Tech is the future but its culture is stuck in the past

People discussing gender equality in tech

Recent events at Uber suggest that the gender equality debate is still ongoing

In case you haven’t noticed, Uber has been in the news lately – and not because it’s developed anything radically new in terms of tech, but because sexism prevails even at the very top of the Uber food chain.

Uber Director, David Bonderman resigned following a remark that was offensive to women during at Uber staff meeting. Ironically, the meeting was about changing the company’s culture.

So, what happened?

During the meeting, Arianna Huffington talked to employees about the importance of having women on the board of directors because: “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board.”

Apparently, David Bonderman doesn’t think so: “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”

This isn’t the first time Uber has come under fire regarding its toxic company culture and sexism. Susan J. Fowler’s account of her time at Uber sheds light on darker themes at play within the wider tech industry: sexism at work and a company’s incapacity to deal with the problem.

The Elephant in the Valley was a survey conducted across 210 women in Silicon Valley in 2015 that focused on the issue of gender within a tech workspace. The results were eye opening. 60% of women who experienced sexual harassment were not satisfied with the way things were handled when they had come forward with allegations, 84% of women have been told they were too aggressive and “90% witnessed sexist behaviour at company offsites and/or industry conferences.”

A study run by the Kapor Center for Social Impact indicates that one in ten women “experienced unwanted sexual attention.” The study also points out that: “Women from all backgrounds experienced/observed significantly more unfairness than men and unfairness was more pronounced in tech companies than non-tech companies.” The conclusion drawn by the study is very simple: toxic work cultures drive underrepresented employees to leave their jobs.

So where does that leave women who work in the tech industry?

At a time when the world around us is changing rapidly and tech is leading the way, it’s worrying that female computer science majors have fallen from 37% in 1984 to 18%. Melinda Gates points out that the lack of women in tech will have an impact on the products developed and that: “we’ll have so much hidden bias coded into the system that we won’t even realize all the places that we have it.” And that’s just the least of it.

To David Bonderman, I would say this: if we don’t start talking to each other then the conversation about gender is already over. Regardless of sector, without equal gender representation in the workspace there can be no progress – and without progress, we’re still stuck in the past.


If you’d like to read more about gender equality, the importance of equal pay and how a gender neutral workplace of the future would look like, check out Jo Swinson’s article in our annual magazine thinkBox here.

Posted on 23rd June 2017 in Culture
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