In 2018, Emily Chang, Bloomberg Technology Correspondent, released Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys Club of Silicon Valley, illuminating the oppressive culture of Silicon Valley and the technology industry in general. Brotopia provides stunning details about hostile workplace practices such as meetings held in strip clubs, as well as detailed, shocking stories about the barriers women and other minorities face in the workplace. One year later, Chang, along with Aileen Lee of venture capital fund Cowboy Ventures, spoke with a small group at Inforum, an Innovation Lab, to continue the conversation. I was fortunate to be among those who attended the discussion.
While moments were lighthearted, poking fun at some of the more outlandish stories and quotes shared in the book, much of the evening was focused on the idea of progress: what has happened since publication, and what needs to happen for tangible progress to happen in individual companies, the industry at large, the country, and the world.
When we think about the events between the book release, reactions to the 2016 election, #MeToo, #TimesUp, and numerous grassroots movements, the consensus is clear – conversations are happening more than ever, yet the day to day reality remains unchanged. Employees have greater awareness of gender issues, labels to name inappropriate behaviors when they occur, and forums to raise their concerns. Yet, women are still leaving tech jobs at twice the rate of any other industry. They aren’t leaving to go back to school, take time off, or travel – they are leaving for other industries where they are more welcome. In 2019, we have 35% of female representation in tech roles as we had in 1984. There is clearly a discrepancy between the energy, passion and awareness around gender issues and tangible change happening in organizations.
There has been a huge rise in employee activism. Individual employees are finding their voices and finding different ways to be heard, whether on employee surveys, open forums like Glassdoor or Blind, and ultimately, when they exit Silicon Valley and share their opinions when they land new jobs. This level of employee activism, such as Google’s recent walkout, shows the values of individual employees, and shows employees that peers support each other in fighting for a climate supportive of all. But lasting cultural change won’t come from grassroots employee activism - it must come from the top. It comes from leaders who hold strong values, listen to the data, and hear their employees even when the message is difficult. An example is Slack – when their CEO made it a mandate to hire and promote more women, leadership found a way to do so, and now Slack is one of the hottest tech destinations. Redfin is another example; top leadership took interested women out of the marketing function, taught them how to code, and the resulting product development led to a $30M revenue increase in just one year.
Increased conversations and activism are important, and show the urgency of gender issues, but top leadership must commit to making real change. When asked how to help leaders make this commitment and change absent of a shocking headline, Chang and Lee emphasized “follow the data – the data doesn’t lie.” Diversity data shows where employee segments are represented, promoted, and supported at equal levels. Inclusion data, such as opinion surveys, show hot spots where employees feel, see, or predict equality in how individuals, groups, and segments are treated.
Listen to our webinar on how to use surveys and other employee data to uncover hot spots in your organization, or reach out directly to Victoria to discuss how you can best identify areas of risk, and support leaders in building a more inclusive culture.
Dr. Victoria Hendrickson is a partner at OrgVitality and author of Needle in the Haystack: Finding and Acting on the Most Useful Survey Comments. Dr. Hendrickson conducts research on survey comments, organizational ambidexterity, and innovation. Her recent research has led to the development of OV VOICE, the Value-Optimized, Intelligent Comment Extractor, an-AI inspired tool that identifies the most useful and meaningful comments.
For more information, contact Dr. Hendrickson directly.