Meet The Woman Exposing The Dark Corners of Tech's Bro Culture

Photo: Courtesy of David Paul Morris.
The most powerful people in Silicon Valley — Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen — are all well aware of one female reporter: Emily Chang. As the anchor and executive producer of "Bloomberg Technology," Chang has become an industry insider known for asking the tough questions and engaging in fierce debates with the established billionaires and talked-about founders who frequent her show. She highlights company achievements, but never shies away from addressing deeper issues, such as the moral responsibilities of big tech.
In her new book, Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys' Club Of Silicon Valley, Chang draws on her extensive knowledge and industry connections to shine a light on Silicon Valley's gender imbalance. Although the book will resonate given its timely release, the real power of Chang's reporting comes from her research on the decades that have led to current issues of discrimination and harassment.
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She spoke with Refinery29 about uncovering Silicon Valley's sex parties, interviewing the industry's most powerful men, and ways to create a brighter future for everyone working in tech.
You were already working on Brotopia before #MeToo, but how did the movement impact the book over the course of this past year?
"I started writing the book two years ago, before Trump got elected and before Susan Fowler. I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that the #MeToo movement, in my view, started in Silicon Valley, with Ellen Pao coming forward and suing venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Even though she lost the case, she won in the court of public opinion. That gave women a slightly bigger opportunity to start sharing their stories, but it didn’t happen immediately.
"Then we saw several entrepreneurs come forward about venture capitalists behaving badly and this was in the middle of 2016, way before Harvey Weinstein. Women in Silicon Valley started telling their stories and I think that played a significant role in making it safe for women in Hollywood and in Washington to share their stories.
"At the beginning of the [reporting] process it was really difficult to convince women to open up. Over the course of two years, I met with some women several times — lunch, texts, late-night calls, dinner — and slowly they started to open up and trust me. But after Susan [Fowler]’s post I felt the momentum of my reporting start to change. Women felt more willing to come forward. I was very careful not to lead anyone anywhere they didn’t want to go, because it is such a personal decision, but the momentum of the movement around the country, summoning this collective courage, certainly benefitted my ability to expose this world in Brotopia."
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Did they end up wanting to stay anonymous?
"There were some who did. I talked to hundreds of people. Some of the women decided they wanted to come forward when originally they didn’t want to. Some still have stories that they’re keeping to themselves.
"I think we feel like we know so much, but there’s still so much we don’t know because it is still so scary to come forward — which is why I think shining a light on the industry at large is really important. It is not just about a few bad actors, of which there have been far too many. The book is really about systemic discrimination that has seeped into an industry that has so much potential and is filled with incredibly smart people who have a lot of power, but who also have a lot of responsibility to change the way they’re doing things."
Were there any stories you uncovered while reporting the book that surprised you?
"So many. I feel like every woman I talk to who has stayed in this industry is a survivor. Every woman has not just one or two, but too many stories to count. That was one thing that really surprised me. In a way, many of them said, 'You know, we just got used to it.' You just get used to a hand on your leg or a hug that’s a little too grabby, because that’s just how it is and how it’s always been."
When did you start hearing about Silicon Valley's sex parties?
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"I started researching the party scene two years ago, and I talked to both men and women who were part of it. Many of the men felt quite proud about challenging social mores and traditional morality, just like they believe they are changing the world with the products they create. But the women often felt shut out if they did not participate and, if they did, they felt disrespected and reduced to a notch on a bedpost. As I talked to more and more people, they felt that these parties were about power much more than they were about sex, and the power dynamic is completely lopsided."
How do we encourage more women to go into tech while informing them about this power dynamic?
"We’re not going to solve the problem unless we understand what the problem is. So many people I spoke with think it’s a pipeline problem or that women just don’t want these jobs. My hope is that by understanding what the problem is, behaviour and actions will change. As a result, the industry will be better for it and be more welcoming and inclusive for people of all backgrounds."
What has been your experience as a female reporter in Silicon Valley?
Photo: Courtesy of David Paul Morris.
"I’ve definitely been in uncomfortable situations. I don’t think that what I have been through compares with what women in tech have been dealing with on a daily basis ... These women tell me that it’s completely exhausting when they’re constantly trying to fend off interest from their male colleagues and yet preserve a professional relationship because they still have to work together.
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"The story of the women in Silicon Valley is particularly egregious. These kinds of stories don’t happen when you have 50% men and [50%] women sitting at a table."
In the book, you write about some of the industry leaders you’ve debated with. How did you hold your own in those conversations?
"We’re talking about some incredibly powerful and wealthy people here who have been doing business in Silicon Valley for a very long time. They have made a lot of money doing business the way that they have, and they believe that the success that they have achieved is completely justified.
"But when I ask someone like Peter Thiel, who is building floating communities on the ocean and exploring the bounders of outer space, what can we do about getting more female founders, and he says, 'I don’t know what to do about that', it just strikes me as people don’t care.
"They need to start caring because this is the most important business issue of our time: How to have women better represented in the workforce and better represented in Silicon Valley, in environments that are healthy and hospitable and lead to creativity and innovation. That is not going to happen without people with a diversity of backgrounds at the table."
A lot of people you talked to for the book seemed so surprised by many of the issues you brought up with them. Do you think people will start caring?
"That’s why I wrote this book. I think for far too long, for decades, people have not recognised the problem and what they can do to change it. But I am hopeful that this will be a sort of call to action and open some eyes.
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"In my view, at this point, ignorance can only be wilful. There is no reason for people who are running this industry to justify the staggering underrepresentation of women as a pipeline problem. It is so much more than a pipeline problem and, in my view, the industry created the pipeline problem. I met the women who have learned how to code and are so excited to work in this industry — they exist! These companies need to find them and make them want to stay."

"This is not just tech’s problem or a problem for people who want to work in this industry. This is everybody’s problem."

Emily Chang, anchor of Bloomberg Technology and author of Brotopia
How does not having enough women in tech impact the development of technology?
"Silicon Valley is controlling what we see, what we read, how we communicate, the social media that we use — this is an industry that is changing the way we live every second. The decisions that are being made in Silicon Valley are changing the lives of billions of people around the world and those decisions can’t be made almost entirely by men.
"I have three sons and I think their lives will be better in an equal world. I know that there are so many mothers and fathers out there who have sons and daughters they want to succeed in this industry, and their daughters aren’t going to stand a chance if something doesn’t change.
"This is not just tech’s problem or a problem for people who want to work in this industry. This is everybody’s problem. I think to myself how different this world would be if more women had been at the creation of the Internet. Would online harassment and trolling be such a problem? Would video games be so violent? Would there be better parental controls? Would porn be so ubiquitous?
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"I think just because these companies have already created incredible wealth doesn’t mean this is the best way it possibly could have been. But it certainly means that it doesn’t have to be this way and this certainly can change in the future."
What lessons are you teaching your sons?
"First of all, they know that I’ve been working really hard on a book for the past two years about how to include women in this industry that is changing the world. Whenever I had to take time out on the weekends to write, I talked to them about why. When it was hard, because it was really hard writing about sexism — I felt like I was walking the third rail all the time — I would think about them and tell myself that what I’m doing matters, not just to them but to people who are working in the industry now."
What would you say to a woman who is graduating now and wants to go into tech?
"First of all, you can do it. Find your team, find your allies, find people who are going to support you. Choose an environment that you feel is going to be healthy for you. Oftentimes, when you're interviewing for a job, red flags can go off about certain parts of the culture. If you see those red flags, keep looking. It's really important to find an environment that is going to support you and there are companies that do value this and are making this an explicit priority.
It's a competition for talent — don't settle for anything."
This interview has been edited for length and style.
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