Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Gender Tensions in the Tech Industry
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Readers share their personal stories and debate the various issues raised in our April 2017 cover story, “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” (Its author, Liza Mundy, had a Q&A with readers here.) To join in, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

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Not Wanting to Be a Token in Tech

Two readers are very wary of hiring practices in Silicon Valley that strongly take gender into account. Here’s Sally:

This article [“Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”] refers a couple times to people saying that hiring women or minorities may “lower the bar” as some kind of evidence of bias. But usually when people say that, they are referring to using gender as a criteria for hiring. When you do that, you have to give less weight to technical merit.

And indeed, towards the end of the article, using such criteria is advocated. Whenever you set a “goal” (i.e. quota) that 40 percent of your workforce should have quality X when X has nothing to do with your ability, you are going to get people with lower-than-average ability. What’s worse, you have a situation where those in the company with quality X have less ability than those without that quality, which only reinforces the stereotypes about those people—which is unfair to those Xs who are competent.

Personally, I’d much rather companies focus on treating their female employees equally than worry about increasing the number of female employees. But that’s just me.

It’s also Carla Walton, a female engineer in HBO’s Silicon Valley:

More of Carla vs. Jared here. This next reader has an outlook and attitude similar to Sally’s:

I’m a senior tech executive in Silicon Valley who happens to be female. I also have a male name, which makes initial introductions interesting. (“Oh, I thought you would be a man...”) If it matters, in addition to leading an R&D technical team at work, I’m on [the board of a computer engineering department], and a startup advisor [for a prominent venture capital firm].

I have a lot to say about this article. On one side, I am burned out on the “women in tech” topic. I want to be included/recruited because I totally kill it and always bring my A-game—and never ever ever because I am a woman.

A reader with a Ph.D. in physics has been working in the tech industry for many years, but she’s struggled to cope with the huge gender imbalance at the start-ups she’s worked for. She feels she can’t fully be herself—or a mother:

When I entered the office for my interview, I saw every head in the glass-enclosed conference room pop up and look over at me. I’ve trained myself to have a sort of small, permanent smile plastered on my face, and I hoped, as the room was looking me over, that my smile looked natural, approachable, and genuine.

That is the persona I’ve settled on: Approachable and genuine. Everyone’s little sister.

In that way, I can inhabit a special place, still allowed to be feminine, someone everyone roots for but no one is sexually attracted to, or intellectually threatened by. Everyone wants his kid sister to win. Everyone will defend his little sister from bullies.

Sure, you may forget she is a girl; you may leave her out of some things because you forget about her; but you are not going forget her all together. And you certainly aren’t going to want your friends to sleep with her.