Emily Chang on Silicon Valley’s Sex & Drug-Fueled Bro Culture

Emily Chang on Silicon Valley’s

Sex & Drug-Fueled Bro Culture

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

Sex parties, drugs, bondage, blackmail: It sounds like journalistic embellishments of Stephen Glass proportions, but according to long-time reporter and media personality Emily Chang, ethical debauchery has become a way of life in Silicon Valley.

Chang, the host of Bloomberg Television and Executive Producer HBO’s Silicon Valley– sought out to bring to light the plethora of issues plaguing the tech industry, sparing no uncomfortable detail via two years of investigative reporting. Chang’s new book, aptly-called Brotopia, explores the ecosystem of male domination in the tech world and how it’s affected women who work within it. To get the unfiltered reality from those experiencing it, Chang utilized her ample network of Valley insiders, interviewing more than 3 dozen men and women, wholely immersing herself in a world that has become synonymous with sexism.

I think a lot of people don’t realize the #MeToo movement actually started in Silicon Valley with Ellen Pao who was a junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers,” says Chang. “She sued her venture capital firm [for gender discrimination in 2012] and she lost, but she won in the court of public opinion. think that was one of the first openings where women started talking about this.”  

According to Chang, one of the biggest disparities is that tech is such a progressive industry, yet has such stark inequality. In fact, she reveals that women make up just 25 percent of computing jobs, are just 7 percent of investors, and reminds us the grim truth that women got only two percent of funding last year. She also discovered that the pay gap in Silicon Valley is alarmingly high- in fact, five times the national average.

Photo courtesy of David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

“I think diversity has not been a priority,” says Chang matter-of-factly. “Growth has been a priority, users have been a priority, engagement has been a priority.”

Chang goes on to say that in the early days of Google, hiring women once was a priority, and because of this, women like Susan Wojcicki (the current CEO of YouTube), Sheryl Sandberg (known for radically scaling the business) and Marissa Mayer (the mind responsible for today’s minimalistic-and iconic- search interface), moved their way up through the ranks, but over time the numbers fell flat. “Now Google’s numbers are average just like every other company and they have quite a big pay gap,” she says.

In her book, Chang further explores the Google pay gap scenario, sharing how the women at the company started speaking up about their salaries, adding them to a spreadsheet, which would go on to become a Department of Labor lawsuit. “This is a company that started out with good intentions but good intentions aren’t enough,” she says. “Talk isn’t enough.”

To illustrate her point that even a good idea is insufficient for change, Chang then explains how Google began to include a woman into every single interview for new talent. While this may seem progressive, women at Google reported to Chang that the requirement took them away from their normal job activities, like writing code and launching new projects. “So, when it comes to promotion time, [a woman is] evaluated on those things, not on how many candidates she interviewed,” says Chang. “It’s just one of the pitfalls of a process that means well but ultimately hasn’t played out. You wouldn’t have to do that if the workforce was 50/50 already.”

Above that, the maleness of startup culture has become blaringly apparent, which subconsciously and not so much so makes women second class citizens in their party worlds. Even if the conversation of gender parity is there, this ecosystem inherently favors males, and makes female employees feel less apt to become successful from within it. “Many of these companies look like college dorm fantasylands,” says Chang. “You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner [at the office], you can get your clothes washed, you can bring your pets to work, but there’s no child care, there’s no childcare stipend. I realize that childcare is hard but they’ve also created this whole shuttle bus system that brings thousands of employees into work every day from all across the Bay Area. This is an industry that doesn’t shy away from hard problems.”

Another issue- the glorification of the anti-social white male nerd- perpetuated as the embodiment of a successful tech executive- is one that Chang uncovered as she dug deeper into the story. “The more I did my research I realized nobody knows that in fact women were critical parts of the computer industry early on that were programming computers for NASA and the military, literally like Hidden Figures but industry-wide,” says Chang. “They got pushed out for various reasons, and that the stereotype of the antisocial white male nerd perpetuated until this day.”

Chang says through writing Brotopia she also realized the extent to which mandatory contracts and non-disclosure form silence women from speaking up on issues like sexual harassment and blatant gender-based bias.“There are all these non-disclosure agreements, which unfortunately, has undermined some of the ability for some of these grassroots efforts to happen,” says Chang.

“That said, I do know there are a bunch of women VCs who are working on the idea of creating this third party HR type organization where you can file complaints. Right now, the third party is the media. So we’re in this difficult position of arbitrating these major stories in public and it takes months to do one of these stories about one single person. But, maybe [through third-party HR organizations] these issues can be addressed right away without these women having to wait years before finding someone else who had a bad experience. Even though many women came forward in this book, it pales in comparison to what is actually out there.”

All in all, Chang says that despite her belief that her book (which she started before the 2017 election) would come out under a female president, she believes that this moment is one that can be harnessed to get men to better understand the predicament facing women in tech. Should she attend the not-so-secret company-wide sex party? If she does, as male executives reported to Chang, they’ll never take her seriously. If she doesn’t? She’s effectively keeping herself  further isolated from the male-centric ecosystem that fosters and promotes the members of the bro-gang. Talk about a no-win situation. According to Chang, it is important that women realize that while change is necessary, it’s not their burden.

“The onus is on white men right now,” Chang says. “They have the power, they have the money and I hope that after everyone reads this they know ignorance is woeful at this point. You cannot say I didn’t know women were feeling this way because that is completely ridiculous because every woman I’ve spoken with is as frustrated as we are. The book is called Brotopia, I think that sends the message that this is a modern utopia where anyone can change the world, unless they’re a woman.”

Emily Chang’s Greatest One-Liners

“Ultimately, I did not come into this with an agenda. It’s time to report what I observed and unfortunately, in many ways, that picture isn’t pretty. My goal is that the book stands up on its own and we are not going to be able to solve the problem, if we don’t understand what that problem is.”

“People keep saying to me, [the tech industry] can’t be worse than Wall Street. Actually, it is. Women are getting 18 percent of computer science degrees, there is no other major that has that kind of disparity.”

“A moment of truth for me is that this what people believe, that in order to hire women, they have to lower their standards.”

“I started writing this two years ago, before Trump was elected. I fully expected for this book to come out under the first woman president, and I had no idea that the #MeToo movement would pick up. I certainly benefited from that momentum.”

“As a journalist, I’ve been put in uncomfortable situations. It is a male-dominated industry and often the people I’m speaking with as sources are men in powerful positions. I don’t think that what I’ve gone through in any way compares to what a woman who is the only person in the room over and over again experience, these women talk about getting unwanted advances 24/7.”

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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