Sexism in Silicon Valley: Women speak out about gender bias

Fortune Magazine recently released a list of the 5 best regions for women in technology to work in and missing from the list Silicon Valley.

Some of the reasons included the high cost of living and the low-percentage of women in tech.

This comes after one woman's account about her time working at a Bay Area tech firm went viral.       

“Social media was lighting up and going crazy," said Karen Catlin.

She's talking about a blog post Berkeley-based engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote in February about her "very strange" year working at San Francisco-based Uber which included her being propositioned for sex by her manager.

That blog prompted a lot of conversation and headlines including Vanity Fair's "How to Break Up the Silicon Valley Boys' Club"and the Atlantic's "Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?"

"Women across tech have these experiences all the time," said Catlin.  She calls herself an advocate for women in technology.

She spent more than 20 years in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a software engineer and eventually Vice President of Engineering at a large tech company. The San Mateo woman says a higher-up sexually harassed her.

“My boss's boss's boss's boss tried to hit on me in the back of a taxi
to the point of hitting on me trying to kiss me,” said Catlin. “It wasn't just asking me out to do something, it was very explicit harassment and an advance. I ended up leaving that company soon thereafter. I just didn't want to deal with it,"

Silicon Valley-based tech analyst Carolina Milanesi is a Principal Analyst with Creative Strategies. She says she's experienced gender bias first-hand.

"Something as simple as having a male colleague send an email to somebody to set up a meeting and copy me and the person receiving the email assuming I was his personal assistant,” said Milanesi. “It's 2017 but here we are."

A survey titled "Elephant in the Valley" surveyed 200 women who worked at least 10 years in the tech field and 90% of respondents were in the Silicon Valley.

Some of the findings include:

- 60% women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances

- 66% women felt excluded from key networking opportunities because of gender

- 75% percent were asked about family life, marital status and children in interviews

While the survey provides some figures, legal action taken for sexual harassment can be less clear.

A San Jose-based employment attorney told KTVU most of those cases usually settle with confidentiality clauses.
Uber’s CEO apologized and the company recently announced changes including more training.

“Going forward there can be no room at Uber for brilliant jerks and zero tolerance for anything but totally respectable behavior in an equitable workplace environment,” said Uber Board Member Arianna Huffington.

The company also published its first diversity report which revealed 85% of its tech jobs are filled by men.

"If you go to any tech conference, we get excited when there's a line to go to the bathroom for women because there's never a line," said Milanesi.

But changes are being made.

Google says the number of new moms leaving the company dropped in half after they increased maternity leave from 12 weeks off to 18 weeks of paid leave.

The number of women in the workforce at YouTube rose from 24% to 30% in the last 3 years.

"There might be people saying 'Well women don't get into engineering in the first place and tech in the first place.' My answer to that would be yes, it's true because they've probably seen what the opportunity would be there and not everybody wants to take on that challenge," said Milanesi.

A challenge Catlin still encourages women to take. Her daughter is studying to get a Computer Science degree.

Catlin left the industry and is now a speaker and consultant for dozens of women in tech.

"Here in Silicon Valley there are so many opportunities and if you are experiencing the kind of sexism that makes you uncomfortable and you can't thrive, you can get out and go somewhere else," said Catlin.

As for Milanesi, she just hopes women will have an equal playing field.

"You need to start with equal opportunity and that's what we don't have today," said Milanesi.