The Chip Industry’s Old Boys Club May Be Experiencing Its #MeToo Moment

The Chip Industry’s Old Boys Club May Be Experiencing Its #MeToo Moment

The chief executives of three semiconductor companies have stepped down in the span of one month, in what appears to be a #MeToo-inspired and long-overdue reckoning for the male-dominated industry.

On Tuesday, Texas Instruments Inc. TXN, +0.31% one of the oldest semiconductor companies in the U.S., said that President and Chief Executive Brian Crutcher resigned because he violated the company’s code of conduct. The company did not disclose any further information. In a video broadcast to employees, Chairman Rich Templeton, who is returning as CEO, said the board had received a complaint that he did not describe.

“We are proud of our culture of encouraging people to speak up,” Templeton told employees. “If something is reported that is not aligned with our ethics and values, we respond.” He added that is exactly what TI’s board did when they received “this claim.”

“If you see something wrong, say something,” he added.

It appears that people in the semiconductor industry might finally be saying something about the culture at chip companies, as a movement to speak up about male misconduct sweeps across different industries. At the end of June, Rambus Inc. RMBS, +1.59% a designer of memory interface chips, said CEO Ron Black was fired for violating its code of conduct, in an “incident unrelated to the company’s financial or business performance.” The company did not provide any further details and a spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the press release.

Just one week earlier, Intel Corp INTC, -0.64%  said that its CEO Brian Krzanich stepped down because of a past inappropriate consensual relationship with another employee, which violated Intel’s company policies.

The $412 billion global semiconductor industry is one of the oldest sectors in the tech business — it is what gave Silicon Valley its name, after all — and it is also one of the most male-dominated. Krzanich had even spearheaded a movement inside Intel to make the company less male and less white. In 2017, 73.5% of Intel’s workforce were men and 47.8% of its workers were white, compared with 76% men and 56% white in 2014. While not all chip companies disclose such statistics, Intel might even be more balanced than competitors in a sector long known for being an Old Boys Club — Nvidia Corp. NVDA, +0.59% reported its workforce was 83.5% male in 2015.

“There was a fairly raunchy culture in semiconductors in the 70s and 80s (and the Valley in general),” Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research, said in an email.

But by the 2000s, that culture had for the most part given way to better management training. Krewell said that when he worked as a manager at Nvidia he went through an extensive training program on proper conduct, as every corporation now offers. But it appears that the #MeToo movement has now empowered victims of sexual harassment and other misconduct to come forward.

“The big difference may be since the #MeToo movement, more women are willing to come forward. In the past, these issues were often swept under the rug and the women either paid off or intimidated,” Krewell said.

It still is not clear whether the most recent examples of misconduct had to do with sexual harassment or some other form of misconduct, and dysfunction in tech is certainly not confined to semiconductor companies. Even Silicon Valley’s biggest philanthropy could not escape — as MarketWatch recently reported, a Silicon Valley Community Foundation executive was reported to have demeaned, sexually harassed and made racist comments to colleagues, in a results-at-all cost workplace atmosphere.

The semiconductor industry, however, has stubbornly remained an old-school Silicon Valley business amid the new wave of disruption, and needs to wake up and address its cultural issues. Clearly, something is wrong when three CEOs in the same industry resign within one month of each other for misconduct.

This article can be found on Market Watch