Pando

America isn’t the feminist envy of the world and Silicon Valley isn’t the feminist envy of US industries

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 11, 2018

From The Gender Wars Desk

Things are so unequal in so much of the world, that we can slip into, “Yeah, but things aren’t perfect everywhere...” thinking.

Despite some 40-weeks of on the ground international reporting for my second book, I thought that about America and gender for a long time. It was during the reporting on my most recent book that I discovered that while patriarchies are everywhere, a lot of what women-- particularly working mothers face here-- is distinctly American. Particularly the judgement women face for wanting to work outside the home, the stigma of single mothers compared to many countries, and the lack of any paid parental leave compared to pretty much every other place in the world.

If you want to deny women economic self-sufficiency, not allowing them any time to recover after giving birth and then forcing them to up their work volume to “prove again” how dedicated they are after becoming mothers, while you remove projects and promotions for them is a great way to do it.

America is far from the feminist envy of the world. We rank 20th in the Economist’s Glass Ceiling Index, in fact, several slots below the OECD average. And a lot of that boils down to the adoration of the free market. The haves can get maternity leave and pay those exorbitant prices for child care (some 35% of net income in the US, one of the highest in the world, according to the Economist). The rest? Well, fuck ‘em.

For the record, Iceland ranks first and keeps working to get better. Including a new law that makes it illegal to pay men more for the same work. Even China-- a company that had one of the most anti-feminist policies of all time in the one-child policy-- fares better than us in many ways, particularly when it comes to the tech industry. Yes, it’s an everywhere problem, but it’s also particularly and uniquely an American one in many ways.

I hear that same “Yeah, but things aren’t perfect everywhere…” line every time I talk about the diversity issues in tech. “Yeah, but are other industries really any better? Why is everyone picking on tech?”

Well, a few reasons. The first is that tech has been a hell of a wealth generator so women and people of color getting systemically locked out matters. Second, tech is an industry where tiny startups become multi-billion powerhouses in a decade’s time. It is not an industry that should be entrenched in “the way things are.” Tech considers itself a meritocracy too, where even the lack of a college degree shouldn’t limit your upward mobility.

Tech also prides itself of being obsessed with data. Data justifies everything. And yet, tech has largely ignored the data when it comes to diversity, as I detailed in a recent Wired UK excerpt of my book.  

So how is tech faring in the current “Me Too” environment? Well, tech’s response thus far is paling next to Hollywood’s in my view. While Hollywood’s reaction hasn’t been perfect, (Woody Allen?) most of the perpetrators have been swiftly fired and haven’t re-appeared again…. Yet. They’ve been widely condemned.

(It’s a side-head-fuck when a tech giant does a better job of zero-tolerancing a Hollywood elite than most tech companies have done with their own predators.)

It has been the topic, as the Golden Globes showed. The only topic. No side talk of the blockchain, unicorn valuations, the struggles of Snap and the faith everyone has for Uber’s new CEO… As Seth Meyers said in his opener:

For the male nominees in the room tonight, this is the first time in three months it won’t be terrifying to hear your name read out loud. “Did you hear about Willem Dafoe?” “Oh, God, no!” “He was nominated.”

Those accused by Silicon Valley women over the last year, like Robert Scoble and Justin Caldbeck, are already working on their rehabilitation tours, and major companies and universities are helping them.

The most extreme case in Silicon Valley, Gurbaksh Chahal who allegedly kicked his girlfriend 117 times and received a year in jail, still got invited to give keynotes and appear at prominent conferences. In 2017.

Shervin Pishevar, the latest tech figure to be accused of sexual assault and misconduct by several women, has indeed stepped down from his firm, Sherpa Ventures [Sherpa is Pando investor]. But on his own terms while boldly denying all of it, even suggesting there was some strange Russian smear campaign going on. Mark Suster was a rare VC who called Pishevar out publicly.

Softbank just rewarded all of Uber’s wrongdoing with a multi-billion bail out of early investors and the CEO ousted for those sins. In a place ruled by pattern recognition, the message will not be lost on up and coming “hustlers” or the firms backing them. Profit first, apologize later. Uber is still the highest valued private company here, despite being the subject of what not to do in elite business schools around the country.

Meantime, recode reports that Mike Cagney, the SoFi CEO who was ousted amid sexual harassment accusations, is back with a new startup and raising a $25 million round.

And yet, that Google manifest-bro James Damore is suing Google claiming how he was discriminated against as a conservative white male. Check out this Hacker News feed-- there’s a lot of sympathy in the Valley for his position.

Silicon Valley: You are failing. Others are failing too, but you are failing in your own particularly reproachable way.