Book Review: Brotopia — Breaking up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
From video games to spaceships, technology’s played a big role in modern society. Powerful men leading the movement are often celebrated and recognized as the face of the tech industry. However, have you ever asked yourself why almost no women make it to the headlines?
Being a female Software Engineer myself, I struggled a lot with the stereotype that was expected from me. There were moments when I felt special about not being “like all the other girls” until I realized I’d never fit into the boy’s club either. And for the boys, I was actually just like all the other girls — and maybe a little more annoying because I kept bothering them to participate in their stuff.
Time went by, and I noticed that the reason I was like all the other girls is that we all suffer from sexism. Each of us experiences it in our own way, but the reason is clear: we’re women, so we don’t have a say on any game-changing topic. Power is laid on men’s hands and a lot of them are not willing to leave the comfort zone peacefully.
The first time I heard about Brotopia was on my company’s Slack channel, where another engineer said she was buying some copies at a discount and wanted to know if anyone else was interested. I read the book’s synopsis and automatically signed in. By its time of arrival, I started devoting my time, chapter after chapter nodding my head and feeling like finally, women’s voices were amplified.
Emily Chang is an American journalist who holds an interview show on the tech industry called Bloomberg Technology. Throughout the years, she’s had the opportunity to interview Silicon Valley’s powerful figures, such as Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and Bill Gates.
Experienced at asking the hard questions and hitting where it hurts, she had no problem contacting all kinds of sources for her story to start becoming something big. We all know it hits harder when popular faces start to address a problematic situation. She did an incredible job at exposing the dark side of the valley, as well as suggestions on how to make a change.
Creating a safety net
Through its nine chapters, the book exposes the various nuances in which sexism acts and blocks the way of many women into tech. From the first line of code ever written to the latest startup to blow up all investors’ minds, we start to see it crystal clear: the more technology became an important topic, the more women were drawn out of it.
One of the parts that stood out the most to me was the day Emily invited a lot of women in the industry to dinner, so they could wholeheartedly talk about sensitive topics with no worries. In fact, the event happened three weeks after Susan Fowler’s post exposing the former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the company’s toxic behavior blew out. Here’s an excerpt of Emily’s participation in the podcast Recode Decode addressing the matter:
“I had 12 women in tech, most of them engineers, over at my house for dinner about three weeks after that posted. We sort of talked about how it was so ridiculous that so many people were surprised, and then the other half of the room was completely like, “Yeah, this happens every day.” And you know, these women were, they’re exhausted. They’re tired of being the only women in the room. They’re tired of all of this emotional labor that they have to do to prove themselves.”
It is important to notice that there were — and still are — so few women in tech that all of them felt alone at some point in their careers. They were feeling the same things, being targeted by the same violence, but couldn’t connect to each other. They were just too afraid, too exhausted, or just accepted the fact they were alone and, therefore, not supposed to be there.
This reason alone is enough to justify the importance of gender equality centered movements, books, and events. Brotopia is concrete proof of how much work we still have to do and brings light to how the story unfolded.
What are the next steps?
The damage is already done, and women are already tired of going through the same exhaustive, embarrassing situations. In the same interview, Emily gives us a perfect example of how listening to stories from Big Tech companies over and over again persuades young women to not even consider tech:
“There was one woman who, her sister actually worked at Uber and she had decided she didn’t want to go into tech anymore because it was too toxic.”
Companies need to be held accountable for the culture they cultivate between their employees. It’s already been proven time and again that we need diversity in tech, so products are better developed and tested, richer discussions emerge, and therefore more people will buy it — we know most of the time money plays a big role in why a company embraces minorities.
Anyway, companies like Slack, which has been a good example of a healthy, respectful environment, play a big role in showing how it’s done. Nowadays, Facebook, Uber, Google, and a lot of other companies share their annual statistics regarding diversity. This is an interesting example of taking responsibility and showing your data, even if it's not perfect, because you’re trying.
I myself have met a few people from these companies, and they claim to have seen significant improvements regarding gender equality, as well as other social issues reflections within the past few years — and I believe them. That being said, we still have a lot of work to do.
Do I recommend the book?
Definitely. A lot of powerful women such as Susan Fowler, Sheryl Sandberg, and Marissa Mayer share their points of view and how they cope with the daily “controversy” of being a woman in tech.
I have accessed data I was unaware of, and it’s inspired me to continue fighting for gender equality in the industry. As a matter of fact, because of this book, I was already able to come up with valuable insight into the company I am currently working for, and I’ve written a little about it here.
It is also funny to notice that, as a Brazilian Software Engineer, the toxic behavior exposed about Silicon Valley was incredibly similar to things I have seen myself in São Paulo. The place you’re in influences some nuances, but the problem is worldwide!
I would also recommend everyone to follow Emily’s work on Bloomberg and watch her interviews about Brotopia — there’s a ton of it on YouTube. When we see a woman stand up for us all, it’s inspiring and motivating. We know how hard it is, but step by step, we are building a brighter future and inspiring young women to pursue their dreams.