Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels

Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
From unwanted comments about our appearances to sexual assault to inappropriate questions about our sex lives—still, women aren’t being treated with respect and professionalism.  (Women Who Tech)

Harassment should never be the reason why you feel pressured to leave a job. It should never be the reason that you’re afraid to speak up in meetings, or to pitch your startup to an investor. Harassment should not be normalized, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

While the #MeToo movement spurred significant publicity, advocacy campaigns, lawsuits and investments into diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) trainings and pledges, what kind of meaningful impact has it generated? Are things any better for women than they were in 2017? 

Women Who Tech surveyed 1,003 adults in the tech and startup sectors to learn about relevant trends and shifts in the treatment of women tech founders and tech employees since 2017. What we learned was heart-wrenching and is detailed in our latest State of Women in Tech report.

From unwanted comments about our appearances to being sexually assaulted to inappropriate questions about our sex lives—still, women aren’t being treated with respect and professionalism. 

Women of color and folx in LGBTQ communities experience the most harassment.

Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
(Women Who Tech)

“[I was] threatened with being reported to immigration,” disclosed one woman about her harassment.

This, sadly, isn’t an isolated incident, especially in Trump’s fear-mongering, xenophobic administration, but it does validate the need to continue fighting, relentlessly, to eradicate the systemic oppressions that permeate our society, and our growing tech culture. 

  • 44 percent of women founders said they have been harassed.
  • 65 percent of LGBTQ founders say they have experienced harassment.
  • 47 percent of women of color founders say they have experienced harassment.

And while the #MeToo movement brought a lot of problematic behavior to the forefront, it certainly didn’t quash it by any means. Forty-three percent of the women who experienced harassment said it occurred within the last 12 months, during and after the peak of the #MeToo movement.

For founders who experienced harassment,

  • 76 percent of women, versus 24 percent of men, experienced sexist harassment.
  • 56 percent of women, versus 6 percent of men, endured offensive slurs.
  • 41 percent of women, versus 12 percent of men, experienced sexual harassment.
  • 40 percent of women, versus 18 percent of men, were harassed about their professional character.

And for people working in tech who experienced harassment,

  • 63 percent of women, versus 5 percent of men, experienced sexist harassment.
  • 43 percent of women, versus 10 percent of men, experienced sexual harassment.

DEI trainings alone are not enough to uproot the toxic environments that women are expected to thrive within. 

Most women founders who experienced sexual harassment were propositioned for sex.

“I have been told that someone wanted me to join his department because he wanted to ‘f*ck me like a man wants to f*ck a woman,'” shared one woman. And she’s not alone. 

Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
(Women Who Tech)

Almost half of all women who experienced harassment endured sexual harassment. When we asked women founders what kind of sexual harassment, they experienced: 

  • 65 percent said they were propositioned for sex—up 9 percent from 2017.
  • 59 percent experienced unwanted physical contact (-3%).
  • 56 percent had sexual slurs directed at them (+17%).
  • 32 percent were groped (+7%).
  • 24 percent were sent graphic photos (+14%).

And when we asked women working in tech, who are not founders, what kind of sexual harassment they experienced: 

  • 75 percent were told offensive “jokes.”
  • 51 percent had sexual slurs directed at them.
  • 35 percent were propositioned for sex.

“[I was] locked in a conference room while [m]y co-worker masturbated between me and the door,” shared one woman anonymously. 


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Who’s harassing women? And who should we report it to?

Reporting harassment seems like a logical thing to do—but too often it backfires on the person who was harassed. In a just world, when someone reports harassment, there would be implications for the perpetrator, but we don’t live in a just world.

Today’s revered bro-tech culture uplifts and reinforces toxic behavior, and that was deeply evident in women’s responses to this survey. One woman, for example, heard her colleague complaining “about how you ‘can’t do anything’ as a man anymore.”

Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
(Women Who Tech)

Forty-six percent of women of color founders were harassed by a potential investor, compared to 38 percent of white women founders. And, of those harassed by an investor, 59 percent were explicitly propositioned for sex in exchange for investment funding and introductions.

For women working in tech,

  • 76 percent were harassed by another employee.
  • 42 percent were harassed by their supervisor.
Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
(Women Who Tech)

With harassment occurring so frequently, and at so many different levels of hierarchy, we asked if women were able to report this harassment. 

There’s a decline in women reporting harassment to HR.

Almost half of all women (45 percent) reported the harassment they experienced to senior leadership, compared to 55 percent in 2017. 

For women working in tech:

  • 30 percent reported it to HR and 45 percent reported it to senior leadership.
  • 35 percent, however, did not have an HR to report it to, or were unsure.

And what came of the report for those who chose to? 

  • 85 percent of the women working in tech who were harassed said their harasser faced no repercussions at work after it was reported.

But lots of women don’t report the harassment because they don’t trust their company to respond properly.

  • 67 percent of women working in tech said they do not have a lot of trust in how their company would handle allegations of harassment.
  • Nearly 50 percent of men in tech, on the other hand, have a lot of trust in how tech companies handle reports of harassment.

And when nearly half of women (45 percent) who are working in tech said they faced negative repercussions after reporting the harassment at work, it really deters people from choosing to go forward about their harasser.

“The harassing manager was fired—and I was fired the next day for reporting it,” said one woman.

And another woman said she didn’t report it specially because, “I was embarrassed and worried that it would impact my job with my supervisor and coworkers.”

Another woman said, “I did not believe HR would believe me. The person who was harassing me had lied to HR numerous times in his tenure and they believed everything he told them.”

The consensus seemed to be that women aren’t reporting harassment because of fear of retaliation or fear of not being believed.

“If the only place to report is HR, then I will never report,” one woman explained. “HR exists to protect the organization, not the employees.”

If #MeToo wasn’t the catalyst, what will be?

Despite #MeToo, Women in Tech Still Harassed at Unprecedented Levels
(Women Who Tech)

The majority of men founders said there has been a positive impact within the tech sector since the #MeToo movement. Women founders, on the other hand, feel the exact opposite. Sixty-nine percent of white men founders report a positive impact following the #MeToo movement, compared to 34 percent of white women founders, while just 24 percent of women of color founders report a positive impact.

One woman was told, “If you aren’t strong enough to work in this environment, maybe you should seek other kinds of work.”

That is not the answer. You are strong enough, you are worthy, and you are believed. But, it’s not enough for this to be repeated into an echo chamber, it needs to reverberate from the top down to the bottom up, and every level in-between.

#MeToo was just the beginning, and uprooting these systems of oppression is going to take work from people of all genders, and at all levels of the tech hierarchies. Harassment reporting mechanisms need to be implemented outside of the HR departments meant to protect the company. Women need to be empowered to tell their stories, and companies need to step up and take reports of harassment seriously. 

#MeToo simply cannot be both the beginning and the end.

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About

Justyn Hintze is the director of Women Who Tech and senior strategist at Rad Campaign.