Your Guide to Understanding the Silicon Valley Sexism Court Cases

Your Guide to Understanding the Silicon Valley Sexism Court Cases

For many, a job at Silicon Valley typically means an incredible salary, bragging rights, and cushy employee benefits like a home cleaning service, nap pods, and even helicopter rides. While this may seem like a jackpot, it’s not all glamorous as it seems. Lately, the land of tech magic has been coming under fire with gender discrimination lawsuits. You’ve probably heard of Ellen Pao’s high profile lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in which the jury decided in favor of the latter. But there’s also Chia Hong who is suing Facebook over harassment and wrongful termination and Tina Huang who is filing a class action lawsuit for all females who were passed over for promotions at Twitter (Twitter is not based in the Silicon Valley but boasts similar demographics as these firms, i.e. male-dominated).

While Silicon Valley (and the broader tech industry) is indisputably male-dominated, it’s easy to perceive that there exists equality for the few females who are a part of it. After all, many of these firms boast some of the best maternity leave policies and support systems for working moms (ever heard of baby cash?). Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg has been leading the charge to “lean in” and has urged companies to implement more empowering policies for women. While this is certainly necessary for progress, these policies don’t always change the less quantifiable aspects of workplace sexism.

It’s the subtle sexism, or as Annie Lowrey calls it, “soft discrimination” that you can’t quite prove. Soft discrimination includes not taking women as seriously, excluding female employees from certain “male domain” activities and discussions, and negatively viewing female assertiveness. Lowrey makes a great point on why Pao’s case may have had difficulty winning in the courts despite the fact that so many women related to her: “It’s subtle, and that makes it all the more difficult to identify and root out. It’s not your boss hitting on you and then demoting you to secretary when you spurn his advances. It’s your boss describing your assertiveness as too assertive, and suggesting you might be better suited for an operational role.”

Chia Hong’s case against Facebook is based on the claim that she was discriminated against and after voicing her concerns to her boss, Anil Wilson, was wrongfully terminated. While Facebook and Google generally lead in providing the best policies for working moms and women, a report shows that, “69% of its overall global work force — including 85% of its technology workers — was male. At the management level, 77% were men and 74% were white.” Hong cites incidents like “making her serve drinks to male co-workers” or belittlement by Wilson during meetings asking “why she did not just stay at home.” Hong also cites her Taiwanese nationality as a basis for discrimination.

Tina Huang’s class action lawsuit against Twitter charges that the company “discriminates against its female employees by failing to promote equally qualified or better qualified women to engineering leadership positions. The company’s promotion system creates a glass ceiling for women that cannot be explained or justified by any reasonable business purpose, because Twitter has no meaningful promotion process for these jobs.” Huang’s own experience is being overlooked for promotion to a senior position and put on administrative leave and subsequent termination. Huang is currently calling upon other women who were passed for promotions.

What all of these cases prove, in all of their slight variations, is the underlying problem of the enduring barrier women face in the workplace. The astounding similarities in many of these situations goes to prove that discrimination isn’t just contextual and circumstantial; it’s pretty much universal. All the outpouring stories women have brought up in response to these cases prove commonalities like the “stay in your lane” attitude, or in other words the general attitude towards women that try to tell them that they do not really belong in this world. It’s a culture of exclusion and condescension that can’t always be embodied in the strict legal terminologies, but is nevertheless a weight on women. Until this soft discrimination and subtle sexism is acknowledged, it’s a burden that will continue to discourage women from the workforce.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.