We’re largely aware of tech’s push to get more women involved in the industry. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, while women make up 47 percent of the country’s workforce, only 24 percent held roles in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM), and while we can talk about ways to try and improve that statistic, we still have to address the underlying problem, one that has long festered within Silicon Valley and only now is really getting noticed.
In a new book entitled “Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley“, Bloomberg TV reporter Emily Chang looks beyond the educational interests and at the psychological reasons why tech remains a male-dominated industry. In the time of the #MeToo movement, Silicon Valley is facing a reckoning of its own, with women outing investors, bosses, and well-known personalities and accusing them of sexual harassment.
Men have long been celebrated as the leaders of tech, but that’s largely because of the environment that has been cultivated for decades which have led to women abandoning their dreams in favor of safety. “Brotopia” provides an education on the constant battle women have to fight in order to have a seat at the table.
You might be familiar with excerpts from Chang’s book that appeared in Vanity Fair and Fortune, but there’s so much more to it that I was pleasantly surprised. Upon reading the former excerpt, it was my impression that this book would regale readers with tales that women went through — you know, expose the real gossip. But the reality is Chang doesn’t lob juicy tales at you like this is some tabloid you’d read while in line at the grocery store checkout. She goes back to the beginning of the industry to underscore that just because women are calling out alleged harassers like Justin Caldbeck, Dave McClure, and Steve Jurvetson, it’s been a long time coming.
What I enjoyed about “Brotopia” is the examination of the so-called bro culture. Although you’d think that the aim of the book is to show tech is incredibly sexist and it’s time for women to take their rightful place, Chang applies what I’d consider to be thoughtful journalism, looking at the good and the bad of companies she writes about. At first the book moved a bit slow with too much history, but it really picked up and piqued my interest that it wound up being a real page-turner and has further impacted how I view the industry in which I work.
Not only are we presented with culture run amok at Trilogy back in the 1990s, but there are deeper looks into the cultures of PayPal, Google, Uber, Slack, Affirm, Reddit, Facebook, and in the venture capital space. Some are positive as in companies you might want to look to for inspiration for diversity and inclusion, while others are quite damning.
Chang looks at the trials that women have gone through, including those from former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Aileen Lee, Ellen Pao, Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, and others. Many of these tales you’re probably already familiar with, as they’ve been highly publicized in the media already. And while there are a lot of bad cases highlighted in the book, it’s my impression that Chang doesn’t want to necessarily invoke outrage, but to educate readers in how they could change things around.
There’s no perfect solution after you read “Brotopia” and definitely no magic wand for curing all that ills Silicon Valley, but the book should be an wake up call, along with others that have been published, including one written by journalist Sarah Lacy, who herself has been targeted by companies in the past, such as Uber.
You might question whether this is just a timely publication, one filled with salacious gossip, but “Brotopia” only has a couple of sections in which Chang uses pseudonyms — like the one featured in Vanity Fair, for example. A huge majority of this 306-page work is on-the-record where actual names are used. To add more value to the readers, Chang doesn’t just repeat stories that have been previously outed, such as the the one involving Pao and her former firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but leverages notes from previous interviews she’s had along with first-hand meetings she’s had with entrepreneurs and others.
“Brotopia” also looks beyond women in tech, but women using tech. There is a chapter that examines trolling and harassment women receive online on sites such as Twitter, Reddit, and even in gaming. Chang looks at how companies can better protect female employees and what possible business use cases there are for eliminating hate from services and products.
The tech industry isn’t one that belongs to men — anyone should be allowed to participate. So for those that think women who can’t handle the pressure should just leave, perhaps this quote from Uber engineer Lydia Fernandez is appropo:
If I wanted an easy career, I would have gone and worked in high-frequency trading and not come out for another ten years. But I’m interested in…making things faster and more efficient, and working on what I’m doing looking like this…The rest of the world can go fuck themselves.
“Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley” is available today in your local bookstore and on Amazon.