From what we’ve seen, the vast majority of the men in the tech industry are respectful people, and many are outraged over the sexual harassment and discrimination their female colleagues endure.
Even so, few of the ones we’ve talked to have been surprised at how women in the industry have been treated.
The best explanation we’ve heard in recent weeks about why Silicon Valley seems to breed so many men who behave so badly came from an engineer who cut his teeth at Facebook. His take is that the big money Silicon Valley often throws at young engineers who are right out of college stimulates this “frat house” mentality.
“It’s like, here you go, you’re 21 years old, here’s a $US100,000 signing bonus,” said the engineer. “Then they think they are hot sh-t. They think, ‘Now people are going to respect me. Now women, who may have ignored me, they are going to respect me.”
And with that, a sense of entitlement can be born.
A few years ago, it was relatively common, if not routine, for the bigger tech companies to offer six-figure signing bonuses, the engineer said. And if they were trying to poach a young engineer from another firm, the tech companies might offer more eye-popping incentives, a CEO of a startup recently told us — not only a salary, but a bonus, and stock options worth $US800,000.
But as big a role as those kinds of financial rewards play in encouraging entitled and sexist behaviour in the tech industry, they often aren’t the only factors at work.
Add in the free food tech companies often provide employees, as well as beer and other alcohol at work, the nap pods, and the pressure to spend long hours at the office instead of having a life outside and the workplace can start to mimic a frat house.
And then there are things like the “brilliant jerk” phenomenon, the idea that the smarter you are, the less nice you have to be. Engineering culture is notorious for verbal abuse. It’s common for engineers to personally attack each other’s intelligence, especially in environments where multiple people are contributing code to a project and other people are reviewing that code.
On top of all this, there are very few women in positions of power; less than 20% of senior leaders at tech companies are women by some counts. And many of the women at tech firms are running non-technical departments like HR, legal or finance.
So, many of these male engineers rise up through tech companies and become managers. And when they do, they may bring with them a sense of entitlement, and a hostile work culture.
As more women speak out, many in the industry hope these attitudes will be exposed and changed. On the other hand, it’s possible true change will only happen if the underlying incentives change.