With a Donald Trump presidency now imminent, women in tech, a lucrative industry that’s already rife with unconscious bias and other challenges for non-white men, are concerned that the barriers of entry to their field may grow even higher.
The 53 million Americans who voted Trump into office were able to accept or at least ignore the president-elect’s comments on women — “fat,” “slob,” — and allegations from half a dozen women who have accused him of sexual harassment or assault. But female leaders in Silicon Valley are worried about what a national leader with this track record means for women and people of color in their industry.
“Electing a President that is openly hostile to women is a threat for women in every industry,” wrote Andreessen Horowitz partner Kim Milosevich in an email, though she added that past battles have made progress, and doesn’t “think women in this country will easily give up those gains, and I hope that we will fight harder than ever for our future.”
On Twitter, younger women are voicing concerns about what a Trump victory means for the number of women entering into STEM fields.
Trump’s campaign has flip-flopped on the question of equal pay, and he made no statements about creating STEM jobs, or STEM education, facts that Donna Harris, startup CEO and co-founder of DC-based accelerator 1776, finds worrisome in and of itself. But she’s also concerned that the things Trump did say on the campaign trail could impact the number of women choosing to enter into a male-dominated field like tech.
“We’ve seen high profile incidents of harassment [in tech], and we’ve now elected a president who has been very vocal as to his attitudes about women, and his attitudes about harassment,” she said. “Locker room talk, or boys will be boys — that’s what causes a lot of women to decide this field is not for them. They see it as offensive, and it creates an atmosphere where they feel they’re not welcome.”
Joanne Chen, a partner at Foundation Capital whose career has taken her from engineering to Wall Street to venture capital, said she hopes Trump’s election won’t reverse the incremental improvements gender diversity advocates in Silicon Valley have achieved so far.
“It's a wake up call to take action in big and small ways,” Chen, who organizes Female Founders events in Silicon Valley, said. “I’m an immigrant, I’m an engineer, and I’m a woman. What does that mean for me? For female entrepreneurs? For investors? ... I’m wondering what Trump as president means for things like that.”
What Comes Next
Of course, while female venture capitalists, technologists, engineers, and executives do face barriers, especially if they’re women of color, they tend to have more political capital (and capital capital) to exert than other Americans. Catherine Bracy, former director of community organizing at Code for America, said women in tech should be thinking about how to leverage that privilege “to prevent as much damage to our nation and our most vulnerable residents as possible from a Trump presidency.”
Heather West, director of public policy at Mozilla, echoed that sentiment on Twitter.
Some in Silicon Valley are already thinking about what can be done to ensure that Trump’s win doesn’t discourage members of underrepresented populations from working in tech. Redoubling commitments to diversifying staff, to include both women and people of color, seems like an obvious first step.
Citing Ebay’s CEO as one example, Project Include founder Ellen Pao, an outspoken advocate for diversity in Silicon Valley, said she’s hopeful tech firms will take Trump’s win as an opportunity to reexamine their commitment to diverse hiring.
“The election was a wake-up call about the amount of work we have to do to give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech, in STEM education, in all kinds of businesses, and across all areas of the United States,” Pao wrote in an email. “I'm hopeful to see people are ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work that still needs to happen.”
Karla Monterroso is vice president of programs for Code2040, an organization aimed at achieving total equality in the tech industry in the next 24 years. The organization’s founder, Laura Weidman Powers, is currently a senior policy advisor in the White House; it seems inevitable that Code2040 won’t have the same kind of access to the Trump administration. But Monterroso is hopeful nonetheless.
“Our goals — we have a conviction around them happening regardless of this election,” she said. Specifically, Monterroso pointed to Pandora, a Code2040 partner and tech company based in Oakland that’s just released ambitious diversity goals — the company plans to employ a staff that is 45% people of color by 2020, or the year of the next presidential election.
Meanwhile, in Boston, engineer Brianna Wu, whose life was threatened during Gamergate in 2014, is talking seriously about running for political office. Wu said she wants to be a positive model for members of underrepresented groups who feel like a career in tech, or access to capital, or a role in politics, is out of their reach.
“What did Donald Trump show on Tuesday? You can be the most qualified woman in the world, and the man that abuses you is still going to win that office and be taken more seriously. And I think that's a disastrous message,” she said. “It’s clear the system as it’s working isn’t working for a lot of us, not for black people, Muslim people, or LGBT people, and it’s definitely not working for women. And I think the only way to get past that is to get more people with that lived experience into these roles.”
Wu said, if she became an elected official, one of her first priorities would be bringing more tech jobs to her constituency, and advocating for tax credits for companies that hit diversity and inclusion goals.
An essential part of improving diversity at tech companies goes beyond simply hiring — it’s making sure people of color and women feel like their fears and concerns are being heard and addressed by their colleagues and employers. Cristina Cordova, who leads partnerships at Stripe, had advice for tech companies that want to foster environments of inclusion.
“Many women and people of color in tech have told me about the emails/talks they received from their company leadership post this election,” Cordova wrote on Twitter. “To those who work at companies with leadership that hasn't addressed this INSANE election, maybe it's time to consider a job somewhere else.”