How Tech Culture Is Forcing Women Out

It’s no secret that there is a lack of women in tech. Recent data released by companies such as Twitter and Facebook show huge disparity between the number of men and women working for tech companies. While this is obviously a problem in itself, but a larger issue is looming. Women who are working in tech are leaving the industry, and never coming back — largely because of the culture that the industry has created.

(Photo Credit: NEC Corp/Flickr)

In a recent article in Fortune, Kieran Snyder surveyed 716 women who have recently left their careers in the tech industry to find out why they quit — sometimes, never to return.

Many of the women cite the fact that the companies they worked for did not have any kind of maternity leave policy. Companies with fewer than 50 employees aren’t legally required to offer even unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because so many of these companies are predominately male, they also didn’t understand how difficult it is to come back to work while nursing a baby, and made no provisions for breastfeeding mothers, or pressured them to come back to work early and travel for business.

While many of the women surveyed discussed the cultural bias against mothers in the tech industry, others found it to be a very discriminatory field. Snyder recalls one woman explaining:

“Literally 28 of the 30 people in our company were white, straight men under 35. I was the only woman. I was one of only two gay people. I was the only person of color other than one guy from Japan. My co-workers called me Halle Berry. As in, ‘Oh look, Halle Berry broke the website today.’ I’m pretty sure for some of them I’m the only actual black person they’ve ever spoken to. Everyone was the same, and no one was like me. How could I stay in that situation?”

The people Snyder spoke with join a long list of women in tech who’ve left jobs or in some cases the entire industry, due to discrimination and exclusionary policies. One particular famous case is of Whitney Wolfe, who was fired and stripped of her cofounder title at Tinder because, allegedly, the other founder said that having a young female founder made the company look “like a joke.”

Then there are the cases of outright sexual harassment. In August, Valleywag reported the story of angel investor Pavel Curda’s harassing emails to startup employee Gesche Haas during an industry event in Berlin. And Haas is far from alone: tech’s male-heavy culture arguably makes it easier for women to marginalized in ways big and small, overt and subtle.

“It’s no secret that Silicon Valley has a woman problem, but until now that conversation has largely referred to the marked shortage of female chief executives, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and programmers,” writes Alissa Quart in Marie Claire. “What’s typically missing from the debate are the mounting reports of open sexism in the industry — and against female programmers in particular — which often rears its head at developer conferences.”

Of course, there are many companies in the industry with cultures that have better policies, better HR, and more diversity. But for many women who are ready to leave, it may unfortunately be too late to find them — and as Snyder says, “once we’ve lost them, we almost never get them back.”

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