Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

Summary

Chang explores how the male-dominated, work-at-all costs culture of Silicon Valley has shut women out of the greatest wealth creation in history. As someone who has worked in tech for most of my career, I read this to better understand one of the industry’s biggest challenges. It ultimately inspired me to create a scholarship for women in technology.

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Key Takeaways

Cannon-Perry Test (1960s)

Test that said software develops were good at puzzles/problem-solving. Also said that they have a proclivity for things, not people. This test set the course for how software developers were evaluated in hiring processes, and it biased those processes to a narrow group of people
It ultimately lead to an over-selection of males thanks to a systematic bias for mathematically-oriented men with antisocial tendencies.

Cannon-Perry Test (1960s)

Boys used computers at higher rates because they were given computers as kids, whereas females were given dolls. Institutions were also set up to glorify the male nerd in computer science degrees, and this made it less likely that women aspired to be a part of this group.

1980s

Computer science took off, and there weren’t enough staff at universities to meet the growing demand. So schools prioritized people with computer programming experience, which naturally favored males who had used computers as kids. So even though women were getting computer science degrees at higher rates in the 70s, this dropped off around 1984 due to the staffing issue.

Hiring biases

Startups began favoring the new stereotype of confident, fearless, and risk-taking male leaders. It started with a company called Trilogy, which hired top talent with no experience. They hired Princeton and Stanford engineers who were hard working and hard drinking.
They would repeat phrases like “Money. Recruiters. Beer. Repeat.” and talk about deals worth millions of dollars. They also used lots of brainteasers in interviews. The problem is that these questions favor confidence, not intelligence. Men were more likely to appear confident with brainteasers, despite not being any more intelligent than female candidates who were more considerate of the questions.
Investors compounded these biases, applauding risk-taking and hubris.

“Pipeline problem”

Not enough women with skills required – tech industry creates pipeline, and it’s currently driven by antisocial nerds and risk-taking bros.

Paypal

Peter Thiel and others took the philosophy of “hire people like you.” They become idols of the tech industry, and they would support each other in future ventures, which led to massive wealth creation and power. They perpetuated their ideas under the veil of “meritocracy.”

Google

Hired early women and made efforts to hire female engineers. But Google CEOs had romantic intrigues with female employees, and the company did a bad job of training and promoting females. The work environment values male traits vs. the more collaborative nature of women. James Demur memo created controversy as he argues about biological differences between men and women.

Bro culture

Bros in key roles would gather to drink and be rowdy. If women declined to “drink with the boys,” they were viewed as uptight and missed our valuable bonding time. If you participate as a woman, you’re viewed as not serious and exposed to sexual advances by men. So it’s a lose lose for women. Women were exposed to death by a thousand cuts  – being interrupted, inappropriate comments on outfits, and so on.

Venture capital

Very few women at VCs. Many women start e-commerce businesses which have lower growth potential. This leads to bias against female founders as VCs favor growth over sustainable businesses.

Sexual trends

Elites gathered to have crazy sex parties with MDMA. They applied thinking different at startups to the sexual realm. This led to trends around non-monogamy and often put people in weird situations.

Company perks

Typical tech company perks for young, single men. They’re designed to provide comfort for people who work 60 hour work weeks. That’s fine when you’re young, but it biases against parents and people who don’t want to spend all day at the office. So young single guys have big advantages.

Internet harassment

Women experience internet harassment worse than men. In general, it’s more dangerous and hateful, often talking about women’s appearance and extending as far as rape threats.

Meritocracy

“More fundamentally, meritocracy is impossible to achieve, because, as Young says, a meritocracy is always based on an imperfect definition of merit and often narrowly defined to favor training, connections, and education primarily available to the wealthy. Take Stanford. Because Stanford is filled with students with top high-school GPAs and SAT scores, administrators can pat themselves on the back and say, “We only admit the best students. We’re a meritocracy.” The students are encouraged to think similarly. But is it just a coincidence that the median annual family income of a Stanford student is $167,500 while the national median is roughly one-third that? Did those high-achieving students naturally get high SAT scores, or did they benefit from their parents’ paying for tutors and sending them to private schools? Privilege accumulates as you advance in life. If the college you attend is the basis of your future employment networks, then it is impossible to say that your employment success is solely based on merit.”

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