The entrepreneurial environment around Silicon Valley has helped create some of the most impactful and paradigm-shifting companies of our time. But as Bloomberg reporter Emily Chang reveals in her new book, it has also created an “aggressive, misogynistic, work-at-all costs culture has shut women out of the greatest wealth creation in the history of the world.”
Chang’s new book — Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley — dives deep into this “toxic culture,” which includes secret sex and drug-fueled parties that serve as another example of the current state of tech in 2018.
Chang published an excerpt from the book, which debuts next month, on Vanity Fair today.
“These sex parties happen so often among the premier V.C. and founder crowd that this isn’t a scandal or even really a secret, I’ve been told; it’s a lifestyle choice,” Chang writes. “This isn’t Prohibition or the McCarthy era, people remind me; it’s Silicon Valley in the 21st century. No one has been forced to attend, and they’re not hiding anything, not even if they’re married or in a committed relationship. They’re just being discreet in the real world. Many guests are invited as couples—husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends—because open relationships are the new normal.”
Chang later writes that “great companies don’t spring magically to life when a nerd gets laid three times in a row. Great companies are built in the office, with hard work put in by a team. The problem is that weekend views of women as sex pawns and founder hounders can’t help but affect weekday views of women as colleagues, entrepreneurs, and peers.”
Chang was in Seattle this past October where she moderated “The VC View” panel at the GeekWire Summit. She spoke with three leading venture capitalists — Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures, Julie Sandler of Pioneer Square Labs and Sarah Tavel of Benchmark — about a variety of topics, including recent published stories that revealed sexual harassment issues within the tech industry.
The investors agreed that these problems have been going on for a while, but are now coming into the public view.
“It’s gone from whispers in the private sphere that stay in the private sphere, to being ones that crossover into the public sphere and become known,” Tavel said.
Chang noted to the crowd that “this is not a women in tech panel or a diversity panel,” but rather a “panel about the future of innovation.” She asked the panelists how the culture can change, particularly with discrimination, so that more women “can get to the top.” Here are edited excerpts from their responses:
Rebecca Lynn: “My answer for this is always lead by example. I have young daughters, 11 and 4, and a lot of it is expectation setting and role models. I was just looking at a book outside and I’m sure it is great, but it was all about rebellious girls and the examples weren’t world leaders and things like that. We just don’t have enough of those examples yet. So I think what we have to continue to do is lead by example wherever we have the chance. It’s for our boys, too. I have a 7-year-old son and when I was in The Wall Street Journal, he whipped it out and took it to school. He was so proud and it was the cutest thing in the world. It’s important to not forget the boys. It’s really them at the end of the day who will speak up — like, ‘hey that’s not cool, that’s my sister.’ That kind of behavior is what we have to reward.”
Julie Sandler: “On the topic of role models, one of the few great things about this issue coming to light over the past year is the fact that it’s becoming less of a women’s issue and less of a diversity issue, and more of a business issue. It’s become an industrial imperative to figure this out. Just about every company represented in this room has women leaders on your payroll — figuring out how to elevate them and make them more visible is a huge a component to this. There’s a great documentary out there called Misrepresentation, and the famous Edelman quote — “you can’t be what you can’t see.” If you have great rising leaders in your organization and you have a piece being written about a new product launch, have that person quoted. Put them up on stage; have them on your hiring panels. Make sure that there are patterns being established and models created so that leaders across your organization — men and women, [but] particularly women or underrepresented groups — can be visible and emulated and learned from.”
Sarah Tavel: “I think of it as a carrot and a stick. The carrot is what both Julie and Rebecca said, which is, we have to kick ass. We have to show that by not having women on your team, you’re going to miss out. I experienced this at Bessemer, where one of the deals I sourced was Pinterest. My sourcing Pinterest I know for a fact resulted in probably three women being hired at other venture firms. The other male general partners would say, ‘we heard this woman at Bessemer sourced this company Pinterest and we totally missed it, we didn’t get it all, and that was the trigger that got us to hire a woman.’ So it’s the same thing for us — we have to show that by not having a women around table, another person of color or any other minority at the table, you will miss out. That’s the carrot.
The stick is a little bit, it’s shame on you. Thank you to you and Kara Swisher and everybody else who beats the drum, because frankly, you should be embarrassed and ashamed if you have a team of just white men. That is not acceptable anymore. Increasingly people weren’t aware that that wasn’t acceptable, but now that the stick is happening, the first step is awareness, and the second step is actually doing something from that.”