Friday, March 22, 2013

Sexism in Silicon Valley

My mom sent this article about sexism in the supposed meritocracy of Silicon Valley.  I don't know whether I've been selectively reading comments lately to avoid this kind of garbage or whether the comment thread is particularly idiotic, but holy hell, dudes, get a grip.  There is something special about seeing a bunch of people making unfounded, extreme sexist statements to "refute" the idea that women are discriminated against in the tech world.  It's like, If these are your arguments against the idea of sexism in tech, I would hate to see your arguments/evidence supporting it.

My sister has spent most of her career in Silicon Valley and can attest many times over about the pervasive sexism in the industry.

To be charitable toward some of the clueless commenters for a moment, I think one thing that gets lost in these discussions is an important distinction between conscious/explicit sexism and unconscious/implicit sexism.  I have no doubt that there are a lot of men (and women!) in the tech sector who think that they are choosing the most qualified candidates available to them, and that those candidates just happen to be male.  They aren't overt chauvinists; they just aren't aware of their bias that makes male candidates seem more attractive than female ones.  The text of this talk about unconscious bias presented at a women in astronomy conference (start on p. 60 of the PDF) gives a really nice background on the relevant research on unconscious sexism.  This includes the famous analysis of actual data on orchestra hiring that found that women had a 50% higher chance of advancing past the preliminary audition and a "severalfold" increase in being hired in the final round if they auditioned behind a screen so that their sex did not influence how the judges rated their performance (i.e., blind auditions).  It also discusses the results of "fake resume" type studies in which otherwise identical resumes, differing only in the applicant's name, are used; when the resume has a male name, the applicant is rated more highly than when it has a female name. 

Another is the distinction between sexism as an expression of dislike ("I have a negative attitude toward women") and sexism in terms of the specific beliefs about women ("I think women are great!  But they are emotional and aren't good at math and science stuff and don't make good leaders") -- the latter type of sexism is often called "benevolent sexism" because it pairs a positive attitude with damaging stereotyping content. 

If you've never taken a gender-science IAT (implicit association test), you can do so online.  It only takes a few minutes to complete, and if you're like me, you will be able to feel the difference in your responses as you take the test.  (Yes, there is a lot of inside-baseball type discussion amongst academics of what the IAT really measures, etc., but for our purposes, I think it's reasonable to look at it as a potential indicator of implicit bias.)

Confession:  It told me -- "Your data suggest a strong association of Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts compared to Female with Science and Male with Liberal Arts." 


mom said...

My result was a slight association of Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts.

Sally said...

Mom, congrats on being less biased than I am. :)