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How Tech Culture Is Forcing Women Out

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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.

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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.”

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think the tech industry really has a culture problem affecting women? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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ExperiencedApril Boyd-NoronhaMike UeberAndrew ForrestBianca London Recent comment authors
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Bianca London
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Bianca London

Agree 100% with the commenters and I am a woman in tech! I see women expecting others to ‘understand’ cause they’ve had a baby. Well lady that’s your problem cause YOU decided to have a child not your team/company’s problem. If you expect us to understand, you should ask us WHEN to have a kid if ever at all and then may be we might understand! For every woman who get a maternity leave, there is a man who does not and another wo/man who adopts who gets less time and other couples who don’t want to have children who… Read more »

Experienced
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Experienced

Employers are afraid to hire women because of potential false claims of phony sexual harassment. Managers are being told to never be alone with a female staff member (like a Dev. Mgr. meeting with a SW Engineer); always bring someone else along, and even a tape recorder. You think I’m kidding? I wish. Then there are female double standards (“you have to adjust to me, I don’t have to tolerate your engineer’s silly culture”). Believe me, at 9pm on a Friday when you’re deep into debugging and you have to ship on Monday, culture is what keeps your team doing… Read more »

Martha Vineyard
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Martha Vineyard

Come work at Lockheed Martin. You’ll get coddled and promoted faster than you can say “Diversity Maturity Matrix.”

April Boyd-Noronha
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April Boyd-Noronha

This is why us seasoned techies (or those switching to a STEM career) must be vigilant in our mission to “stay the course”.

Andrew Forrest
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Andrew Forrest

Hold on a second. Men rarely get any parental leave at all apart from a token week or so, that alone paid parental leave. Time and time again we hear about ‘womens choice’ to work or not to work (stay at home). What about the blokes? We don’t get any choice whatsoever on the whole, in actual fact I’ve broken up with my past three girlfriends because they reneged on our initial agreement of “let’s share the load and do it 50/50, including work – we both get social outlets from work and both get to see our kids develop”… Read more »

Mike Ueber
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Mike Ueber

I have worked for one of the smaller companies that you described and women working for us have been treated far differently than your article describes. You might want consider to finding companies that do not spend their lives on Facebook….
Sincerely,
Mike Ueber

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