The New York Times has a long piece about the tech industry and women.
Elissa Shevinsky can pinpoint the moment when she felt that she no longer belonged.
She was at a friend’s house last Sept. 8, watching the live stream of the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon on her laptop and iPhone. Entrepreneurs were showing off their products, and two young Australian men, David Boulton and Jethro Batts, stood behind the podium to give their presentation. “Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits,” Mr. Boulton began, as photographs of women’s chests on a cellphone flashed on the screen behind him.
After some banter, Mr. Batts concluded, “This is the breast hack ever.”
The crowd — overwhelmingly young, white, hoodie-wearing men — guffawed. Something in Ms. Shevinsky’s mind clicked. If ever there was proof that the tech industry needed more women, she thought, this was it.
Ms. Shevinsky, 35, wasn’t the only one who was disgusted by the presentation. Twitter lit up with outrage. She joined in, writing a blog-post manifesto: “I thought that we didn’t need more women in tech. I was wrong.”
Hunnnnnh. Honestly. Is it too much to ask that men not talk about women the way a ravenous bear would talk about a freshly killed goat if bears could talk?
Tech executives often fault schools, parents or society in general for failing to encourage girls to pursue computer science. But something else is at play in the industry: Among the women who join the field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.
A culprit, many people in the field say, is a sexist, alpha-male culture that can make women and other people who don’t fit the mold feel unwelcome, demeaned or even endangered.
“It’s a thousand tiny paper cuts,” is how Ashe Dryden, a programmer who now consults on increasing diversity in technology, described working in tech. “I’ve been a programmer for 13 years, and I’ve always been one of the only women and queer people in the room. I’ve been harassed, I’ve had people make suggestive comments to me, I’ve had people basically dismiss my expertise. I’ve gotten rape and death threats just for speaking out about this stuff.”
And that’s a problem?
Yes. It is.
Ms. Shevinsky’s epiphany, however, wasn’t just about Mr. Dickinson or a couple of engineers. It was about computer-engineering culture and her relationship with it. She had enjoyed being “one of the bros” — throwing back whiskey and rubbing shoulders with M.I.T. graduates. And if that sometimes meant fake-laughing as her colleagues cracked jokes about porn, so be it.
“For years, all I wanted to do was work and code and make software,” she said in an interview. “That’s why I didn’t care about feminism. I just wanted to build stuff.”
“But Titstare showed me that was no longer a viable option,” she said. “We had to address our culture, because something was really not working.”
Or, feminism ate her brain. You decide.
“We see these stories, ‘Why aren’t there more women in computer science and engineering?’ and there’s all these complicated answers like, ‘School advisers don’t have them take math and physics,’ and it’s probably true,” said Lauren Weinstein, a man who has spent his four-decade career in tech working mostly with other men, and is currently a consultant for Google.
“But I think there’s probably a simpler reason,” he said, “which is these guys are just jerks, and women know it.”
The choice for people who are uncomfortable with the “bro” culture is to try to change it or to leave — and even women who are fed up don’t always agree on how to go about making a change. But leaving can be hard too.
Obviously it can. If you’re leaving the very thing you want to do – yes, that’s difficult.
After the Titstare presentation, a commenter calling himself White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit, “I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”
Online gathering spots for engineers, like Reddit, Hacker News and 4chan, where people often post anonymously, can feel like hostile territory for women.
“Many women have come to me and said they basically have had to hide on the Net now,” said Mr. Weinstein, who works on issues of identity and anonymity online. “They use male names, they don’t put their real photos up, because they are immediately targeted and harassed.”
That sense of being targeted as a minority happens at the office, too. That is part of the reason nearly a third of the women who leave technology jobs move to nontechnical ones, according to the Harvard study.
“It’s a boys’ club, and you have to try to get into it, and they’re trying as hard as they can to prove you can’t,” said Ephrat Bitton, the director of algorithms at FutureAdvisor, an online investment start-up that she says has a better culture because almost half the engineers are women.
It all seems so high school. Wouldn’t you think adults could do better?