The Bay Area, once was known for its diversity and beautiful landscapes, is now a hotbed for giant tech companies and littered with growing startups. San Francisco was an underrated city in California, with a reputation for its beautiful architecture, and it’s history was as diverse as the people that lived there. To the south (also known as the South Bay), San Jose was birthplace to the “silicon chip”, the first microprocessor, and Palo Alto was known for it’s prestigious university, Stanford. Then the tech boom happened. Like any boom, there was an after-effect that ended up influencing the culture and people living in the area. Tech companies took over the San Francisco and the South Bay, buildings for tech companies and startups rose up and the value of dirt in the Bay Area rose with them.
One by one, families were kicked out of their homes because property values and rents shot up with landlords wanting their cut of the pie. Existing homeowners stood firm, allowing little housing growth, reaping the rewards of the boom. Needless to say, locals, most often people of color, were being forced out and the tech bros were moving in. Displacement even by white workers that proudly state “Black Lives Matter”, or “Defend DACA”, despite that they don’t seem to support the actual day-to-day living of Black and PoC lives when it comes to a very basic standard of four walls and a roof overhead.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, “tech bros” is a slang name for a male (usually white) that is involved in technology (whether it’s web or app development, coding, engineering, etc) and whom also feels entitled to their new home, sometimes feeling “poor” amid six-figure incomes. Think “nerdy frat boy” aesthetic.
The “tech bro” culture has captured media attention that spread like rapid fire on social media. Viral videos of tech bros kicking local kids off public soccer fields and even going as far as to propose an idea to reserve spots of grass at Dolores Park (the popular and gorgeous public park in San Francisco’s Mission District) with technology instead of community. Within the businesses, major stories of management proliferate, such as Susan Fowler’s now-infamous blog where a sexual harassment incident in the tech side of UBER turned up excuses and a toxic (and worse) work environment. Even more frustrating, she was not the only woman that had this experience. In her blog post she stated,
“When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another engineer organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.”
The “tech bro” culture fails to recognize its faults, but yet will support President Trump in hopes of “change”. Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick was on Trump’s business advisory council, but stepped down when Uber users threatened to boycott the company over his support for the president. Speaking of “grabbing pussy”, not only did Fowler’s blog post and other employee’s stories of workplace sexism surface, but according to Newsweek “20 Uber employees were fired due to the failure to address concerns over the company’s alleged sexist culture.”
Recently, a white male conservative Google engineer named James Damore, was fired for sending out a memo stating women were scientifically unable to hold skilled jobs, and added that discrimination is used to promote employees through diversity policies and outreach to people of color. He even went on to say in an interview with Business Insider, “Really, it’s like being gay in the 1950’s. These conservatives have to stay in the closet and have to mask who they really are. And that’s a huge problem because there’s open discrimination against anyone who comes out of the closet as conservative.” His memo claimed that if you were a woman or PoC, your chances of promotions were easier. Not only is this insulting to the many well-qualified women and people of color in the tech industry, but the statement is false, by any measure.
According to PBS, “Analysis of employees at the leading tech firms that report such figures reveals, on average, 71% are men, 29% are women, 60% identify as white, 23% Asian, 8% Latinx, and 7% black.” Not only are men the majority in the tech workplace, but over half of that population are white males. What’s more, some of the largest and most well-known firms provide even greater advantage to white males, despite what the tech bro might otherwise believe. (For a bigger break down see this chart.)
Whenever you look for a job, a common phrase I hear is, “It’s all about who you know.” Which is a very true statement, but it also contributes to the problem of fixing the diversity gap in the technology industry. If the majority of your company is made up of white male employees and the company runs heavily on referrals, even offering referral bonuses, who do you think those white male employees are going to refer? Most likely their other white male friends. Tech companies have implemented a policy they think is racially blind, gender blind, and objective, yet simply provides an effective complement to their problems with racial bias, with systemic white supremacy, even without being overtly racist.
In a panel discussion covered by PBS, Erica Baker (engineer at Slack) stated, “There’s a lot of focus put on hiring people you know, who you’re comfortable with or whatever. And a lot of people who get into Silicon Valley come from backgrounds that are predominantly white, and so they hire the people that they know, who are predominantly white, and its cyclical. It will take someone stopping that cycle purposefully to fix it.” Baker went on to state, “Right now, it seems like, in the industry, that diversity is code for hire more women. That is what diversity has become. And it’s not great, because the demographics of the industry, usually, it skews to more white women.”
So what steps have some companies taken to address and solve this problem? One solution is how Google has approached the future of its company. The Guardian reported that, “In 2013, Google sent two of its engineers to Howard University, where over 90% of the student body is African American, to teach computer science and help overhaul the school’s curriculum in hopes of making Howard graduates more attractive to tech companies. Since then, Google has grown the program, and another two in 2015.”
If your company is big enough and the world of technology is evolving rapidly, we need more education towards colleges, public high schools, junior high school and even elementary schools to inspire our future generations to get into the tech field. The Guardian reported that since Google implemented this program, “the most recent diversity date, released in June 2015, black and hispanic employees on Google’s technical team increased by 39%”.
This is a serious issue and has given inspiration for outreach companies and projects to emerge such as YESwecode, Women of Color In Tech, Black Girls Code, etc. In order to break the cycle, we need to help each other so we can break it together, and not just PoC, but non PoC as well. Stop calling yourself an ally when what we really need are accomplices in making this happen. We need big companies to address the diversity gap and take action to solve it, dissolve the entitlement of white privileged and enforce zero-tolerance sexist culture within the work environment, and learn from what worked in traditional blue collar and old tech workplaces.
Tech is new. But it isn’t immune from old problems, from the legacies of misogyny and white supremacy.
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