Reading about how some men treat women in this industry — and hearing about similar, crazy experiences from female friends —reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment — when people feel like there is no recourse for those they attack, they do deeply irresponsible things. I believe men are in for a surprise as this subject moves from hidden whispers to full throated roar. Allies will be found. Change is inevitable. The only question is how fast it will happen. Over a year ago Jessi Hempel lit up gender in tech and how we talk about it. The conversation fizzled. Now we are talking about it again.
Different symptom. Same disease.
Women have long been overlooked despite incredible talent, intelligence, and hard work. But, as society becomes more transparent and inherently networked, everything we do becomes more relationship driven. Talent is harder to ignore, intellectual horsepower gets highlighted, credit more naturally flows to those responsible,
influence builds more quickly.
This networked world also shines a light on the shit women have been dealing with for decades. There’s the explicit harassment, the subtle cultural cues like continuing conversations in the men’s room, male dominated networking events and dinners, and of course the completely absurd. Underlying discrimination has again risen to the surface, and we have to decide what each of us will do to fix it.
The blatant harassment is horrific, but we should not lose sight of cultural bias as the long term killer. The most extreme examples of douchebaggery will bubble up first and be destroyed by the spotlight. But, the real beast in all this is the unconscious biases and subtle pejorative cues that define the experience of too many women.
The power dynamic plays out in flashes of aggression and pools of quiet corrosion. We need to say no to both.
The collective unconscious is the only thing pervasive enough to suppress stories of unwanted advances writ large. The same force underpins the reality that less than 11% of Silicon Valley executives and less than 4% of VC partners are female. There is an equal distribution of intelligence, motivation and grit across the genders, so why the dramatic imbalance at the top? It has to be bias. These biases are the foundation for 50% of our population holding less than 20% of board seats and less than 5% of CEO positions at our largest companies.
We have a long way to go, but I hope a willingness to talk about one symptom of the problem is a first step to being part of the solution to the broader issue.
It takes bravery to drive change. The women who are choosing to speak up about their experiences are the foundation of the change that is coming. They deserve a huge thank you and even more, a ton of respect.