The Uber effect
When a company is so powerful and ubiquitous that its name becomes both a noun and a verb (one does not simply order an Uber, one Ubers, after all), going public with allegations of personal and institutionalized discrimination and harassment can be a career killer (especially when you're a woman).
Let's Talk About Sex
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Women in Tech
It can even trigger smear campaigns and attempts at character assassination designed to discredit women who challenge the status quo bro culture that has become synonymous with the American tech scene.
The latest headlines can be overwhelming and downright depressing. (Let's start with the number 60 — the percentage of women in tech who admit to being sexually harassed and suffering unwanted sexual advances from a male boss or co-worker, according to one study). But like with any form of institutionalized injustice and discrimination, change usually requires a few brave and fearless individuals to stand up and speak truth to power (and write a blog post and Tweet about it).
The Blog Post Read Around the World
Before the seemingly untouchable Travis Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO of Uber after a cluster bomb of accusations of wrongdoing against the company led to an epic house cleaning, there was Susan Fowler. A post on her personal blog, in which she detailed an infuriating, depressing and often cringe-inducing laundry list of gross corporate behavior went viral just as Uber was reaching a tipping point of bad press for its abusive and radioactive culture.
The Uber scandal is the most recent and possibly one of the most explosive, but there have been many others. GitHub. Kleiner Perkins. Tinder. The list goes on and on, and those are just the stories that have made headlines. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace is hardly exclusive to the tech sector, but the industry does seem to be suffering from an epidemic it really has no interest in fixing — until it starts to cost a company money and power.
Why Aren't More People Angry?
As dehumanizing as the abuse itself can be, the pervasive idea that getting harassed and marginalized at work in certain industries if you're a woman is "just the way it is" is a big part of the problem. Despite the fact that women make up over 50 percent of the population and get advanced college degrees at higher rates than men, many professional women can feel like they're trapped in a "Mad Men" episode because, like in the case of Uber and other high-profile corporations rocked by allegations of sexism, institutionalized discrimination is falsely attributed to a few "bad actors," regardless of how many women complain. Add to that any number of false cultural beliefs, one of the most pernicious being that women are just "bad" at math and science, and you end up with a massive case of collective victim blaming.
What Can Women (and Men) Do About It?
Sexism and misogyny have a long and complicated history, but like all problems, admitting it exists is the first step in conquering the beast. Female tech veteran Kim Scott advises women and girls to stay the course and not give up on an education and career in STEM because of the currently abysmal climate. Despite the numbers, many women enjoy fulfilling and rewarding careers across the tech sector.
For men and women, taking the "if you see something, say something" approach to harassment in the workplace can help to make toxic environments a little more breathable — and make women feel more comfortable reporting bad behavior. As consumers, we have the power of our wallets to fall back on. Make some calls, drop some hashtags, send some emails, and let companies know that if they want our business, they'll need to get down with the social justice.