How to Combat Sexism in the Tech Industry

Wondering why that #DeleteUber hashtag is trending again this week?

Uber has been in the headlines following a powerful blog post by former employee Susan Fowler alleging deep and pervasive sexism and harassment at the ride-sharing titan. In case you missed it, Fowler, a former engineer at the company, details how she was sexually harassed nearly as soon as she started working at Uber full-time. She complains to HR, only to have her concerns repeatedly shut down and sidelined. As Refinery29 details,

“Fowler’s blog post details multiple incidents displaying gender bias, including a story about company gifts, leather jackets, that were awarded to the men, but not the women. When Fowler asked why she and other women were denied their due, she was told, ‘There were not enough women in the organization to justify placing an order.’
What’s even more startling? Fowler noted that when she began in 2015, Uber’s staff was comprised of 25% women. Now? It’s at 3%. Considering how much the company has grown in the past year, this alone is upsetting.”

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s response has been swift and definitive; the company hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Fowler’s allegations. However, this episode is just the latest in a trend that pops into headlines again and again: sexism in Silicon Valley is real, and these isolated incidents appear to be indicative of something much deeper.

Indeed, tech companies like Uber have been in the news before, for both sexual harassment and for the lack of diversity — gender and otherwise- in Silicon Valley in general. From Ellen Pao’s failed lawsuit to an “Elephant in the Valley” survey which found that 87% of the 220 women interviewed had witnessed demeaning comments from their colleagues, even the progressive, innovative thinkers at some of the hottest start-ups out there are guilty of furthering systemic gender discrimination. Some incidents, of course, are more nefarious than others, but the fact remains that only about 30% of employees at major tech companies are women.

As Tiffany Dufu writes in her book Drop the Ball, we need to fight the good fight against institutional gender inequality in any way we can. But, while that battle continues, young men and women still go to work every day, and still grapple with making sure they’re being paid equally and treated fairly. What are some of the best ways right now to handle sexism in the tech industry?

We have some ideas of some ways, both big and small, for you to combat sexism in the tech industry (or any industry for that matter).

Overhear a sexist joke? Don’t laugh.

The next time you’re at lunch with a bunch of male engineers and someone cracks a sexist joke…don’t give them the audience they crave. “ Make eye contact with the jokester and keep an impassive expression,” suggests Lara Rutherford-Morrison in Bustle. They’ll know you heard, and that you don’t approve, and that you are holding them personally accountable for their poor taste of humor. It’s a subtle way to show the workplace is no place for tasteless jokes.

Combat unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is prevalent both in the tech industry and in Hollywood. As Business Insider describes it, unconscious bias is when “an ‘equal opportunity virus’ that everyone possesses, regardless of his or her own group membership. It’s the pervasive, hidden, and deep-set attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious and involuntary way.” In Silicon Valley, it especially affects how many women are hired and promoted, especially in technical roles.

There are a couple of ways to combat gender bias: for one, make sure your references are rock-solid. The gender recommendation gap exists, but BULLIT has a way to circumvent this manifestation of unconscious bias. Same goes for the gender wage gap: we’re giving you the tools to fight for your worth. Curate anonymous reviews to show the skills that cut across gender, age, race and ethnicity.

Stop the manterrupting.

Manterrupting and mansplaining is that thing where a woman is speaking and a male colleague decides to start talking over her, frequently to explain something she’s already articulating. One way to combat this particular form of sexism/rudeness is to just. keep. talking: “Treat it like a game. Whatever you have to do, keep talking.”

However, that can lead to chaos, so we suggest trying something the women in the Obama White House created called “amplification: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” We love women supporting women, but men, feel free to get involved too — anything to make sure women are being heard at the table.

Make sure your performance is evaluated fairly.

Fowler notes in her blog post that her performance evaluations were one tool the HR team used to hold her back as she tried to get away from her lecherous manager:

“[My] transfer was being blocked because I had undocumented performance problems. I pointed out that I had a perfect performance score, and that there had never been any complaints about my performance. I had completed all OKRs on schedule, never missed a deadline even in the insane organizational chaos, and that I had managers waiting for me to join their team.”

And while it does seem like the HR team at Uber pointedly used her evaluation to entrap Fowler, performance reviews have repercussions elsewhere for women in the tech industry. As Anne Fisher writes in Fortune, “studies show that women are often held to higher standards and evaluated more harshly than their male peers.” In fact, “the difference is especially marked when review criteria are vague, so that we as managers rely more on ‘gut feelings’ and personalities.”

Experts suggest making sure people are accountable for their official feedback. If you’re staying up-to-date on your BULLIT reviews and feedback on the 6-key performance metrics we use, then you should be able to go into your official evaluation with confidence and authority knowing where you stand.

Pay it forward.

Like the women of the Obama White House, empowered women empower other women. Recognize your colleagues achievements, mentor entry-level employees or peers, and make sure that the women at the table are being heard. BULLIT is a quick way to give someone a boost on the fly- leave feedback for a coworker who shows excellent leadership, whose creativity isn’t being fully recognized, or who could just use some positive reinforcement.

Have other ideas for combating sexism in Silicon Valley? We’d love to hear them. Tweet at us: @BULLIT_me.


Originally published at BULLIT.