We’re well aware that the tech industry is actively pushing to involve more women. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women constitute 47 percent of the country’s workforce. However, in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) roles, only 24 percent of positions are held by women. While discussions about improving this statistic are essential, we must also address the underlying problem. This issue has long festered within Silicon Valley and is only now gaining attention.
Behind-the-Scenes of a Male-Dominated Industry
In the book “Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley,” Bloomberg TV reporter Emily Chang delves beyond educational interests. She explores the psychological reasons behind the male-dominated nature of the tech industry.
Amidst the #MeToo movement, Silicon Valley is undergoing its own reckoning. Women are coming forward, outing investors, bosses, and well-known personalities, accusing them of sexual harassment.
For decades, the tech industry has celebrated men as its leaders, primarily because it cultivated an environment that prompted women to abandon their dreams in favor of safety. “Brotopia” provides an education on the constant battle women have to fight to have a seat at the table.
You might be familiar with excerpts from Chang’s book that appeared in Vanity Fair and Fortune, but there’s so much more to it that I was pleasantly surprised. Upon reading the former excerpt, it was my impression that this book would regale readers with tales that women went through — you know, expose the real gossip. But the reality is Chang doesn’t lob juicy tales at you like this is some tabloid you’d read while in line at the grocery store checkout. She goes back to the beginning of the industry to underscore that just because women are calling out alleged harassers like Justin Caldbeck, Dave McClure, and Steve Jurvetson, it’s been a long time coming.
What I enjoyed about “Brotopia” is the examination of the so-called bro culture. Although you’d think that the book aims to show tech is incredibly sexist and it’s time for women to take their rightful place, Chang applies what I’d consider to be thoughtful journalism, looking at the good and the bad of companies she writes about. At first, the book moved a bit slowly with too much history, but as it picked up, it piqued my interest, ultimately becoming a real page-turner and further impacting how I view the industry in which I work.
Not only does the book present culture run amok at Trilogy back in the 1990s, but it also provides deeper looks into the cultures of PayPal, Google, Uber, Slack, Affirm, Reddit, Facebook, and in the venture capital space. Some are positive as in companies you might want to look to for inspiration for diversity and inclusion, while others are quite damning.
Chang looks at the trials that women have gone through, including those from former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Aileen Lee, Ellen Pao, Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, and others.
Many of these tales are probably familiar to you, as they’ve already been highly publicized in the media. The book highlights many bad cases. However, it’s my impression that Chang doesn’t necessarily want to invoke outrage but to educate readers on how they can change things around.
Can ‘Brotopia’ Change Silicon Valley?
After reading “Brotopia,” you won’t find a perfect solution or a magic wand for curing all that ails Silicon Valley. However, the book should serve as a wake-up call. Other publications, including one by journalist Sarah Lacy, who has herself been targeted by companies like Uber in the past, contribute to this growing awareness.
You might wonder if this is merely a timely publication, filled with salacious gossip. However, “Brotopia” only features a couple of sections where Chang uses pseudonyms, as seen in Vanity Fair, for example. The majority of this 306-page work relies on on-the-record information, using actual names throughout.
Chang enhances the value for readers by not merely repeating previously outed stories, like the one involving Pao and her former firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Instead, she leverages notes from previous interviews and shares firsthand meetings with entrepreneurs and others.
“Brotopia” also looks beyond women in tech, but women using tech. There is a chapter that examines trolling and harassment women receive online on sites such as Twitter, Reddit, and even in gaming. Chang looks at how companies can better protect female employees and what possible business use cases there are for eliminating hate from services and products.
The tech industry does not belong to men — anyone should be allowed to participate. So for those who think women who can’t handle the pressure should just leave, perhaps this quote from Uber engineer Lydia Fernandez is appropriate:
If I wanted an easy career, I would have gone and worked in high-frequency trading and not come out for another ten years. But I’m interested in…making things faster and more efficient, and working on what I’m doing looking like this…The rest of the world can go fuck themselves.
“Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley” is available today in your local bookstore and on Amazon.