Big Tech Must Fix Its Anti-Woman Culture

The New York Times reports that a rebellious group of Facebook employees are working together to challenge the idea that everyone in the company fits the same mold in the way they think and what they believe. Since an initial post appeared on Facebook’s internal message board, more than 100 workers at the social media giant have jumped on board to combat the groupthink image.

Changing the conversation to show that there’s no one-size-fits-all image at the social media company is a positive sign; however, real issues remain when it comes to diversity across the technology sector – not just Facebook – particularly regarding gender diversity and the treatment of women.

While the current discussion is about the political affiliations or beliefs of employees, the internal bias within the industry run much deeper. Women in general are continually shut out of the tech industry. If similar progress cannot be made on this front, greater oversight by elected leaders may be needed, especially when it comes to the tax incentives given to these companies by those trying to attract or keep them in their states and communities.

The statistics can paint a somewhat encouraging trend: After years of neglect and public pressure to diversify its ranks, some of the tech sector’s biggest players are changing. In 2014, Yahoo, for instance, noted that just 15 percent of its tech workers were female. Yet today, Facebook reports 35 percent of its employees are women, while Google hovers around 30 percent. Roughly 28 percent of leadership positions at Apple are currently held by women. All are marked improvement from prior years, including in 2014 when the lack of diversity in these companies and their peers came to light.

Even still, some members of Congress say that short-term gains to diversify these companies are moving in reverse. And a recent report shows that Apple pays women 5 percent less than men, consistent with an investigation by the Department of Labor found clear evidence of pay discrimination across the sector. And all the while, real problems exist beyond employment and pay – disturbing trends that should scare any observer.

For years, women have complained about sexism, harassment and a lack of opportunities. The past year has seen a heightened wave of sexual harassment scandals.

Consider Microsoft, the Seattle-based company that seemingly escapes some of the criticism lobbed at California competitors. According to a recent court filing, Microsoft’s human resources department received over 200 complaints by women employees over a six-year period, ranging from sexual harassment to gender discrimination to retaliation. The court documents are part of a gender discrimination lawsuit against Microsoft filed in 2015 by its employees.  

The plaintiffs accuse Microsoft of steadily denying pay rises or promotions to women and argue Microsoft has an “exclusionary ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere” that allows women to be sexually harassed, assaulted and even raped by male co-workers.

The case against Microsoft is but a microcosm of a larger problem deserving attention: Technology companies do not practice what they preach when it comes to diversity and respect for both progressive causes and women. If they did, abuse inside the walls and allowing for it outside the walls of these companies wouldn’t exist.

Facebook faced such strong criticisms over sexual harassment claims that it was forced to share publicly its internal, revamped policies for employees reporting abuse. And Uber announced it would no longer require arbitration or signed non-disclosure agreements for sexual misconduct claims.

If companies like Microsoft and Facebook will not lead on their own, we must ask hard questions on how to fix rampant abuse. If the companies themselves cannot do so, then leadership from Washington and the consumers of these products and services is needed.

Catrena Norris Carter is a 30-year veteran of both the civil rights and women’s movements and the executive director of Women United Now

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