Why ‘Silicon Valley’ is Business as Usual for a ‘Brogrammer’ culture

Silicon ValleyNew TV satire, Silicon Valley is centered around six ‘geek’ stereotypes who found a startup tech company. The sitcom’s sadly devoid of strong female characters. Instead it portrays a tech start-up world dominated by white men and the ubiquitous “brogrammer” culture. Some argue that the show’s mirroring the tech industry but with big tech companies, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook revealing disappointing gender balanced workforces, we at Female breadwinners hoped “Silicon Valley” would’ve presented a more positive and enlightening vision of the tech industry.

There’s only one female returning cast member, Monica. She’s an uber-competent assistant who’s proficient at making hotel reservations, maintaining schedules and offering support to the start up guys. Any other women, like ‘Mochachino’; a black stripper are either an object of sexual speculation or a disposable prop.

When the producers took to Twitter with a campaign #AskSiliconValley seeking feedback, the lack of women in the show, specifically in technical roles, was high on the agenda. When asked if there would be female coders, the creator,  Mike Judge replied, ‘Yes. We’re writing now and 2 new main female characters so far’. Judge wasn’t specific in his response as to whether their roles will be technical…we’ll be watching.

With the international prominence of strong female techies such as Sheryl Sandberg, Nicola Mendelsohn and Marissa Meyer, the lack of female representation on media vision of Silicon Valley must change. Nadja von Massow, Head of creative at The GIG at DST agrees and wrote in The Guardian: ’You only have to attend networking groups such as DLD (Digital Life Design) Woman to notice the high velocity of women now working in tech roles’. If the show takes heed of it’s viewers and wants to truly reflect the future tech culture, the cast will have to change.

 

Busy but bold women unite…Online

savvy woman on internetThe Internet is changing the way women talk about their experiences and increasingly their rights. While IT has historically been thought of as a male sphere, it is increasingly being used as a way for women to advocate and share ideas. As most women now hold down jobs outside the home, we increasingly use the social media and video clips to keep up with the zeitgeist; and this shift has not gone unnoticed. The recent Guardian article: 8 Ways digital is empowering women, highlights how social media, videos and online campaigns are putting women’s rights on the public forum.

The Representation Project and other advocacy groups use social media hashtags such as #notbuyingit, #changetheratio, #banbossy and #Mediawelike in their campaign to challenge gender stereotypes. Business woman and savvy communicator, Oprah Winfrey sent a tweet to her 21 million followers which generated massive support for The Girl Effect. ‘We are enough. We matter. We are NOT invisible. Girls around the world are having their say. This is the moment to listen. #GirlDeclaration’. Amazingly this simple tweet virally generated a massive following.

Video campaigns such as Jackson Katz’s YouTube video ‘Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue’  are clearly powerful. The message focused on the role boys and men have in ending gender based violence. Considering it features no dancing cats or naked celebrities, the clip has been phenomenally successful with over 1,216,000 views.

Online platforms and petitions such as Pinkstinks, Daughters of Eve, and No More Page Three tackle issues ranging from gender media stereotyping, female genital mutilation and glamour modelling. Clearly if you have an issue worth highlighting; online is increasingly the way to go for savvy women.

Why ‘Flawed’ men outlast ‘Aggressive’ Women: It’s in the language

power poseAggressive. Aloof. A real bitch. There are a litany of derogatory words we use to characterise female leaders. Men are given more ‘wiggle room’ in terms of the behaviours we expect or sanction, but women have less latitude. As discussed in the recent Huffington blog post: This is how we talk about female leaders (Hint: It’s not pretty) , Nic Subtirelu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University assessed the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) 450 million words of text from magazines, newspapers, fiction and academic text from the last two decades for gender difference in language.

Dismally, women were labelled ’pushy’ twice as frequently as men despite the fact men are mentioned nearly twice as frequently as women overall in the COCA. Subtirelu found men were more likely to be describe as “condescending”; a term which can only be applied to those who are or believe they are in power.  On the other hand, pushy is comparable to being obnoxiously forward or self-assertive. The article details what we see everyday: Hillary Clinton being described as shrill, aloof, ruthless, icy, angry and frumpy; Angela Merkel as ruthless and frumpy.

Jill Abramson was described as pushy, stubborn, brusque and condescending by the media following her untimely removal as the first female executive editor of The New York Times. Her high profile removal was a mirror to that of Amanda Bennett, who was described similarly several years before when editor of the high profile Philadelphia Inquirer. She was ousted after just 3 years in 2006. In a recent opinion piece “Pushed off the Glass Cliff” in the Washington Post, she noted the only thing that had changed in the 7 years between Abramson and her own departure was: ‘Women now feel not only resentful, but also finally, entitled. Entitled to lead…to be paid equally. Entitled to be flawed… and to be fired, but also entitled to point out the obvious fact: Men with even more spectacular and difficult flaws than ours get not only longer tenures but also softer and more dignified landings.’

Incredibly, despite his own evidence, Subtirelu stated in his blog ‘Linguistic Pulse’, he was ‘suspicious of the possibility that these descriptions had an element of gender bias to them’. Why do the media insist on using condescending and gender biased words to describe inspiring, strong females? And how low do we have to sink if the researchers themselves can’t see the biased writing on the wall?

 

Taking a tip from Anglicans? Cameron reshuffles 1/3 of cabinet to make way for women

conservative reshuffle 2014Upon hearing the news that the Anglican Church would allow female bishops for the first time in history, practising Christian, Prime Minister David Cameron, described the news as a “great day for the Church and for equality”.

Clearly Cameron was feeling a bit of ‘divine inspiration’ as this week his own reshuffle led to the stepping down of Conservative stalwarts such as William Hague and Ken Clarke to make room for a round of female MP’s. This reshuffle is being seen by many as an attempt to sway female voters, since it’s just 10 months away from a new election.

As reported by the Guardian: ‘Tory sources have made clear that Cameron wants the “old lags” to move on to make way for women and younger men who will be promoted on the second day of the reshuffle on Tuesday’.

Today the Huffington Post UK  announced the promotion of Nicky Morgan as new education secretary; Liz Truss as new environment secretary; Esther McVey, the new employment minister; Anna Soubry was promoted to minister of state at Ministry of Defence; Priti Patel Exchequer secretary to the Treasury; and Baroness Stowell as the new House of Lords leader. In addition, Claire Perry is now Junior minister at the transport department; Amber Rudd Junior minister at Department of Energy and Climate Change. This should take Cameron close to his target of ensuring that a third of his ministers are women.

Not suprisingly, the backlash has been immediate. Quick to find gendered fault in refreshing the cabinet with new people over those who have held positions of power for 30-40 years, one senior Tory warned of tokenism: “This really is the worst form of tokenistic gesture politics,” one senior figure said. “Merit is out of the window.” No question then of how ‘meritocratic’ it ever was to have the majority of serving Conservative MP’s be white males?

Newly expecting? What messages should you send your boss

MaternityEmployers are often unsure if and how to fill temporary vacant positions, uncertain if female employees will return to work. On the other hand, many dedicated new parents find their positions threatened by inflexible company policies. There are steps you can take to ensure your boss knows how committed you are to your career. So how can you send the right messages to your employer before you take parental leave?

1. As with most challenges, communication is key – before, during and after an employee’s return. If you as an expectant mother want to return, be very clear with your boss that this is your intention. Don’t fall foul of the assumption you won’t be interested in new opportunities or promotions because of mothering. Too frequently if bosses routinely see women leave after becoming mothers, they assume ‘that’s just the way it is’ and we mentally prepare for her permanent departure. This is particulary prevalent among male managers whose wives left the workplace after they had children.

2. Insist you have access to the company intranet and other industry news. Markets can change quickly and you’ll be up to speed faster if you are kept in the loop. Otherwise, lack of communication can build up resentment on either side, with each side assuming they are doing the other a ‘favour’. To this point, keep in touch with key clients so there is less of a chance of your client book ‘migrating’ in your absence.

3. Whilst on your leave; begin discussions with your boss on how you’d like to return. What’s feasible with the daycare options you have. Choices like a staggered return to work, part-time or remote working, onsite childcare or job sharing are all options worth exploring. While there is no standard solution to the issue, it’s like any other extended absence – the key is in having honest conversations.

Forget the popcorn: More likely to see alien woman than Asian female on the big screen

DIDOBELLEweb_2925601bWhen was the last time you saw an inspirational female character on the big screen? The last trip to the cinema we made was for early abolitionist ‘Belle’ Dido Lindsay, screen written, scored and directed by a team of women. However, we’ll despair if she becomes our sole evidence of powerful cinema female characters. Of those 100 top-grossing movies of 2013, women made up just 15% of main characters and at least one of those was animated! We’re not alone in noticing the paucity of talent.

Martha Lauzen, ED of the Centre for Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found in her study of the top grossing movies of 2013 movies: 54% of all female characters are in their 20s and 30s. Nearly 3/4 (73%) were white and only 60% were employed, compared to 78% of male characters. No doubt, this lack of employment leaves plenty of time for ‘her guy’ – the male lead. The movies were devoid of positive role models for the average over 40s woman, not to mention women of ethnic origin.

Dismally,”moviegoers were as likely to see an other-worldly female as they were to see an Asian female character” noted Lauzen. If women are half the population and we assume they buy half of all tickets and downloads, surely it’s just good business to tell their story on-screen. Yet this truism seems to remain lost on male directors, investors and producers.

Stacy Smith, director of Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California, has studied box office movies releases since 2007. Smith reported an increase in success of a movie when there was a female lead, notably “The Hunger Games” franchise, “Twilight” saga, and “Frozen”. The latter is the first movie directed by a woman to gross more than $1 billion. It’s a well known fact we write about our experiences: 85% of movie screenwriters are male, subsequently men create aspirational male lead characters. Only when we have more female screenwriters, directors and producers being funded by the big studios will we see women’s real lives being represented.

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