Aug 7, 2017

The tech industry's dirty little secret

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Sam Jayne / Axios

Google has over 70,000 employees. One of them wrote a lengthy memo that, among other things, suggested that tech's gender gap can be partially explained by biology (i.e., men are more genetically apt to be good engineers than are women). Many of the 70,000 were outraged. Some were supportive. It leaked to the press and became mainstream news, even topping Monday's print edition of USA Today.

The narrative: This comes just weeks after several male venture capitalists were accused of sexual harassment toward female tech entrepreneurs, and that was on top of allegations of gender discrimination at Uber. In the course of a summer, Silicon Valley's reputation has devolved from progressive meritocracy to sexist cesspool.

What's really happening: All of these incidents reveal a dirty secret about America's technology industry: It is comprised of people who live in America. As such, it is prone to many of the same cultural flaws inherent in other industries and communities. Sexism. Racism. Intolerance of dissenting views, let alone interest in debating for the sake of greater knowledge. It's something we forgot in our rush to venerate the new masters of the universe. Would we have even batted a collective eye if the Google memo had been written by someone working in Wall Street, or at a Fortune 500 manufacturer? Tech is getting its moment in this unwanted spotlight because it claimed to have changed the paradigm, and we naively believed in what really was aspiration masquerading as achievement.

Why it matters: Technology is growing exponentially important in our everyday lives, and its creators are growing exponentially wealthy – America's five most valuable companies are each tech outfits. And there is no indication that it's some reversible trend. That its troubles are representative of our broader societal ills may be logical, but it is not comforting. The more powerful, the more responsible for moral leadership. Tech has earned the scrutiny, for better or for worse.

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