make a public apology, answer to the board and quite possibly be pressured or forced to relinquish their position.
As a titan in the tech industry and a (very) public figure, Bezos has set the bar low as a role model. Nonetheless, at TQC our objective is not to indict Bezos or the positive contributions that technology has made to our society; rather, our objective is to highlight that Big Tech has generally abdicated its responsibility to establish meaningful standards in the quest for workplace dignity and equality for women and minorities. We would be remiss not to point out that there have indeed been isolated instances where appropriate actions were taken. Last year Brian Krzanich “resigned” as CEO of Intel after the company discovered he had engaged in a (consensual) extramarital relationship with a subordinate. Roy Fowler, the former head of Amazon Studios was terminated for sexual harassment, but probably only because it became public. However unlike on Wall Street, these examples of high powered execs being called to task are outliers, not the norm.
Women in technology are at a clear disadvantage in sheer numbers alone. The most recent data (and there are various sources) indicate that females represent just 20-25% of the workforce. While advanced technology has ushered in exponential quality of life improvements through efficiency gains and democratization of information, the same is not reflected in the manner in which the sector treats women. Even noteworthy high profile cases of women who have brought harassment and discrimination to the public domain, seemed to be dismissed as just “another news story.” Thus far, #MeToo has extended its influence only to those in finance, arts and entertainment. Where are they in support of women such as former Uber executive Susan Fowler or A.J. Vandermeyden, a former engineer at Tesla? Both faced prolonged and intensifying harassment, sexually and otherwise. And both attest to enduring it for as long as they did in the hope that senior managers would prevail in offering substantive guidance as well as support. They were disappointed. Other women came forward after hearing their stories but again those too fell on deaf ears.
Clearly, Silicon Valley has a problem with its treatment of females and one that will not be resolved so long as different standards are maintained for the robber barons of the “new economy”. Fortunately, the technology sector has the resources to combat a bankrupt corporate culture where too few “bros” are punished for mistreating women. It is our hope that this article will provide a much needed catalyst for some self-reflection and course-correction in the technology sector.