Professor Jennifer Berdahl contributed to the latest Room for Debate, a regular feature of the New York Times that invites experts to weigh in on timely topics – for this issue, the contributors were asked what can be done to eliminate biases against women in the tech industry.
Berdahl, the Montalbano professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity at Sauder, says tech companies should weed out the “bad apples,” no matter their technical prowess, who contribute to the hyper-masculine culture that drives away talented women.
Originally published October 30 in the New York Times:
In many ways the tech industry is not so different from other male-dominated domains, like finance, surgery and the military. In these fields, gaining acceptance and status involves demonstrations of masculinity, no matter how poor a proxy it is for performance or how damaging it can be to group productivity. Masculinity is a perennially precarious identity — meaning, it requires continuous proof and defending, perhaps especially for the “brogrammers” of tech — that is too often established at the expense and exclusion of women.
To fix subtle and blatant sex discrimination, tech executives must acknowledge that a hyper-masculine culture drives away valuable talent and fresh perspectives, and narrowly defines individual status at the cost of collective success. Gender bias should be recognized as a form of incompetence in the workplace: the inability to work with and respect women, or to recognize merit and promising ideas independent of their style or source, are social and intellectual handicaps. Rather than a masculine culture that stigmatizes femininity, tech needs a competence culture that stigmatizes misogyny and trains people to recognize and combat it.
Sexism is a form of incompetence in the workplace: the inability to work with and respect women is a social and intellectual handicap.
- Professor Jennifer Berdahl
My advice to tech executives is to find the quiet heroes – the men and women who respect, collaborate well with, and grow the talent of, women. Build teams of women and men who change the culture together; one against many will fail. Fix or fire the bad apples, no matter their technical prowess; their toxicity is not worth the price. Tech companies should be rated on their representations of women in different ranks and roles, the inclusiveness of their cultures, and the gender messaging of their products. These ratings can guide the choices of investors, consumers and talent. After all, tech companies with strong female leadership — like Alibaba — have been some of the most successful. Companies that find the path to bring women and men forward in full force will succeed over companies that don't.