Silicon Valley has reached a turning point.
Companies in the world’s predominant technology hub pride themselves on purpose: changing the world for the better.
But the wave of recent scandals, from accusations of sexual harassment at Uber to a Google memo which appeared to promote sexist stereotypes, have showcased a dark underbelly to the world of technology, where discrimination has been tolerated – or worse, condoned – for too long.
This has been a moment of introspection for Silicon Valley, an exposé of many who were previously revered. It has been a tough moment, but this turning point is forcing a change in the technology industry culture to ensure the world’s most innovative companies create working environments where this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.
In the UK, we have yet to see the same kind of backlash, but that doesn’t mean sexism in technology doesn’t exist.
Perhaps it’s because the technology ecosystem in the UK is smaller than that across the pond – we all know each other, attend the same industry events, and work with people one-step removed from our personal networks. If someone speaks out, they risk being a lone voice, blacklisted for future investment which could jeopardise their company.
But this cannot remain a reason to keep quiet.
Technology is the most innovative and disruptive sector out there, so there is no excuse for old-fashioned gender prejudice. It is ludicrous that a female founder is 86 per cent less likely to be funded than a man.
Embracing diversity and inclusion is clearly the “right” thing to do – and not because of a moralistic interpretation of corporate social responsibility.
According to a recent study by First Round, female founders reap 64 per cent better rewards for investors than those will all-male founding teams. That’s why the clever money, with new funds like AllBright, is focusing on female-led companies as the best investment decisions they can make.
Of course, unconscious bias starts much earlier than the workplace. We need more women to aspire to join the industry, and this starts at school. It is disappointing that, while two out of three girls aspire to study STEM subjects in primary school, only 20 per cent take computer science at GCSE, and that drops to 10 per cent for A-level.
There’s a lot to be done to shift those stats, but having a role models young girls can aspire to in that career field is a powerful catalyst
The technology sector aims to shape the future of society for the better. If we are to achieve that goal, we need to attract people from all backgrounds and have zero tolerance to anything that sets that back.
We can either sit and wait for the exposés to happen here in Britain – and rest assured, they will – or we can choose to proactively tackle the issue of sexism and put measures in place to ensure it can’t continue.
Let’s ensure that unconscious bias doesn’t exclude those who could bring huge value. And let’s set the global industry standard for technology – not because we’ve been forced to do so because of media scrutiny, but because we know it’s the right thing to do for our businesses and for the UK economy.