A Few Takes On How To Fix The Tech Industry’s ‘Bro’ Problem

The tech industry’s sometimes sexist “brogrammer” culture came into focus at least twice this week, making it as good a time as any to highlight the running conversation about how to constructively change the systemic, entrenched issues that allow for offensive apps like Titstare, which was presented at a tech industry hackathon.

We rounded up smart takes from developers, community leaders and journalists in the tech sphere on how to think about moving forward. A few of these contributions are linked to fuller pieces, others are kindly written just for you All Tech readers and included below. (By the way, NPR’s Code Switch has diagrammed the various types of bros, though it’s missing a tech bro classification.)

First, Rachel Sklar. She’s founder of Mediaite and co-founder of TheLi.st, a community for women in technology. She explains how the pervasive culture allows for these offensive ideas to get thought up in the first place:

“They didn’t think it was a big deal, because nothing about the place where they were presenting made them think it would be. Boys will be boys, and where it’s mostly boys around to reinforce those norms, the lines between what’s cool to say in a professional context relax and blur. (Two words: Booth babes.) Dissent will tend to be shushed, and people who object will be told to calm down and learn to take a joke. And because such ‘jokes’ have minimal negative feedback, it’s less noticeable when envelopes are pushed. That’s how these things usually happen — someone gets a bit too comfortable, and a line is crossed. But the comfort comes from somewhere.”

TechCrunch, which hosts the Disrupt conference where things went awry, has proposed more due diligence in the future. Editor Alexia Tsotsis says the organization is working on an anti-harassment policy for conferences, and a screening program for its future hackathon presentations. But rather than be reactive after these incidents come to the fore, The Atlantic’s Abby Ohlheiser urges more deliberate thought devoted to preventing these incidents:

“Giving thought to preventing those moments is far from common among conference organizers. Anti-harassment policies designed for conferences have existed for a while now, but few actually use them. That leaves us with a pretty unsatisfying best-case-scenario of the post-scandal ‘teaching moment': individual organizations adapting a series of changes after the fact to prevent another such debacle from happening at their events.”

Adria Richards, a developer who was on stage when the outrage-inducing Titstare app was presented, suggests the solution lies in the pipeline of women and girls who are interested in tech.

“There are three messages that young girls get before they get interested in computers and if we can reach them before these messages, then I think their chance of embracing technology and staying in it is much higher. The messages they get are: One, you wouldn’t be interested in this. Two, you wouldn’t be good at this, and three, you don’t belong here. I can see now, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds who I used to work with at coding camps. They are older now, and when they get these messages they’re saying back, ‘No, I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. Look at my code. I do like this, I do belong, and I am good at it.’ “

As for the existing disparity in organizations, Meredith Turits, formerly of Glamour and currently editor of Bustle.com, suggests focusing on inclusion so that the company environments are ones women and people of color actually want to join:

“If women work only with women, and men only with men, there’s likely to be much less oversight for this kind of sexism. An us-against-them mentality can only make things worse. In the right now, let’s keep our focus on the developers who are creating the best mobile products, whether they’re men or women, while simultaneously working even harder to equalize the gender balance in tech, and continuing to support organizations that foster an environment women actually want to join.”

Writing for The Bold Italic, Sarah Han notes that female entrepreneurs have made strides not by joining, but starting companies or services for themsleves:

“Start a company that solves the problem you have. Former IBM engineer Leah Busque, founder/CEO of TaskRabbit, did this when she realized the market needed task “rabbits.” She coded the prototype of her startup over a summer and raised venture funding, and rest is history. These days, women are solving deeper technical problems, rolling out their own solutions, and standing a better chance at starting the next big tech company.”

This conversation continues with you. We’d love to hear your take, in the comments (keeping in mind the community guidelines, of course), via email or Twitter @NPRAllTech. In keeping with the running exploration of this area, we’ll be featuring more contributions and perhaps your take on the issue in the coming weeks.

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