The Tech Industry has a reputation for not treating women as equals and peers who bring as much to the industry as their male counterparts. While some may find it difficult to believe that a double standard still exists, recent allegations of sexual harassment at two tech giants – Tesla and Uber – show that the double standard may indeed still be alive and well. These reports have been in the news for years. First in 2012 when Ellen Pao filed a suit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers followed by Julie Ann Horvath detailing her experiences in 2014 while employed at GitHub. In 2016 Amelie Lamont filed a claim against her employer SquareSpace, alleging overt racism and sexism.
These latest claims from AJ Vandermeyden against Tesla and two claims against Uber by different women, as well as the revelation that one of the Uber Senior Vice Presidents resigned his position after the news was revealed that he had left a job at Google on the heels of an accusation from an employee there, show that either the problem still exists, is getting worse or that the female employees are standing up for themselves and coming forward working to ensure that the behaviors no longer continue.
The Elephant in the Valley
The much-reviewed Elephant in the Valley survey of 2015 revealed some staggering statistics from the 210 females surveyed. The survey report stated that the respondents were in broad age ranges, all with at least 10 years of experience and while their employment levels varied, 25% held positions of power and influence at the time of the survey. By the numbers 84% were told they were too aggressive, 47% reported being asked to low-level tasks that their male peers were never asked to perform. Sixty-six percent felt excluded from social and networking opportunities because of gender and 90% witnessed sexist behaviors from their male counterparts at offsite meetings and conferences. Another 88% have said that their male counterparts were asked questions that should have been directed to them and 84% state that their colleagues will make eye contact with males, but not with them. A staggering 75% note that during interviews they have been inappropriately asked questions about family, children, and marital status. In regards to unwanted sexual advances, 60% of women in tech have experienced these with 65% of the respondents stating these came from superiors. Of the women who reported sexual harassment within their organizations, 60% were dissatisfied with the outcome but worse, 39% did nothing because they feared reporting would damage their careers and their futures.
The Tech Industry employs more people today than any other industry segment, yet women still make up only about 30% of that industry. To continue to bring women to the table, what needs to happen to ensure that the working environment offers a safe, encouraging environment where women can shine, working side by side with their male counterparts? First and foremost, companies need to educate. Teach and train on the topic, then enforce appropriate behaviors. Make it acceptable for anyone to tell their coworkers when words or actions make them uncomfortable. Make it unacceptable for comments, jokes, and actions that are inappropriate for the workplace to go on.
As for the women who venture into these waters, what do they need to do? Remember that sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If sexual harassment or behaviors that make a worker feel uncomfortable are occurring, the employee must speak up. Let the would-be harasser know that the behaviors make you uncomfortable. Next, know and follow your employer’s procedures for handling and reporting ongoing behaviors. Document every conversation and every action taken. If the situation is not resolved internally, then you make need to take the issue to an outside agency such as the EEOC. If the complaint is still not resolved, then you may need to pursue litigation.
In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), as well as the EEOC prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace as well as forbidding retaliation when an employee reports unwanted behavior.
At Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we demand that companies comply with state and federal laws related to this issue. If you have questions regarding workplace harassment, contact us today!