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Harassment, Discrimination And Other Issues Women In Tech Face Exposed By 'Elephant In The Valley'

12 January 2016, 9:23 am EST By Louise Chan Tech Times
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A survey of women working in Silicon Valley companies for at least 10 years reveals that discrimination and sexual harassment is more prevalent in the workplace. Check out the results of the survey and see if you have experienced or witnessed similar issues.  ( Armando Maynez | Flickr )

A survey administered to women working in Silicon Valley proves that there is discrimination and harassment against female employees happening in the workplace and little, if not nothing, is being done about it.

Aptly titled "The Elephant in the Valley," co-authors Trae Vassallo, Ellen Levy, Michele Madansky, Hillary Mickell, Bennett Porter, Monica Leas and Julie Oberweis released their findings online to expose the issue, urging women to share their stories to expose such injustice.

No, it's not an exaggeration. How many women have felt unsafe in their working environment, whether personally or professionally, because they are being treated by their own male colleagues as a commodity? If you say there's no such thing in your company, you're either working in a fair, feminist institution or you have just been blind and deaf to what's going on around you.  

You may think women are finally getting the equality that the true feminist movement has been working towards because some women earn more than their male colleagues. But those instances are actually the rare exceptions rather than the actual direction gender equality in the workforce is going in. Most are still at a standstill.

What Is 'The Elephant In The Valley?'

Inspired mostly by the widely reported Pao versus the Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers (KPCB) capital venture firm, the co-authors named above decided to shed light on the experiences of female employees in the Silicon Valley area.

"What we realized is that while many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace. In an effort to correct the massive information disparity, we decided to get the data and the stories," they wrote.

The authors focused on women who have worked in Silicon Valley for at least 10 years and gathered answers concerning five specific factors: Feedback & Promotion, Inclusion, Unconscious Biases, Motherhood and Harassment and Safety.

A Friendly Reminder

Before you start complaining that the study is biased because the people who administered the survey are women, we urge you to take note of three things:

1.       The proponents indicated that most men were unaware that women faced such issues;

2.       The third factor is "Unconscious Biases" which may explain why men were unaware; and,

3.       The study is not an attack on men but rather a way to urge women to share their stories and bring the issue into everyone's consciousness, especially the men who are unaware of these issues, so that they too may help even the playing field.

Eye To Eye With The Elephant

Concerning Feedback and Promotion, 84 percent of the respondents have been told they were either too aggressive or too soft and half of those women experienced this on multiple occasions, while 47 percent also said that they were given menial tasks that are not given to the males in the company, such as note-taking or ordering meals.

Some 66 percent felt excluded because they were not given the same opportunities to attend key networking opportunities as their male counterparts. Likewise, 90 percent reported to have witnessed sexist behaviors from their colleagues in company offsites and industry conferences.

When it came to unconscious biases, 88 percent experienced them. These are behaviors that companies and males exhibit but think are only "natural" such as directing questions to their male peers despite the knowledge that it should be addressed to them. Additionally, 87 percent received demeaning comments from their male colleagues, which they would most likely not have the gall to say if they were talking to a male counterpart.

Motherhood is also a big factor since 52 percent of those who took maternity leave felt the need to shorten it in to keep their job secured despite the benefit being offered. In interviews, 75 percent of the respondents were asked about their marital status and children and, to be taken seriously, 40 percent felt the need to minimize mentions about their family.

About 60 percent of the women reported unwanted sexual advances and, out of those, 65 percent received unwanted sexual advances from their superiors. Half of that 65 percent were at the receiving end of repeated unwanted sexual advances and, because of this, one in three women felt threatened and unsafe in their own workplace. We urge you to read some of the stories shared by the respondents so you have an idea. If you witness anything like it, go forward and report the incident, especially if the female involved is afraid that no one would believe her.

Try to think back and determine if you've ever witnessed any of the experiences shared by the participants in the survey or whether you have been at the giving or receiving end of such issues. No matter how much people deny it, the elephant is there and it's time to stop denying its existence or convincing yourself that it's a small elephant. It's so big, you'd probably look like a flea next to it.

Photo: Armando Maynez | Flickr

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