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Brotopia

Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley

By Emily Chang
12-minute read
Audio available
Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

Brotopia (2018) explores the male-dominated culture permeating the technology industry and looks at why and how women are excluded from it. Looking especially at Silicon Valley and the companies based there, the book argues that the tech world is anything but progressive.

  • Those who work or want to work in the tech industry
  • Female employees who believe they are unfairly mistreated in the workplace
  • Tech company CEOs and managers 

Emily Chang is a journalist and broadcaster and has won five local Emmy awards for her reporting. Chang is also the presenter and executive producer of Bloomberg Technology and Bloomberg Studio 1.0.

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Brotopia

Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley

By Emily Chang
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang
Synopsis

Brotopia (2018) explores the male-dominated culture permeating the technology industry and looks at why and how women are excluded from it. Looking especially at Silicon Valley and the companies based there, the book argues that the tech world is anything but progressive.

Key idea 1 of 7

Computer programmers used to be women until a report in the 1960s changed everything.

What does a typical computer programmer look like? The first image that comes to mind is probably a nerdy-looking man who’s terrible in social situations but excellent at dealing with numbers. This stereotype, however, is in massive contrast to the reality of the early days of computing.

During the first part of the twentieth century, working with computers was considered a clerical job – like typing or operating a switchboard – and thus deemed “women’s work.” In other words, the first computer programmers were women.

It should come as no surprise to learn that women programmed the first computer for the US Army during WWII. Or that rear admiral Grace Hopper – who held a PhD in mathematics – programmed Mark I, a computer at Harvard University which helped in the development of the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan in 1945.

Another thing that many people don’t know is that astronaut John Glenn’s successful orbit of the earth in 1962 was made possible by the work of three female NASA mathematicians. The lack of recognition for their contribution inspired the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Then, in 1967, an article titled “The Computer Girls” was published in Cosmopolitan magazine. The piece contained an interview with Hopper, who compared programming to organizing a dinner party. She said that women made good programmers because of their patience and attention to detail.

But sometime in the 1960s came a report that claimed men were better suited to programming.

Unsurprisingly, the report was written by two men, psychologists William Cannon and Dallis Perry, who were hired by a software company to characterize the perfect computer programmer. Of the 1,378 programmers they interviewed, only 186 were female. After their research, Cannon and Perry concluded one key trait was that they “didn’t like people.” By connecting good programming skills with antisocial behavior and introversion, the ideal employee was more likely to be male on account of men being three times more likely to receive the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

Since the release of that report, the industry was persuaded to hire antisocial men. Their dominance in the field has led to the false assumption that the majority of programmers should be men.

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