Inside Silicon Valley’s Sex & Drug-Fueled Bro Culture

7 Min Read

Sex parties, drugs, bondage, blackmail: It sounds like journalistic embellishments of Stephen Glass proportions, but according to long-time reporter and media personality Emily Chang, ethical debauchery has become a way of life in Silicon Valley.

Chang, the host of Bloomberg Television and Executive Producer HBO's Silicon Valley- sought out to bring to light the plethora of issues plaguing the tech industry, sparing no uncomfortable detail via two years of investigative reporting. Chang's new book, aptly-called Brotopia, explores the ecosystem of male domination in the tech world and how it's affected women who work within it. To get the unfiltered reality from those experiencing it, Chang utilized her ample network of Valley insiders, interviewing more than 3 dozen men and women, wholely immersing herself in a world that has become synonymous with sexism.

I think a lot of people don't realize the #MeToo movement actually started in Silicon Valley with Ellen Pao who was a junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers," says Chang. “She sued her venture capital firm [for gender discrimination in 2012] and she lost, but she won in the court of public opinion. think that was one of the first openings where women started talking about this."

According to Chang, one of the biggest disparities is that tech is such a progressive industry, yet has such stark inequality. In fact, she reveals that women make up just 25 percent of computing jobs, are just 7 percent of investors, and reminds us the grim truth that women got only two percent of funding last year. She also discovered that the pay gap in Silicon Valley is alarmingly high- in fact, five times the national average.

Photo courtesy of David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

“I think diversity has not been a priority," says Chang matter-of-factly. “Growth has been a priority, users have been a priority, engagement has been a priority."

Chang goes on to say that in the early days of Google, hiring women once was a priority, and because of this, women like Susan Wojcicki (the current CEO of YouTube), Sheryl Sandberg (known for radically scaling the business) and Marissa Mayer (the mind responsible for today's minimalistic-and iconic- search interface), moved their way up through the ranks, but over time the numbers fell flat. “Now Google's numbers are average just like every other company and they have quite a big pay gap," she says.

In her book, Chang further explores the Google pay gap scenario, sharing how the women at the company started speaking up about their salaries, adding them to a spreadsheet, which would go on to become a Department of Labor lawsuit. “This is a company that started out with good intentions but good intentions aren't enough," she says. “Talk isn't enough."

To illustrate her point that even a good idea is insufficient for change, Chang then explains how Google began to include a woman into every single interview for new talent. While this may seem progressive, women at Google reported to Chang that the requirement took them away from their normal job activities, like writing code and launching new projects. “So, when it comes to promotion time, [a woman is] evaluated on those things, not on how many candidates she interviewed," says Chang. “It's just one of the pitfalls of a process that means well but ultimately hasn't played out. You wouldn't have to do that if the workforce was 50/50 already."Above that, the maleness of startup culture has become blaringly apparent, which subconsciously and not so much so makes women second class citizens in their party worlds. Even if the conversation of gender parity is there, this ecosystem inherently favors males, and makes female employees feel less apt to become successful from within it. “Many of these companies look like college dorm fantasylands," says Chang. “You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner [at the office], you can get your clothes washed, you can bring your pets to work, but there's no child care, there's no childcare stipend. I realize that childcare is hard but they've also created this whole shuttle bus system that brings thousands of employees into work every day from all across the Bay Area. This is an industry that doesn't shy away from hard problems."Another issue- the glorification of the anti-social white male nerd- perpetuated as the embodiment of a successful tech executive- is one that Chang uncovered as she dug deeper into the story. “The more I did my research I realized nobody knows that in fact women were critical parts of the computer industry early on that were programming computers for NASA and the military, literally like Hidden Figures but industry-wide," says Chang. “They got pushed out for various reasons, and that the stereotype of the antisocial white male nerd perpetuated until this day."

Chang says through writing Brotopia she also realized the extent to which mandatory contracts and non-disclosure form silence women from speaking up on issues like sexual harassment and blatant gender-based bias.“There are all these non-disclosure agreements, which unfortunately, has undermined some of the ability for some of these grassroots efforts to happen," says Chang.

Brotopia By Emily Chang

“That said, I do know there are a bunch of women VCs who are working on the idea of creating this third party HR type organization where you can file complaints. Right now, the third party is the media. So we're in this difficult position of arbitrating these major stories in public and it takes months to do one of these stories about one single person. But, maybe [through third-party HR organizations] these issues can be addressed right away without these women having to wait years before finding someone else who had a bad experience. Even though many women came forward in this book, it pales in comparison to what is actually out there." All in all, Chang says that despite her belief that her book (which she started before the 2017 election) would come out under a female president, she believes that this moment is one that can be harnessed to get men to better understand the predicament facing women in tech. Should she attend the not-so-secret company-wide sex party? If she does, as male executives reported to Chang, they'll never take her seriously. If she doesn't? She's effectively keeping herself further isolated from the male-centric ecosystem that fosters and promotes the members of the bro-gang. Talk about a no-win situation. According to Chang, it is important that women realize that while change is necessary, it's not their burden.

“The onus is on white men right now," Chang says. “They have the power, they have the money and I hope that after everyone reads this they know ignorance is woeful at this point. You cannot say I didn't know women were feeling this way because that is completely ridiculous because every woman I've spoken with is as frustrated as we are. The book is called Brotopia, I think that sends the message that this is a modern utopia where anyone can change the world, unless they're a woman."

Emily Chang's Greatest One-Liners
“Ultimately, I did not come into this with an agenda. It's time to report what I observed and unfortunately, in many ways, that picture isn't pretty. My goal is that the book stands up on its own and we are not going to be able to solve the problem, if we don't understand what that problem is."

"People keep saying to me, [the tech industry] can't be worse than Wall Street. Actually, it is. Women are getting 18 percent of computer science degrees, there is no other major that has that kind of disparity."

"A moment of truth for me is that this what people believe, that in order to hire women, they have to lower their standards."

“I started writing this two years ago, before Trump was elected. I fully expected for this book to come out under the first woman president, and I had no idea that the #MeToo movement would pick up. I certainly benefited from that momentum."

“As a journalist, I've been put in uncomfortable situations. It is a male-dominated industry and often the people I'm speaking with as sources are men in powerful positions. I don't think that what I've gone through in any way compares to what a woman who is the only person in the room over and over again experience, these women talk about getting unwanted advances 24/7."

4 Min Read

Self-defense From A Former Woman International Protection Agent

What would you do if you felt physically or emotionally threatened in some way? Do you trust your ability to escape a dangerous situation without harm? Would you remain calm and grounded, responding if needed in an appropriate way, or do you fear you'd panic — making a frightening situation worse?

The ability to respond to danger and protect yourself both physically and mentally from violence and fear is a valuable life skill. Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.

Especially in these times of uncertainty, protest, and unrest, simply knowing you have the tools to respond in the case of a physical or mental assault can bring peace of mind and boost your self-confidence — even if you never have to use them.

As a former US Secret Service agent and international protection professional, I co-led a team protecting top Colombian officials including the president at a time when Colombia was nicknamed "the kidnap capital of the world." Its government was in the throes of a bloody war with guerilla and terrorist groups. Three Americans had just been kidnapped and the State Department had issued an alarming Level 3 (Orange) Travel Advisory. I have worked undercover, had a bounty placed on my head, and kept a watchful eye on drugged-up thugs on the streets of countries such as Haiti, Peru, and Colombia. High-profile individuals I've protected include members of the Versace family, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the grandchildren of President George H. W. Bush. I talk about all this in my memoir The Protector: A Woman's Journey From the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World's Most Dangerous Places.

It wasn't often that I needed to use the self-protection skills I'd been trained in — although when I did have to, I was beyond grateful I learned and practiced them, tirelessly. But as one of the tiny minority of women in this male-dominated field, I am thankful for the sense of peace and empowerment that simply having these skills, and the ability to stay calm amid danger, gave me. My personal motto is, "prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Doing so requires not just physical toughness but also mental toughness, a skill I now help people build in my second career as a psychologist. Although in an ideal world, nobody would ever find themselves facing threat or danger, here are the basic steps I recommend you take in order to protect yourself physically and mentally in uncertain, frightening times and for all times:

Learn your surroundings to notice when something is out of place (e.g. it's 90 degrees outside and there is somebody walking around your neighborhood in a long winter coat). Make "surroundings checks" a habit, almost like a game, taking mental note of anything unusual that has changed. This will help prevent you from being caught off guard.

"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."

Learn five self-defense moves. You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence. Take a weekend self-defense class and learn just five techniques. Then, practice them until they are natural and are part of your muscle memory. There are many excellent techniques to choose from, including knife and/or gun takeaways, getting yourself out of a choke hold, and breaking someone's nose with a palm strike.

Choose the lens through which you look at things. When you notice you are starting to panic or become scared, focus on acting, not thinking. For example, shift from "Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do…" and freezing in the process, to telling yourself, calmly, "I am going to get myself out of this situation, NOW!" and acting. Always tell yourself you can do something — it could be a matter of life or death.

Focus on your physical fitness. This is the key to both mental and physical health, and for mental and physical preparedness in any situation. When you are strong and fit, physically, you are more self-confident and likely to respond with clarity and, if needed, strength and speed.

You do not need to have a black belt in martial arts to effectively protect yourself and boost your self-confidence.

Find your voice. Voice is a stun technique that can buy you 2 to 4 seconds that you need to either run or disorient your attacker. If someone is making you uncomfortable — for example, by walking close behind you on the street for quite a while — turn around, put your hand up, signaling, "stop", and scream, "stop!" Then, run. Oddly, people are embarrassed to do this. Don't be! It will stun your attacker and buy you valuable time.

Meditate. Meditation is proven to reduce stress, decrease fear and anxiety, boost positive mood, and promote emotional health and self-esteem. Do it! It will serve you well in any stressful situation.