Tesla, GitHub, tech bro VCs... Silicon Valley sexism row explodes as more women go public

What's the solution?

And now... GitHub

Adding to the growing list of women coming forward to complain about work cultures, a blog post on Wednesday by coder Coraline Ada Ehmke outlined issues at online code repository GitHub.

"At first I had my doubts. I was well aware of GitHub's very problematic past, from its promotion of meritocracy in place of a management system to the horrible treatment and abuse of its female employees and other people from diverse backgrounds," she writes, before outlining how she felt poorly treated at the company.

A spokeswoman for GitHub told The Register today: “As a matter of company policy, we don’t comment on personnel issues. At GitHub, we have worked hard to build a diverse and inclusive culture and are committed to these values at every level of the company."

Ehmke's complaint reflects numerous other tales of boorish, sexist, tech bro behavior: from virtual reality startup UploadVR to fake-technology poster child Magic Leap (which was actually sued for sex discrimination by the very person it hired to stamp out sex discrimination).

As more and more women come forward in support of one another and push back against efforts to diminish their complaints or minimize them with the firing of individuals, the conversation is slowly starting to move toward effective solutions.

One of those efforts came in the most recent blog post by Cheryl Sew Hoy in which she outlined David McClure's sexually aggressive behavior.

A fix?

"This is where it has to be fixed – the fact the burden of proof always falls on the person reporting the incident," she argues. "That the unfortunate victim didn't have a framework for which to report the incident and wasn't provided training on how to identify the different degrees of harassment in the first place."

So she provides a suggested framework: four levels of increasingly inappropriate behavior:

  • A: Verbal or gender harassment
  • B: Direct sexual propositions or seductive behavior
  • C: Sexual bribery or coercion
  • D: Sexual imposition (such as forceful grabbing or kissing)

This approach was recently supported by female VC Brittany Laughlin, who argued that the system for reporting sexual harassment was part of the problem.

"This model of reporting is broken," she wrote. "We can reduce bad behavior by having more open conversations when someone crosses the line, instead of an all-or-nothing approach. Creating smaller feedback loops will help make change faster."

Sew Hoy also wants to see companies create a safe channel for reporting harassment, training of management to identify and recognize different levels of harassment, and regular sexual harassment surveys.

Of course, large parts of corporate America have long had such policies in place, but Silicon Valley is still suffering from the recent glut in tech companies started and run by young male coders surrounded by a co-dependent culture of venture capitalists that come from largely the same peer group.

For years, San Francisco has complained about tech bro culture – white, male, boorish, arrogant. These latest public complaints focused on sexism highlight that there needs to be yet another set of improvements made to tech company culture. ®

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