Pando

"Elephant in the Valley" survey is depressing but sadly not surprising

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 15, 2016

From The Equality Desk

So far, 2016 has been a bummer.

But the free fallin’ Twitter, eviscerated GoPro, and confirmation that venture capital is gonna get a lot harder for almost everyone are all rosy stories compared to those you’ll find on a new site Elephant in the Valley.

It’s a project by several professional women in the tech world including Trae Vassallo, Ellen Levy, Michele Madansky, Hillary Mickell, Bennett Porter, Monica Leas, and Julie Oberweis. It grew out of the conversation that came up from the Ellen Pao trial. You know the same conversation that many men in the Valley thanked her on social media for bringing up, hoping it’d mostly just go away.

They surveyed some 200 senior women in the tech world about discrimination. The details from the survey are, in a word, disgusting.

  • 90% witnessed sexist behavior at company offsites and/or industry conferences
  • 60% reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior
  • 60% who reported sexual harassment were dissatisfied with the outcome
  • 47% have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do (e.g., note-taking, ordering food, etc.)
  • 66% say they’ve been excluded from social or networking opportunities because of gender
  • 88% have had clients or colleagues address questions to male peers rather than to them
  • 87% have been on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues
  • 75% say they were asked about marriage and family in interviews
  • 40% feel the need to speak less about their family to be taken more seriously
  • Of those who took maternity leave, 52% shortened their leave because they thought it would negatively impact their career
  • 30% stayed mum about being harassed because they didn’t want to remember it happened
  • 29% signed a non-disparagement agreement

The stories are worse. Clients asking women to sit on their lap, CEOs groping them at parties and superiors telling women their careers would be over if they had a second child.

I can relate to many of the problems reported in the survey, as I’m sure can most women reading it -- and not just those who work in tech. Gender is all coming to an ugly head in Silicon Valley. It’s going to be harder to watch than any decrease in funding or plummeting of stock prices.

But sunlight is the best disinfectant. The fact that all of this is increasingly getting exposed, and that so many “respected” leaders in the Valley are refusing to take action is the only thing that will make things different. Or at least, tell the next generation of professional women that it isn’t just them, and accepting this kind of behavior as a necessary part of their career is bullshit.

In the meantime, here’s a cheatsheet for the industry. If you:

  • ...say the Valley is a meritocracy...
  • ...say you want more diversity, you just can’t find enough qualified women to hire/fund...
  • ...respond when your founder/portfolio company does something outrageously sexist... with “Well, people thought Steve Jobs was an asshole too…”
  • ...when leaked, disgusting emails debasing women are uncovered respond with “we were all like that in college!”...
  • ...hold a lunch honoring women in journalism just after your portfolio company... threatened one and you did nothing...
  • ...claim a woman secretly “enjoys the attention” from your advances/ threats...
  • ...say anything was deserved because of someone’s attire...

...then you are part of the problem, not the solution.