It is 2013 and a dirty little secret is once again coming to light. Silicon valley is devoid of women computer scientists and engineers. It all started at a tech conference where two men in the audience were engaging in tech's typical juvenile sex jokes chatter with a woman techie sitting right in front of them. She, unlike many women, who suffer in silence when alienated and ostracized by such continual boys club dialog, tweeted the banter to the world, along with a photo of the guys. As a result of her very public call out she was fired. Now this is a woman who already ran a blog, But you're a girl, known to speak out about misogynist tech culture and clearly her employer knew that upon hire. Yet the kneejerk reaction of Silicon valley is to fire the woman, belittle the woman, blame the woman, bemoan the woman instead of being aware women have to listen to male geek sex jokes daily. The two men were doing what is a daily practice in Silicon valley, talking loudly about forking and dongles, banal technology concepts, as sexual innuendo. Other women techies called out the firing.
Who knows what went on in the minds of SendGrid management. But it seemed like an awfully kneejerk move, a clear attempt at appeasement to the troll armies. And however you may disagree with how Adria handled the incident at PyCon - and there is ample room for disagreement - the reaction against her specifically was wildly disproportionate, explicitly gendered, actively threatening and puts all the blame on her. PyCon, which responded to her tweet and immediately removed the men in question, has gotten off pretty unscathed.
Even more extreme, the hackivist group anonymous showed their true colors by issuing a demand letter the women be fired and blamed her for doing what many women in tech has thought of doing, confronting the Tech boys club culture. So that's the bottom line, boys can say stupid things and if women confront them, they will be fired. If it is public enough, one of the guys will be fired. This is over stupid banter during a conference that happens ever minute of every day in the world of tech. In terms of discrimination, such boys club chatter is trivial in comparison to the real problems for women in technology. Yet, the message generally is people will be fired for saying stupid things and reacting to stupid things that are the fabric of Silicon valley culture. This event illustrates one very good reason there are so few women techies. One can lose their job over something that could be addressed by a few mandatory lectures on subtle sexism and misogyny along with a slap on the wrist to wake people up. Instead people lose their careers completely disproportionate to the offense. The entire event typifies why Silicon valley is hostile towards women. For the guys, these actions create terror that they may lose their careers over saying something around a female techie that is the daily conversational fodder of tech work culture and is standard issue to socially engage with one's tech peers. Like any club, there are certain social rules to show one belongs and saying stupid, silly sexist, misogynistic things is almost required to be accepted as one of the gang.
Is the tech sector interested in actually dealing with the real things that matter to diversify the industry? Of course not. Instead of confronting equal pay for equal work, glass ceilings, technical belittlement, professional ridicule, discrimination in hiring, evaluation and achievement, we have policies which only force people to watch their P's and Q's, terrified they will be fired for saying the wrong thing. Just recently the first female CEO of Yahoo made sure she will have fewer women techies by denying remote work. Other corporations refuse to allow kids at work, help with daycare, flex time and other perks to make managing one's responsibilities with a demanding job possible and less stressful. In other words, many of tech companies act like there must be the little woman at home to take care of all the family responsibilities while the male works 80 hours a week. Have you ever heard of cases where a woman innovator's achievements were dismissed or worse, assigned to a male colleague? Those are the things which matter and why there are so few women and U.S. domestic diversity in tech, yet this latest event will only focus on what should be made public and what decibel is low enough to not be overheard.
With that, what should be front page news instead of the above absurdity is this Congressional testimony about foreign guest workers being almost exclusively male. Corporations claim a worker shortage, all the while increasing the barrier to entry for women.
Let me warn the Committee about the obstacles which the H-1B visa program creates for American women in STEM fields. We all know that there is a serious gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and math. Some of this is outright discrimination. Some of it can be attributed to the hostile environment that develops when a professional field is closed off to women, or any other underrepresented group. Some can be directly traced to cultural pressures and negative social stereotypes of intelligent women, all of which we try to overcome through our Women in Engineering program.
But clearly, disincentives to hire an American woman for that first STEM job are a huge obstacle to moving up in the field. It is hard to get promoted when you don’t get hired in the first place. The existence of this preferred pipeline for new hires has a hugely discouraging effect on independent American women considering STEM fields.
The vast majority of H-1B workers are men. Everybody knows this. The IEEE-USA represents more American high tech workers than anybody else, so we have sources. One from inside the industry, looking at the offshoring companies that dominate the H-1B program, is that their global hiring is 70% men. But in the U.S., where outsourcing companies get more than half the capped H-1B visas, the ratio is more like 85% men. That's outrageous.
As an engineer, I don’t like making decisions without hard data. The IEEE-USA has been trying for months to get the actual data on this from DHS. They have been stonewalling us. It’s a simple question: how many women get H-1B visas? We are still waiting on our Freedom of Information Request. But it's a scandal that we even had to file one. When you think about it --why doesn't DHS already know exactly how many women get H-1B visas? If a major immigration program effectively discriminated based on race or national origin, would that be okay?
Norm Matloff took it further on the statistics to show, turning the U.S. educational system into a green card ATM is not going to stop gender bias.
For example, see Chips and Change, a 2009 MIT Press book by UCB economist Clair Brown and her coathor Greg Linden. In Figure 6.4, they show EE PhDs by gender and citizenship status, 1995-2004. Among the noncitizens, the male-female ratio is always at least 7::1, often 9::1. Those are considerably worse than the 70% figure she cites as known for the bodyshops, and somewhat worse than the 85% figure she speculates for them.
To show that gender and U.S. domestic diversity discrimination is systemic in Research and Development Engineering, CNN tried to obtain diversity data and even with a Freedom of Information act were denied.
How diverse is Silicon Valley? Most tech companies really, really don't want you to know, and the U.S. government isn't helping shed any light on the issue In an investigation that began in August 2011, CNNMoney probed 20 of the most influential U.S. technology companies, the Department of Labor, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filing two Freedom of Information Act requests for workforce diversity data.
A year and a half, a pile of paperwork, and dozens of interviews later, we have a little more insight -- but not much.
Most of the companies stonewalled us, but the data we were able to get showed what one might expect: Ethnic minorities and women are generally underrepresented, sometimes severely so -- particularly in management roles. White and Asian males often dominate their fields.
Our investigation demonstrated how difficult -- and sometimes impossible -- gaining any insight into Silicon Valley's employee diversity can be. It shows a general lack of transparency in an industry known for its openness.
What CNN managed to get from five companies they displayed in an interactive graphic. The graphic shows there is a serious lack of domestic diversity in these companies. Unfortunately, what their graph does not tell you is the job title and diversity within those job titles. Most tech companies do have women, but in support roles. When it comes to R&D engineering, it's common to see no women techies at all. There exists entire large engineering divisions where the only women around are secretaries.
Will Congress put U.S. equal opportunity above the never ending drumbeat for more foreign workers? No they won't. Silicon valley gives way too much in campaign cash and other perks and out of the window goes yet another American value. Corporations can fire people willy nilly over stupid things, yet when it comes to changing their policies and corporate culture, nothing will happen, as long as they cannot be successfully sued that is. We can bet corporations will pay plenty for marketing their corporations as great places to work and spend millions with corporate attorneys writing discrimination and harassment policies and handbooks, all the while not hiring women engineers and importing male foreign ones.