Brotopia: breaking up the boy’s club of Silicon Valley

How Sexism in Tech Impacts the World Outside Silicon Valley

Sexism has been rampant for decades in Silicon Valley, where the uphill battled faced by women in technology is becoming more widely known through a number of books and articles. Emily Chang, a television journalist with Bloomberg News, is adding to the narrative with her new book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. Chang exposes stories of  eye-popping sexism in the industry while also revealing a surprising fact: Silicon Valley wasn’t always so dominated by men. She discussed her recent book on the Knowledge@Wharton show,  which airs on SiriusXM channel 111.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Knowledge@Wharton: The male-centric culture of Silicon Valley is not a hidden story, yet you bring out some amazing details in this book that capture attention. Are people wondering why this environment persists there?

Emily Chang: When I started doing my research, I thought this is how the tech industry always was. But when I went back to the early days of computing, I learned that women actually were vital parts of the computer industry. They were programming computers for the military and for NASA. Think about it like the movie Hidden Figures, but industry wide. In the 1960s and 1970s, the industry was exploding and they needed good programmers so desperately that a software company hired two psychologists to develop a personality test to identify good programmers. They decided that good programmers “don’t like people.”

If you look for people who don’t like people, you’ll hire far more men than women. That’s what the research tells us, and there’s no evidence to support this idea that people who don’t like people are good at this job. But those tests were wildly influential and used by tech companies for decades. They’ve perpetuated this stereotype of the anti-social, mostly white, male nerd as somebody who is the only kind of person who can be good at this job.

Knowledge@Wharton: So, this one test from 40 years ago set the path for an entire industry?

Chang: A lot of things became self-perpetuating. At about the same time, you had women charging into computer science and getting 37% of computer science degrees. That has since plummeted to 18%, a number that has remained flat for a decade. This stereotype was then repeated in pop culture and repeated by investors who were looking for the new entrepreneurs to fund. They want people who look like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, none of them look like women. All of these things combined reinforces this idea of who can do this and what that person looks like, and it persists to this day

Read More

Our videos