Fighting Gender Bias in Tech Culture

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After a high profile discrimination lawsuit rocked Silicon Valley two years ago, few insiders thought things would ever be the same in the corporate culture of high tech firms.

Ellen Pao lost her case at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but her lawsuit brought national attention to gender discrimination in the tech industry. Pao, who is now chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kapor Center for Social Impact and a venture partner at Kapor Capital, said Silicon Valley has to stop shooting the messengers.

"I hope instead that people are listening," she said. "Whether that's HR, whether that's the manager, whether that's the press, whether that's the general public, everybody should be paying attention to these stories and to these experiences and thinking about: How do we prevent them?"

With new gender bias lawsuits against Uber, Microsoft, and other tech companies, however, it appears that things have not changed that much in the past two years. According to reports, women are still fighting an uphill battle for equality in the high tech hub of the world.

Elephant in the Valley

According to a recent survey of 200 women in the San Francisco Bay Area, gender discrimination in the workplace is a major issue. At least 65% of women reported unwanted sexual advances from superiors, and as many as 88% said they received demeaning comments from male colleagues.

In-house lawyers and human resource managers are partly to blame if they are not educating tech clients about gender bias issues. With women comprising fewer than 20 percent of the technical staff, those advisers have their work cut out for them.

Hope Springs in Silicon Valley

Meanwhile, despite earlier setbacks, women like Pao are forging ahead in the Silicon Valley. At the Forbes' fourth annual Women's Summit in New York recently, panelists discussed the challenges of women entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

"On an absolute basis, the number of successful women entrepreneurs in the valley is on the rise," said Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder and CEO of shoppable video startup Joyus.

She said it will take a generation to achieve gender equality in the tech and startup worlds, but, "I am at the end of the day an optimist."

Venture capitalist Sonja Perkins, of Broadway Angels and the Perkins Fund, said that half of the founders she's invested are women. She said there were virtually no women entrepreneurs in the tech industry 30 years ago.

"The numbers are just going to get better," she said.

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