Not Wanting to Be a Token in Tech

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

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.

Being a token mascot isn’t a respectable job. In my experience, the women who vocally wave the “I’m a woman in tech!” banner have shitty or non-existent technical skills. I could tell numerous stories about women who are using that banner yet they can’t write a basic if-then-else statement, let alone spell A-P-I. It makes it harder for the rest of us.

One topic that wasn’t covered in the article is the additional pressure that successful senior women leaders have to inherit sometimes. Their male colleagues dump the gender gap on them to fix, and ask them to make the culture more inclusive. This places further burden on women leaders to carry the load for the up-and-coming females.

I have to say, true male champions and advocates are the key to fixing this quagmire. Many men say the right supportive things, but the decisions they make on who they promote or hire say otherwise. The male champions, who stand up for their female peers, who consistently demonstrate creating an environment that is conducive for women—they should be promoted into senior leadership.

One last ah-ha: I’ve never been hired or promoted by a woman—only men. I don’t know if that’s because there aren’t many women senior enough to make those decisions, or if I just was pulled towards male-dominated roles. But in 15 years of my tech career, the woman manager who had every reason to promote me did not. One month into her maternity leave, her male colleague promoted me because he figured out who was totally killing it.

Please don’t publish my name, but I’m happy to discuss further if you’re writing a follow-up. I’m knee deep into AI apps for holographic data conversion and don’t have time for another “get more women in tech” side project. Plus I need to stay employed. Bills, yo! :)

If you have a different experience than hers or Sally’s, or disagree with their views on gender in hiring, please drop us a note: