By Michael Kaufman
Originally posted on the Men Advocating for Real Change (MARC) blog.
It’s a tough time for women in the tech industry. A recent survey of women working in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area found that 60% reported unwanted sexual advances. Eighty-seven percent reported hearing demeaning comments about women. Eighty-eight percent had clients or colleagues address questions to male peers that should have been addressed to them. Eighty-four percent have been told they were too aggressive.
Who were these women?
Seventy-seven percent were over 40 years old, one in four had a C-suite position, one in ten was a company founder—these were not women in their first jobs who had little in the way of experience or clout.
Many men will respond with concern and alarm. But, sadly, others will react with denial. And some will throw out excuses along the lines of “What do you expect? It’s an alpha-male world. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the Valley.”
Few women I’ve worked with over the years would be surprised by either the levels of harassment and discrimination or by the denial and excuses that some men toss their way.
It’s all too easy to point to the dogged devotion to work that it takes to get ahead. Or the homogeneity some start-ups strive for to create the cohesion supposedly necessary to succeed against long odds. Or the stereotype of men in this industry—socially awkward, basement-dwelling nerds—that don’t exactly give them the agency to do the right thing.
These might be explanations. But, as men, we need to face two things. First, too many of our brothers are responsible for unwanted workplace behavior. And second, too many of us are responsible for staying silent.
The majority of men do not harass women, make demeaning comments, or discriminate in hiring or promotions (although we might bring in unconscious biases). But unfortunately, a significant minority of men do such things. If the majority doesn’t speak out, this minority will continue to define the work culture of a whole industry.
That’s why it is critical for men in tech to start taking real leadership, working alongside women, to create work environments that are gender equitable and welcoming to all. After all, men—who still dominate tech companies and have defined the work environments—have the power to bring about change.
This isn’t the only reason why we need men to speak out. Men look to other men to define their values and behaviors. Young men, fresh out of college, tend to model their behaviors on the men who have beaten the path before them.
The good news is that more men are embracing equitable environments. My son, who runs a life-sciences tech startup developing a digital assessment to detect and monitor Alzheimer’s, notes that half his team are women, and he tells me it’s not unusual to see large numbers of women in life-science tech companies.
The other good news for men is that this will strengthen our own work experiences. It means firms can more effectively tap into a wider range of talent and ensure that women who are hired will stick around. It means more women in positions of leadership who will bring unique insights to products and the market. It will mean that the many men who don’t feel comfortable with a locker-room atmosphere will have healthier workplaces. And it will support a push for more family-friendly workplaces.
After all, we now have a whole generation of young men who, like women, don’t want to sacrifice their families for their jobs and who value workplaces that support them as parents—and as people.
Michael Kaufman is the author of eight books and has worked with the UN, governments, and corporations for three decades to engage men to promote gender equality. His website is www.michaelkaufman.com.