Standing in line at a private tech company’s event featuring Emily Chang, Bloomberg Technology host and author of “Brotopia”, I saw a group of four men walk, pick up their signed copies of the book and get in line to enter. I was just thinking how great it was that there were so many men at a talk about women’s experience in tech, when one of them, looking at the book jacket, turned to his colleagues to say, “so, what’s wrong with a boy’s club, anyways?” Now, I don’t know those men at all, but their reaction doesn’t surprise me. Quite often people don’t realize that their experience might be different from the experience of someone else—that maybe women don’t enjoy working at a ‘boy’s club’ the way that they do; that maybe that is the whole point.
My hope is that they read the book, because Ms. Chang does a phenomenal job of explaining exactly what is wrong with a ‘boys’ club’. That the very idea of a meritocracy can be toxic is one of the themes of the book that Ms. Chang outlines so well. A meritocracy, a word used ubiquitously in the tech world when explaining why more women aren’t present, presupposes that everyone begins on a level playing field, when we all know that is not true. Everyone starts the game with a different level of privilege, and that privilege affects the opportunities that are and aren’t presented to them.
After her talk, I had a question for Ms. Chang “I’m not a woman in tech, but I come from the military. We also saw the idea of ‘we can’t sacrifice people’s lives for your desire for equality’ being used to keep women out of combat. What we realized when we did begin sending women into combat, is that diversity keeps people safer, and that female soldiers brought so many unexpected insights and positive advantages to the combat zone, that it was an obvious benefit. I think women in any male-dominated career field will relate to this book, and I want them all to read it. But I really want EVERY man I know to read this book so that they get it. How can I explain to THEM that this book is important for everyone to experience, not just a good read for women?”
Emily outlined some statistics that showcase that women’s equality is not just an issue for women, but for everyone. Indeed, it’s impossible to read “Brotopia” and not understand this. From the stories of three women who were up to their necks in Google’s early success, to statistics on how businesses make more money and have less toxic cultures when women are in leadership, there are so many facts and stories that help bring this fact to life—including women at every level of corporations, tech or not, is crucial to our future as a nation and a global economic power.
So, for this month’s professional book review, here are my 5 reasons why every man (and woman) should read “Brotopia” and think about its message.
- Understanding that You Have Privilege
The word ‘privilege’ is so politically fraught these days, that you almost can’t have a conversation about it. People honestly seem to believe that when you say they have privilege, be it white, male, hetero, or something else, that you are saying that they have never experienced difficulty in their life. The number one response that I hear when talking about white privilege (which I admittedly have benefitted from) is “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve worked for everything that I have”. It’s almost like there is a competition to have the hardest struggles. Well, having privilege of one kind doesn’t mean that you lived a privileged life—I certainly have not, I came to America alone at 15 and fought for everything that I have (check out my story here). However, with all that, I’ve never been discriminated against because of the color of my skin.
Privilege also doesn’t cancel each other out, or necessarily rank in a specific order. If I’m a white female talking to a black man, he has male privilege and I have white privilege. We’ve both had different experiences and opportunities in life based on that. Emily’s book does a great job of showing that male privilege in tech is a real thing—the numbers don’t lie. And the stories she tells makes it impossible to ignore the way that male privilege has been keeping women out for decades. The good guys can read the book without feeling attacked, but still see concrete examples of the way that the current culture discriminates against women. The bad guys…well, hopefully they feel guilty and change.
- Seeing how Your Privilege Actually Hurts Others
Once people admit that they have privilege, they often don’t realize that their privilege hurts others. “Talent is in super-short supply now, and yet the stereotype of what makes a good engineer continues to exclude half of the population…That these assumptions have greatly harmed women is obvious, but I would also argue…that they have also harmed the individual tech businesses, the industry as a whole, and our ever more tech-focused culture” (Page 40, Brotopia, From Nerd to Bro).
Ms. Chang shares stories of incredible successes by women in the industry (like that of the Borg Institute for Women and Technology) but the male-centric stereotype that had been circulated in the industry as ideal proved much too hard to overcome (Page 22, Brotopia From Nerd to Bro). And so, women continued to be kept out.
This especially extended into the world of venture capital, where the majority of the current investors and VCs are white, male, from the same generation, and went to the same schools—together. Yet they talk of meritocracy more than anyone, even while admitting that they hired all their school friends to build their companies and make their billions. Michael Moritz, of Sequoia Capital, when asked why they hadn’t hired a female partner in 44 years responded that “we’re not prepared to lower our standards” (Page 136, Brotopia, Superheroes and Superjerks). This rhetoric is not new, it is being echoed all around our country, from tech to politics to the Oscars.
- Learning Exactly What is Wrong with a ‘Boy’s Club’
In the chapter Sex and the Valley, the chapter which gets the most notoriety because of its subject matter, Emily explains one key thing that can show just what is wrong with a ‘boy’s club’. In it, she reveals the inner workings of the Valley’s sex parties, introduces the term ‘cuddle puddle’ into modern consciousness, and shows how, “when men play, women pay”. (Page 177, Brotopia, Sex and the Valley) This chapter can be summed up by the quote, that at these parties, where business is done and money changes hands by the millions and billions, “men get laid, women get screwed” (Page, 177, Brotopia, Sex and the Valley).
To those four unnamed bros that I observed, what’s wrong with a Boy’s Club is that “Not every man is happy in bro culture, but women, as a group, are especially unlikely to feel comfortable” (Page 34, Brotopia, From Nerd to Bro). This results in women leaving tech jobs at an alarmingly high rate, compared to other fields.
- Reducing your Blind Spot—Diversity Makes You Safer, Richer, and Nicer
I learned through my experience as a military intelligence officer (the one responsible for knowing everything about the bad guys and all the danger) the true reason why diversity, equality and everyone having a seat at the table is important. My job as the intelligence officer for the unit was for me and my team to play the bad guys, to actually study them, get inside their heads, learn their languages and tactics, so we could then advise our combat teams on the best way to accomplish the mission without any unpleasant surprises. There is a quadrant we use called “The Matrix of Knowledge”. It’s a visual method for categorizing knowledge and knowledge gaps, and flushing out what you don’t know, so that you can collect intelligence to answer the questions. There are 4 key sections, click here for an image.
My team did our best to explain what we knew and explore the data in the area of “the things we don’t know we know”, and set up questions to answer for the things that “we know we don’t know”. But there is one area, the things you don’t know you don’t know, which are usually the crucial things, but you don’t find out until they are happening—which in our world could mean someone was dead. This same concept impacts business, safety, rapid growth, culture-building and much, much more.
It’s impossible to have a complete viewpoint when you can’t see all of your blind spots. The more homogenous your group is, the more blind spots you have. When you don’t have people with different viewpoints weighing in, you don’t know what you don’t know. This is why the concept of “you asked to be here, now be just like us” is so problematic. If everyone is thinking the same way, and looking at things from the same angles, then everyone has the same blind spot. Alternatively, if you open up your circle to someone with a different viewpoint, a different angle, it can cut that blind spot down. Add yet another viewpoint and decrease that blind spot even further. Eventually, with enough diversity, you have greatly reduced your blind spots—increasing everything from safety to innovation to a healthier work-culture—you actually become nicer people.
- Women’s Equality is Everyone’s Issue
So why does this apply to everyone? Why not just recommend this book to women? The truth? Women know the issue. We may not be able to explain it quite so eloquently as Ms. Chang, but we know that male privilege affects us every day, and that bro culture keeps throwing rocks at our chances of success in many different industries. What we need now is for men to realize that as well, and then maybe we can turn some of those rocks against the glass ceilings instead.
And the studies back up the benefits of gender parity in the workplace and in leadership. “In a wide-ranging study of two million public and private companies in Europe, the IMF found that firms with more women in senior roles realized a “significantly higher return on assets.” On average, replacing just one man with one woman in management or on the board led to a 3 to 8 percent increase in profitability. In the tech sector specifically, the benefit was greater.” (Page 250, Brotopia, Silicon Valley’s Second Chance). And just in case the men are getting worried that women want to take over the world, she clarifies that the study also shows that increasing leadership to 60% women shows equally diminishing returns. The results are in people, having a workplace representative of the cultural balance at large brings everyone more money!
Wrapping it All Up:
The good news is that it’s not too late. Emily explains that “As we begin 2018, one thing is clear: in tech, people’s interest in, anxiety about, and desire for change have become palpable. The exclusion of women didn’t have to be the story of how we got here, and it certainly doesn’t need to be the future” (Page 250, Brotopia, Silicon Valley’s Second Chance”). And this book, in my humble opinion, is a key piece of the larger conversation about culture change in our country and world. But don’t take my word for it, experience this book for yourself. And if you’re like many of us that are waaay too busy and have too many things on your plate as it is, Emily Chang reads this book herself on the audio so you can indulge yourself while you sit in rush hour! Because one thing that all genders can agree on is that traffic sucks.
And remember no company is perfect: just do your best to Be Great Every Day!
Join us every Tuesday at 2:30 Central on Facebook for a live discussion of each week's blog topic. To watch this discussion, click here.
DANIELLA YOUNG IS A TEDX SPEAKER, AN AUTHOR, COMBAT VETERAN, BOARD MEMBER OF OPERATION CODE, & THE CO-FOUNDER OF CAVNESSHR—AN HR-TECH COMPANY WHO’S MISSION IS TO MAKE BIG-BUSINESS HR AVAILABLE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, THROUGH INNOVATIVE SAAS AND VIRTUAL CONSULTING. DANIELLA SPECIALIZES IN HELPING BUSINESSES CREATE CULTURE ROADMAPS, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS & EFFECT TEAM TRANSFORMATION. WANT TO LEARN MORE? VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT cavnesshr.com.
CLICK HERE TO SCHEDULE AN INTRO CALL WITH DANIELLA.
YOU CAN WATCH DANIELLA’S TEDX TALK, LOST IN TRANSITION, HERE & READ HER UNBELIEVABLE BACKGROUND STORY PUBLISHED IN NARRATIVELY MAGAZINE HERE.
YOU CAN FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER, OR CONNECT WITH HER ON LINKEDIN.