How Silicon Valley's sexist 'bro culture' affects everyone -- and how to fix it

Emily Chang, author of ‘Brotopia’, discusses the sexist ‘bro-culture’ of Silicon Valley and what we can do to fix it.

Emily Chang: I don’t wanna get into a hot tub and pitch investors my business while holding a beer. What woman wants to do that while wearing a bikini? These things are really happening.

Lauren Lyons Cole: I’m here with Emily Chang, an anchor and executive producer at Bloomberg TV who’s been covering the tech industry for nearly a decade. She has a new book out called Brotopia, all about sexism in Silicon Valley. It caused quite a splash when you published an excerpt before it even came out in Vanity Fair, all about the sex parties in Silicon Valley. That is one element of the book. But it’s really about so much more. What was your main goal in writing this book?

Chang: As you said, I’ve been covering Silicon Valley. It has always had a big gender gap. You’ve got women in 25% of competing jobs, they make up 7% of investors, women-led companies get 2% of funding. Off-camera, people would always talk about it. Women especially would be really frustrated. But when you try to talk to them about it on the record, nobody would say what they really have to say because it’s scary to speak up about these things. As I started to do more digging and look back into how and why we got here, I realise it wasn’t always this way, but that means it doesn’t have to be this way, and I think that the same people who’ve changed the world can change this too.

Cole: There’s kind of this blurring between professional and personal lives in Silicon Valley. And you’re right, they have changed the world in so many ways but they have also amassed so much money. How does that play into these meetings that are happening outside of the office?

Chang: So much business in Silicon Valley gets done outside the office. We are talking about the party, the bar, the hotel lobby, the conference, maybe it’s the hot tub. In a lot of situations, women are being put in uncomfortable positions where they’re not able to be their best selves. I’ve spoken to so many women who said I don’t wanna get into a hot tub and pitch investors my business while holding a beer. What woman wants to do that while wearing a bikini? A lot of the times it’s their male managers that are inviting them out and they’re faced with this sort of catch-22, do I go and be part of the team? Of course they’re gonna talk about work. Or do I stay and be that uncool kid and not get that opportunity?

Cole: You spoke to a lot of women who had this experience but then there has been some backlash especially from big names like Elon Musk came out and said this was salacious and you should be ashamed for misleading the public. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

Chang: I understand this is new territory to cover and to connect with this issue but no good change comes without some people feeling a little uncomfortable. I’ve spoken to over three dozen people who either they have been to these parties or they felt shut out by these parties, both men and women and in a lot of ways they’re a lot less about sex and a lot more about power and the power dynamic is completely lopsided.

Cole: Are there companies that are getting it right? What are the companies to follow?

Chang: I talked about Slack which is the focus of the last chapter of my book. Stewart Butterfield, the CEO, has said, “This is important to me.” He’s put a stake in it in the ground and it’s showing in the numbers. I also think that just having women in leadership position, it organically creates diversity. I talked about Eventbrite where Julia Hartz is, co-founder and now the CEO, and they’re 50-50 and she said it just happened. Same with Rent the Runway. In fact, Rent the Runway is actually 70% women and minorities. Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter told me that he wouldn’t hire another man until he’d hire a woman. Jack Dorsey is doing something really interesting at Square. When they bring a new woman on the engineering team, they put her on a team with other women, which means that there are some teams that remain all male, but it allows that woman to bond with other women and network. And then when she has that support system, they move them around to different parts of the organisation. It’s an experiment. But the discrimination in Silicon Valley is systemic. And it has seeped into the culture.

This is an industry that is controlling what we see, what we read, how we shop. It’s making the video games that our children are playing. And the social media that everyone is using. These companies are making products that are used by billions and billions of people and we don’t think about who’s actually behind the scenes but in fact it’s probably the most powerful industry in the world and it’s changing the way we live. Men can’t be making all the decisions in Silicon Valley by themselves. The last few pages of the book, I speak with teenage girls who’ve learned to code and they’re so excited about coming into technology. I think the industry needs to think about the message that they are sending implicitly to the younger generation. But if those girls are still here in 10 years, I think that will be some sign of success.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.