Does a man need to know what it is like to be a women in technology?

One of the most interesting things comments in Dharmesh Shah’s great talk last year at BoS 2013 about scaling culture was the importance of making sure that your culture doesn’t become ‘toxic’. There have been some very high profile cases that have bought the issue to the surface recently that reinforce this thought:

  • The awful stories of sexual harassment at Github relayed by Julie Anne Horvath that led to Tom Preston Werner, co-founder of GitHub leaving the company.
  • The extraordinary story emerging from Tinder where the only female co-founder of the company leaves and sues for sexual harassment and discrimination.
  • Let’s not get into the recent matter of Radium One CEO and Founder Gurbaksh Chahal who was despite being caught on video hitting his girlfriend 117 times, escaped the full set of charges against him on the grounds that the video of the incident was seized unlawfully (the police felt if they waited to get a warrant, Gurbaksh, would have wiped the tapes). It appears that despite the damming video evidence against him, he retained the confidence of his board who apparently advised him to accept lesser misdemeanour charges until the backlash was just too great to ignore.
  • Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer ‘oversleeps and misses posh dinner with top execs’ at Cannes Lions. (Poor love, trying to balance parenthood and an International business career the stories insinuated. What would the narrative around this be if it had been a man who missed that dinner? Plenty have).

Carlos Bueno’s recent blog post, Inside the Mirrortocracy, examines his perspective on Silicon Valley and the plethora of subcultures that imitate it and many ways that cultures reinforce their homogeneity and why this is something that VCs actively encourage.

“Ignorance of The Culture is a serious handicap if you want to land a job out here. Another story from same post is very tense. (The emphasis is mine.)

“We had a gentleman over to interview for one of our account executive positions… great resume, great cover letter, did well in our initial phone screen. “He was dressed impeccably in a suit… I stole a glance to a few of the people from my team who had looked up when he walked in. I could sense the disappointment. “It’s not that we’re so petty or strict about the dress code that we are going to disqualify him for not following an unwritten rule, but we know empirically that people who come in dressed in suits rarely work out well for our team. “He was failing the go-out-for-a-beer test and he didn’t even know it… “I told him he could take off his tie and jacket and loosen up a little bit, and he acknowledged that he felt a little out of place but said that, “you can never overdress for an interview.” “Well, dude, no, actually you can overdress for an interview and you just did.Of course I didn’t say it

“The cognitive dissonance on display is painful to see. Clothing is totally not a big deal! Because we’re cool like that! But it’s plain that it biased the interviewers. The team’s disappointment upon seeing the suit was immediate and unanimous. If you truly believe that suit == loser, you can’t help it. Nevertheless, the fiction of objectivity has to be maintained, so he denies it to the candidate’s face, to us, and himself.”

(It’s also well worth  reading his follow up post Refactoring the Mirrortocracy with some practical thoughts on trying to minimise the effects of e.g. confirmation bias in your interview process.) It is becoming increasingly clear that Silicon Valley’s ‘meritocracy’ is no more than an Old Boys Club in a different guise. A quick Google search shows how much has been written about ageism, sexism, racism in the meritocratic valley. Let’s not pretend though that the problem is restricted to SV. While the toxic elements of SV culture port equally well to other clusters of entrepreneurial activity around the world. Can we do anything about it? There are some who advocate teaching girls to code as being a significant part of the solution to the lack of diversity in technology. It is certainly go to play a part but what happens if those girls encounter a culture in their work environment is uncomfortable for them? Will they WANT to use their coding skills? One thing that we can try to do when we think about the culture we are building and nurturing in our own organisations is to try to take a walk in someone else’s shoes and try to seek and listen to perspectives other than the one we know – our own.

On that note, I am delighted to welcome Brianna Wu, co-Founder of Giant SpaceKat, to the Business of Software Conference speaking family.

Giant SpaceKat’s first big game release, Revolution 60 will be next week. Watch this space.

Brianna isn’t going to talk about building a games company though, she is going to share some of her thoughts about how we can treat women better in this industry.

The likelihood is, that if you are reading this, you are white, male and care about women and their under-representation in the industry. You probably consider yourself reasonably sensitive and you may have a daughter, a niece, the daughter of a friend or two who shows interest in technology and who you would love to help get into the industry. You might be a little overweight and have an unfortunate love of loud shirts. [That is just you Mark. Ed.]

You might think you are doing all you can to support them and help them get on in life.

You might just be reinforcing some of the behaviours and habits that are holding us back. Whoever you are, you can learn something from the experience. While you can never presume to understand what it is like to live another life, Brianna will share some of her thoughts on how we can build a stronger and more welcoming environment for approximately half the workforce.

You will enjoy and occasionally be challenged by Brianna’s talk that considers 9 things men can do to make women more welcome in technology. We can’t wait to hear her talk.