Newsweek’s provocative cover of a professional woman’s skirt being lifted by a web cursor has reignited the decades-old claim that Silicon Valley is an unabashed boys’ club.
Nina Burleigh, author of the cover story, points to the fact that 96% of the Valley’s venture capitalists are male, and a Babson College study determined that only 2.7% of the 6,517 companies that received venture funding from 2011 to 2013 had female CEOs.
Burleigh argues that this male-dominated culture makes Silicon Valley feel like Wall Street in the ’80s, allowing blatant misogyny to persist.
In the post, Roizen recalls an experience she had when she was building her software company T/Maker, which she cofounded in 1982 and ran as CEO for 14 years. She writes:
Early in T/Maker’s life, I was working on a company-defining deal with a major PC manufacturer. We were on track to do about a million in revenue that year: This deal had the potential to bring in another quarter million, plus deliver millions of dollars in the years to come if it went well. It was huge.
The PC manufacturer’s senior vice president who had been instrumental in crafting the deal suggested he and I sign over dinner in San Francisco to celebrate. When I arrived at the restaurant, I found it a bit awkward to be seated at a table for four yet to be in two seats right next to each other, but it was a French restaurant and that seemed to be the style, so down I sat.
Wine was brought and toasts were made to our great future together. About halfway through the dinner he told me he had also brought me a present, but it was under the table, and would I please give him my hand so he could give it to me. I gave him my hand, and he placed it in his unzipped pants.
Yes, this really happened.
She then recounts similarly demoralizing (but less extreme) examples of sexism throughout her entrepreneurial career, including when she was pregnant and had an investor who asked if she would even care about her company once her child was born.
Roizen writes in her blog post that she’s developed “a pretty think skin,” and offensive remarks that aren’t ill-intentioned no longer affect her like they did when she was young. It is the intentional, truly sexist behaviour she abhors.
In an oft-cited case study conducted by Columbia Business School more than a decade ago, researchers asked students to appraise the real-life accomplishments of Roizen listed on the resume of a fictitious “Howard Roizen.” In the end, students deemed Heidi “more selfish and less desirable” than “Howard,” who had the exact same credentials.
We asked Roizen what she thinks of sexism in Silicon Valley today, and she said she could only speak to her own experience.
“As for whether it has changed, I don’t feel I have the data to answer,” she told Business Insider. “What I do believe, is that if you ask an equal number of women and men entrepreneurs today, ‘Have you ever been put in an awkward situation because of your gender?’ you will get more yeses from women than men. So I guess that means it is still an issue.”
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