Although technology is rapidly advancing, allowing us to communicate in unprecedented ways, frequencies and allowing us to create a new world of possibilities, but still, the online world is chained by old world perspectives and issues; like sexism.
The subject line here is not original, nor is content revolving around this issue lacking in any shape or form. Many people have written extensively on the sexist culture that is incubated online. The bottom line is: the internet is a space, similar to the reality of the real world, where some people are mean, closed minded and prejudice. The online public sphere is no exception to the pollution of prejudice and inequality. The ugliness of racist, homophobic or sexist content online is a symptom of offline ugly thoughts and ugly minded people. But what is concerning is the leaders of this industry not only allow this abuse to occur but also reflect this mind set in their work force diversity.
Leading companies in the tech world, such as Twitter, Facebook, Tinder and Kleiner Perkins, have found themselves at the center of numerous gender equality related law suits in the past year. Most famously, Whitney Wolfe sued (and won against) Tinder and their parent company USD$1 million for sexual harassment. Wolfe was verbally harassed (mostly via text message) from a colleague she previously had romantic relations with until finally this harassment was extended over into the work place when her title as co-founder of Tinder was removed because ‘five co-founders was too many’. Then, within the past week, the news has highlighted Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination. Pao claims she was limited and withheld promotions compared to her male colleagues and finally fired because of her gender. She unfortunately lost but released a statement after the final verdict, “I have told my story, and thousands of people have heard it, if I’ve helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it.”.
The gender gap in the tech world is undeniable. Women are a clear minority in the industry generally speaking in addition to representing under 15% of leadership positions in tech companies. In the industry’s defense this is as expected because there are less women working in this field. But what this ‘boys club’ culture risks is deterring great thinkers and innovators that are female from the industry because they have been portrayed by the media to be hostile towards women. Linking this back to the discussion of general sexism online, leaders in the tech industry have an obligation to practice equality (for all groups of people) because they are a large part of defining the new media world. The founders of our new world must understand that their attitudes will trickle down and potentially become exaggerated by the people using their technology.
There are signs of movement from companies like Google who are taking action to move their industry in the right direction. Recently Google released a blog post on their company diversity statistics which was accompanied by this statement: “We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”
Google makes a strong point in addressing the importance of discussing and continuing to discuss these issues. A constructive discourse on topics help change minds and re-define social norms.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey