3 Ways Women Are Changing Silicon Valley Culture (Slideshow)
1. Obviously, Marissa Mayer
Last week, Marissa Mayer, an engineer and Google VP, became the new CEO of Yahoo with a milion-dollar salary.
She is expecting her first child in October. It’s impossible not to laud her being the first-ever pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company (can you imagine anyone typing that a few decades ago?).
Nonetheless, Mayer’s announcement that she will take no more than a “pause” for maternity leave is stirring up a national debate about maternity and paternity leave and the need for workplace accommodations to care for children, not to mention elderly and disabled spouses, partners and relatives. The New York Times points out, women in as prominent a position as Mayer — and ample resources to provide childcare and to flexibility in her schedule — may find that such an “abbreviated leave” suits them and their new status as mothers just fine:
…In interviews, many said that for women at the top of their profession or running their own show, the decision to not take a traditional leave can feel like an empowering choice — and at the same time, not a choice at all.
“You can think of a lot of moms who have more than one child, and do they ever say, ‘I’m going to stop feeding my older child because I have a newborn’?” asked Pooja Sankar, 31, chief executive of Piazza, an online forum for teachers and students to solve problems. Ms. Sankar, who gave birth to her first child three weeks ago, thinks of Piazza as one of her own, too: “I’m the C.E.O. of a company. This ‘child’ depends on me to run, to exist, really.’”
Certainly, plenty of women need to get back to work ASAP and start collecting paychecks. Other women, such as teachers, those in the food-service business and child care workers, “can’t send e-mails from their iPhones and call it ‘working.’”
Amid the debates, we shouldn’t forget what Mayer’s accomplishment says about how far women have come, to the point that they can call the shots — a feat that’s all the more notable in the tech industry, where sexist attitudes still mean that women are under-represented.
Next: Microsoft and the “Big Boobs” Code
2. Microsoft Removes “Big Boobs” Coding Gaffe
The BBC reports that the hexadecimal string 0xB16B00B5 — which can apparently be read as “big boobs” — was found “lurking in code that helps a Microsoft program work with Linux open source software.”
Observing that someone “was trying to be funny, I guess,” developers who oversee the core, or kernal, of the Linux operating system detected the code. Microsoft responded swiftly and says that it has created a patch to replace the spelling of the string in an update:
Commenting on the gaffe, developer Dr Matthew Garrett noted that the first version of the Microsoft code used a similar string of 0x0B00B135 – a form of letters that roughly translates to “boobies”.
“Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys’ club where girls aren’t welcome,” Dr Garrett wrote.
A “huge debate” has ensued about “whether use of the string was sexist and how male developers should conduct themselves.”
CNET‘s James Farrar says that the code is one reason for “dismally low minority and gender representation” in the tech industry. The detection of the code follows another embarrassing incident for Microsoft in June when ”inappropriate and offensive elements and vulgar language” was used at a song and dance routine at the Azure Norwegian developer conference.
Women in top positions in the tech industry — not only Mayer but Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman and IBM’s Virginia Rometty — may “represent the exception rather than the rule for women in tech.”
Yes, we need to encourage more girls to study in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. But we also need to keep on the pressure on those (mostly white males) in those fields to say, yes, great about Mayer. But real changes in tech culture and in conditions for women — and in attitudes towards women — are vital for Silicon Valley to “maintain its position as the global innovation engine, against competition with dozens of fast growing innovation centers around the world.”
Next: Ellen Pao and Sexual Harassment in the Valley
3. Judge Rules Against Arbitration in Ellen Pao’s Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Kleiner Perkins
On May 10, Ellen Pao, a junior partner at well-respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the firm and her colleagues including noted venture capitalist John Doerr. According to the suit, which was filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, Pao alleged that she and 20 other female employees (referred to as “Jane Does” in the lawsuit) were sexually harassed and discriminated against by their colleagues at Kleiner, an early investor in Google and Amazon.
Kleiner has denied Pao’s allegations and had been seeking to send her sexual discrimination lawsuit to arbitration, which would have kept the kept publicity, and gossip, about the case under wraps. On Friday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn rejected Kleiner’s arguments that Pao had signed employment agreements binding her to arbitrate any legal disputes. Kleiner has said that it will appeal.
On the New York Times’ Bits blog, David Streitfield discusses some more details of Pao’s lawsuit and, in particular, Book of Longing, a book of poetry by Leonard Cohen that (improbably) is playing a key role in the case. Pao contends that, starting in 2006, investment partner Ajit Nazre sexually harassed her, and that, when she complained to senior partners and human resources executives at the firm, they retaliated by limiting her prospects for career advancement and her income. In the meantime, Nazre was promoted to lead Kleiner Perkins’s green technology unit and given an office across the hall from Pao’s.
Another colleague apparently gave Cohen’s book to Pao:
Ms. Pao suggests in her suit that a senior partner’s gift of “Longing” was equivalent to making a crude proposal or touching in an inappropriate place — way beyond the pale for acceptable office behavior. That senior partner, Randy Komisar, says the truth is more prosaic, according to the legal papers. He and Ms. Pao had a discussion about Mr. Komisar’s Buddhism, and she gave him a statue of Buddha as a holiday gift, the papers say. Mr. Komisar’s wife chose the Cohen book as a return gift. Kleiner notes in the papers that The New York Times called the book “profound.” True. But the same review also called it “steamy.”
What to make of this? Well, if I gave a copy of this book to a co-worker who decided she was offended, there are plenty of lines I would be uncomfortable hearing read to me by someone from the Human Resources Department: “You came to me this morning/ And you handled me like meat/ You’d have to be a man to know/ How good that feels how sweet.”
Based on these details, it seems that Pao’s suit seeks to show that it was not only Nazre who harassed her, but that the very culture of Kleiner was hostile to women and, indeed, contained elements of harassment and discrimination.
As Mayer’s new position and Pao’s lawsuit show, no one should think they can get away with the kind of “puerile behavior” someone at Microsoft was engaging in, when he wrote that string of code.
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Photo by Annie Mole