The tech industry has a sex discrimination problem. It’s no secret. Like much of the white-collar workforce, men dominate the tech sector. Women hold less than 20% of the technical jobs at some of the largest tech giants. As of 2019, only about 11% of women in tech held supervisory roles. Tech-employed women are paid less than their male counterparts, the subject of (for example) a certified class action against Oracle. The dearth of women in tech has negative implications for consumers and society at large. Many tech products are designed with men in mind, such as smartphones too large for the average woman’s hands, voice recognition software that understands men better than women, and fitness trackers that don’t count steps while performing household chores or pushing a stroller. Software and artificial intelligence have repeatedly been shown to exhibit race and sex bias.
The male-dominated tech industry has proven resistant to addressing the field’s bias and its wider implications. For instance, Google terminated (it would say “accepted the resignation of”) Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born engineer, after she declined to retract an academic research paper examining the bias risks of Google’s artificial intelligence concerning languages (implicating, for example, predictive text).
One large tech company that came under fire for sex bias, Pinterest (a platform with a predominantly female user base), settled a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by former chief operating officer Francoise Brougher for $22.5 millionrepresents a major victory for marginalized women in the tech world. Ms. Brougher’s lawsuit came on the heels of the June resignations of Pinterest employees Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks and their public airing exposing of the explicitly racist and sexist comments they endured at the company, their lower pay, and the retaliatory treatment they experienced when they spoke out. Brougher’s lawsuit similarly alleged that her pay structure was less favorable than that of her male executive counterparts, she was given feedback riddled with gender bias, and she was left out of executive meetings that were necessary for her to perform her job, until she was fired in April 2020.
The publicity following these courageous women’s actions seems to be having an impact on the company. After more than 200 employees virtually walked out in the female former employees’ support, and shareholders sued Pinterest for damaging the company’s reputation and stock value with its toxic work culture, Pinterest added two Black female members to its board of directors, hired a new head of inclusion and diversity, and made other changes to address its culture of bias. Hopefully, Pinterest will listen to these voices rather than cutting them out as they did with Brougher, or as Google did with Ms. Gebru. The $22.5 million settlement for just one high-profile discrimination victim should give Pinterest and other tech companies ample incentive to work to prevent workplace discrimination against countless women going forward. If these companies fail to do so, the settlement should encourage other marginalized women in tech to come forward.