‘Brotopia’ Author Emily Chang Talks Women In Tech, Trolls And Why It All Matters
“Brotopia,” the new book about the Silicon Valley tech industry’s culture, has sex, drugs and bros.
A previously released excerpt from the book was widely covered by the news media, including by this publication, for its mention of sex and drug parties that the author has said are common enough to make some female tech workers and entrepreneurs feel like they’re damned if they do attend and damned if they don’t.
Some high-profile tech figures, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk — who in the book was described as having worn “a black armorlike costume adorned with silver spikes and chains” to one of the gatherings — disputed that there was sex at the parties.
“Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley” author Emily Chang, a TV journalist for Bloomberg, tweeted in January that although “different people have different experiences,” her sources described being propositioned and seeing drug use at such parties.
But there’s more to the book than sex and drugs. There’s also sexism and other factors that have kept women out of tech, or drive them away once they’re in it. Not surprisingly, Chang has been trolled over the book.
Chang was moved to write the book after years of talking to guests, onscreen and off, about the lack of diversity in tech — and after an interview in late 2015 with veteran venture capitalist Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, who said on television that when it comes to hiring women, “what we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards.”
His answer shocked her, Chang said in a recent interview with this publication. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: In your book, you recount that when Moritz saw you at an event a year after that interview, he referred to you as his “nemesis.” Do you worry that after writing your book, other sources will think of you as Moritz does?
A: There may certainly be some people who don’t want to come on the show, but my hope is that the vast majority of people will respect me more for writing the book at all. My job depends on those relationships, and I certainly considered what I was risking or compromising when I wrote the book.
Q: As a female journalist, how can you relate to women in tech? Have you had experiences similar to what your interview subjects have told you about?
A: I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt uncomfortable. I cover a male-dominated industry. There was an investor who made comments about my dress during a TV interview. But it doesn’t compare to what women in tech have experienced. Some engineers described being subjected to unwanted advances 24/7. I can’t imagine that.
Q: In your book, you noted that many limited partners — the LPs who fund venture firms — are women. Can you talk about why they might not be funding venture firms that place importance on investing in women-led companies?
A: For years, until very recently, LPs have not cared about diversity. They have not focused on the impact of their investments; they say they focused on VCs that provide the biggest returns. But considering the recent pressure on the industry, they’re giving it more thought.
Returns and diversity are not mutually exclusive. There’s an IMF (International Monetary Fund) study I mention in the last chapter that says just adding a woman to a company’s board increases profitability. We need to be looking at these numbers more closely.
I think of all the companies that never got a chance because they never had the opportunity. How much different would the world be? What if there were no trolls on Twitter?
Q: What was most striking thing you found in researching the book?
A: In the historical data I uncovered, women actually played vital roles in the tech industry. As the industry was exploding, [aptitude and psychological] tests perpetuated the stereotypes that remain today.
(In the book, Chang mentions the Cannon-Perry test, a widely used personality survey used during the rise of the computing industry in the 1960s, which concluded that programmers shared a key characteristic: they “don’t like people.”)
Q: In “Brotopia” you point out that when Google was in its infancy, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were mindful of trying to get women to work there. But as the company grew, it eventually became majority male, like many tech companies. How can it get back to its roots when it seems like it’s being slammed by all sides regarding gender issues?
A: Google simply lost focus and stopped making hiring women a priority. They were just trying to fill the seats. Google has put great effort into diversity over the years. But it needs to be an explicit priority expressed by the CEO. As we’ve seen with James Damore, there’s a very lazy and mistaken assumption that men are better suited for tech jobs than women. The people in tech need to be empathetic to users.
We take the people who are making these products for granted. Everybody is using products made by Google and other tech companies. Silicon Valley has never shied away from hard problems. The people who are trying to take us to Mars and are connecting the world, they can hire women and pay them fairly.
The people who keep blaming the pipeline — they’re reinforcing the problem. And the tech industry doesn’t do a good job retaining women and minorities. In the seventh chapter (about tech and how it can be unfriendly to people with families) I talk about attrition among women — the numbers should be on a billboard. They’re a direct result of tech culture.
This article can be found on The Mercury News