Nearly two-thirds of women working in Silicon Valley tech firms have experienced incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, a new study by Stanford University researchers has revealed.
Of the 60% of women who experienced “unwanted sexual advances”, 65% said these advances had come from one of their superiors, according to a survey titled Elephant in the Valley. This survey was carried out by seven women including former employee of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Trae Vassallo, and former Yahoo executive Michele Madansky.
The inspiration of this survey came from the gender discrimination suit by Ellen K. Pao against her former employer KPCB, and again the outrage she provoked as the interim CEO of Reddit. These women said:
“What we realized is that while many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace. In an effort to correct the massive information disparity, we decided to get the data and the stories”.
They surveyed more than 200 women who had at least 10 years of work experience, many of whom are employed at Google, Apple, or other large companies as well as tech startups. Most of them are located in Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area.
One in three of these women said they had been made to fear for their personal safety because of work-related circumstances, while 60% of those who had reported such harassment were dissatisfied with the course of action taken after reporting it. Two-thirds of the participants had children, while 77% were over the age of 40.
Many respondents gave accounts of their negative experiences, with one writing: “Once a client asked me to sit on his lap if I wanted him to buy my product. My company didn’t do anything when I told my boss, so unfortunately I asked to be taken off that client, but it’s not like they can fire the client”.
Another wrote that she was groped by her boss while in public at a company event: “After learning this had happened to other women in my department, and then reporting the event to HR, I was retaliated against and had to leave the company”, she explains.
According to the survey, bias – unconscious or not – is alive and well in the tech community. The majority of women (84%) surveyed said they had been told in the past that they were too aggressive, and 66% had felt excluded from key social or networking opportunities because of their gender.
“When I am with a male colleague who reports to me, the default is for people to tend to defer to him, assuming I work for him”, said one respondent. “As soon as they know that is not true they look to me. I have also had male colleagues say to me that once a woman is pregnant she is irrelevant”.
There are fewer women working in the industry than there were 10 years ago, it was revealed in 2015, with numbers falling by 7% between 2002 and 2012. This may partly be down to a lower number of female students choosing to study STEM subjects at school and university level, thus gender-skewing at the talent pool.
When asked about mandatory quotas possibly being introduced for technology companies, a panel of leading industry figures at the WISE Conference 2015 were split as to whether this was the best solution.
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