Spark

Sexism and Silicon Valley

There was a time when women were much more respected as programmers - so what happened?
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Silicon Valley tech companies have been under fire for their treatment of women in the workplace.

Uber is the latest to come under scrutiny, after engineer Susan Fowler wrote a post detailing the sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced there.

The lack of diversity in technical roles has been an ongoing issue for major tech companies.

Liza Mundy. (Twitter)
In an engaging piece in the April issue of The Atlantic Monthly, journalist
Liza Mundy answers the question: Why is Silicon Valley so Awful to Women?

She uncovers stories of sexism, sexual harassment, and the sort of relentless undermining that can make Silicon Valley companies a hostile environment for women. Women of colour, she writes, face additional issues, owing to the lack of racial diversity.

Liza also explores the history of the industry, and how we got to where we are now.

When software became recognized as the true, lucrative future of Silicon Valley, then the 'brogrammers' poured in, and women began getting edged out.- Liza Munday

Computer programming used to be seen as a female-friendly career.

Liza explains that in the immediate postwar period, computer hardware was seen as where the action - and the money - was.

"Software programming was considered to be secretarial and rote, and therefore suitable for women," she explains.

"But then when software became recognized as the true, lucrative future of Silicon Valley, then the 'brogrammers' poured in, and women began getting edged out."

More recently, a number of Silicon Valley companies have been spending millions to address sexism, and lack of diversity more generally.

So far, that's resulted in an increase of about 1 per cent for female hires at Google and at Facebook.

"Companies talk about the 'pipeline' [problem]...a term used to describe graduating computer science majors," she tells Spark host, Nora Young. Only around 18 per cent of those majors are women.

Liza points out, though, that those numbers are increasing at respected schools such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvey Mudd College.

"These big companies...that are such attractive places to work...they should be able to attract a disproportionate percentage of the female pipeline anyway."

Read Liza Mundy's whole article, "Why is Silicon Valley so Awful to Women" here.

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