Four in five female tech startup founders say they have been, or know someone who has been, sexually harassed in the workplace, according to a First Round survey of 869 founders of venture-backed technology startups. Less than half of male founders said the same. About 70% of female founders said the industry suffers from underreporting of sexual harassment, compared to 35% of male founders.
Silicon Valley loses more than $16 billion annually from the turnover of women and minorities in the field, reports The New Yorker. About half of women leave the tech field, and, in 60% of these cases, experience with sexual harassment is part of the decision.
This year class action gender discrimination lawsuits were brought against Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Oracle and Uber. Google denied claims of pay discrimination and legally fought to withhold pay data from the Labor Department following an audit this year of the company's pay practices. The audit found "systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce."
STEM fields have long been targets of diversity and inclusion efforts, and the First Round survey sample alone speaks volumes on the diversity problem in tech. Male founders outnumber female founders 82.7% to 17.3%.
Harassment towards women in the workplace can take many forms, from cat calls to overt sexual advances to criticisms of being "bossy" or "aggressive." Fears of retaliation, being branded by their experience and power dynamics involving superiors can cause many victims to keep quiet.
Many reporting structures also disincentivize or fail to help victims. Some tech companies take advantage of nondisclosure agreements or arbitration contracts that prevent many reported cases from becoming public and force victims to remain quiet.
More conversations and attention to the issue are certainly helping and inspiring many male and female victims to come forward. But in light of the recent flood of complaints, proactive companies are reexamining current structures and policies. Those efforts are the ones that produce changes in culture and policy and impact the bottom line.
This has been a tumultuous year with workplace issues taking up bandwidth. The tech industry can, and needs to do, better.
Tech giants are touted as model organizations with open and productive company cultures, philanthropic efforts and economic prosperity. Yet the persistence of systemic discrimination — in payment, advancement opportunities, inclusion and other forms — is a reminder that they have a long way to go.