JUN 21, 2018
Bloomberg’s Emily Chang on Solving Tech’s Diversity Problem
Emily Chang is a best-selling author and host and executive producer of Bloomberg Technology. Earlier this year, she made waves with her book “Brotopia,” an expose on how sexism became pervasive in Silicon Valley, despite its utopian ideals. Drawing on interviews with some of tech’s biggest names, Emily shines a bright light on a big problem. In this episode, Emily joins Spencer at Zillow Group’s San Francisco office to discuss her inspiration for the book, how the tech community got to this point and what we can do about it.
Spencer Rascoff: Good to see you all. I’m here with Emily Chang. Hello, Emily. Welcome.
Emily Chang: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Rascoff: I’m excited to have you here as a guest and turn the tables. You’re usually interviewing me, and I now finally get to interview you.
Chang: It’s payback time.
Rascoff: So, let’s take a step back and talk about the writing journey of why you decided to write this book, when you started, and what that research and writing process was like, and then we’ll jump into some of the themes and discoveries from it.
Chang: Yeah, so, I anchor a daily show on Bloomberg Television, and that’s been going on for eight years now, and when we first launched the show, my focus was getting people like you to come on, which wasn’t always so easy. Now I think we’ve gotten there, but you know, over time, I sort of started asking more questions of my guests. “Well, what are you doing about this?” I mean, the tech industry has such a grave inequality, but no one was talking about it. I mean, women hold 25 percent of technical jobs across the board. They account for seven to eight percent of venture investors, and companies that are run by women get just two percent of funding. This is an industry that calls itself a meritocracy, and I highly doubt that women have just two percent of good ideas.
Rascoff: And when you were starting to focus on this, though, the world was not talking about it. This was before Me Too, before Time’s Up.
Chang: These questions were very politically incorrect and they made people uncomfortable, which is why I didn’t feel like I could ask them initially. And when I did, people would give the sort of politically correct answer, and then they would get off the set and then they would spill it. And so I knew that there was so much more there. And then at the end of 2015, I was interviewing one particular investor, who I talk about in Chapter 5 — very prominent, very successful investor — and they had no women in their US business at the time. And I said, “What are you doing to hire women? What do you think your responsibility is?” And he said, “Oh, well we’re looking very hard, and I think we’re completely blind to gender, race, sexuality — but, what we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards.” And this was on television. And I know some people think that, but they don’t normally say it on television. And that was sort of my Time’s Up moment. And let’s put aside what he said. Maybe it was a flip comment. Let’s judge them on their actions. In 44 years, this firm did not hire a single woman investor.
This is an industry that styles itself as a place where anyone can succeed and, you know, my — that it’s a sort of modern utopia where anyone can change the world and anyone can make their own rules. I think that can be true if you’re a man. But if you’re a woman, it’s incomparably harder.
Rascoff: Okay. It’s depressing, but we’re going to change all that, and actually the fact that we’re even talking about this, which would have been almost unheard of two or three years ago, is a start. So as you — what surprised you most as you started researching this at companies? I mean, you uncovered some awful, awful things — Harvey Weinstein-type awful. Was that surprising to you or, I mean, what was the most surprising aspect of the research?
Chang: And by the way, the book is — you know, it can be a hard read, but there are bright spots, there are villains, but there are also heroes. And so it’s not entirely all depressing, and there’s also concrete takeaway —
Rascoff: And there’s solutions. And we’re going to talk about solutions, yeah.
Chang: And things you can do. But yes, I was surprised, and especially with the behavior on the venture capital side where, you know, deals are done in one-on-one meetings, in one-on-one spaces and just how many women were so often put in these very uncomfortable positions. You know, after Susan Fowler’s blog post came out, I had 12 women engineers over at my home for dinner who worked at a range of companies, big and small — Google, a couple of them worked at Uber — and you know, they’re telling me about getting invited to strip clubs and bondage clubs in the middle of the day, and they felt like they couldn’t say no. Or they were put in this position of, “Well, do I go and be part of whatever work conversations happen or do I not go and then I’m excluded from those conversations?” You know, I do think those are the more extreme and egregious examples, and the even bigger problem is the sort of systemic discrimination that creeps into every space simply because women are so outnumbered in this industry. And so they are often the only woman in a room over and over and over again. And they describe it as having to do this sort of constant emotional labor that they don’t get credit for, which is like an entire second job that men don’t have to do.
Rascoff: What do you mean by emotional labor?
Chang: Well, it’s sort of feeling like they have to prove themselves over and over again, that people are sort of doubting why they’re there, you know, fighting against these microaggressions that, again, it’s things that are difficult to pinpoint and call out and say, “Hey, I’m being mansplained.” Like, that sounds kind of odd, but it sort of wears on them. And I think that is the bigger problem. I mean, this is an industry that has been so male-dominated for so long that it can be difficult to sort of break that up and start fresh
Rascoff: And one of the things I was surprised by in the book was it wasn’t always this way. At the beginning of technology, it was a much more equitable world in tech. So, describe what you found during your research.
Chang: When you go back to the ’40s and ’50s, women actually played a huge role in the computing industry. Men were primarily the hardware makers, but women were pretty well-represented among software programmers. And they were programming computers for the military and programming computers for NASA, and it literally was “Hidden Figures” but industrywide. And then in the ’60s and ’70s, as the tech industry was starting to explode, they were so desperate for new programmers that they started doing these personality tests and aptitude tests to identify them. And the makers of these tests decided that good programmers “don’t like people.” Which makes a lot of sense, right? There’s no research to support the idea that people who don’t like people are better at this job than people who do, and generally, more men fit into that category, I will say. And this stereotype shut out more than half the population, and these tests were used for decades by companies as big as IBM.
Rascoff: Well, and there’s still — you can argue they’re not tests, necessarily, but they’re still sort of used today in the way a lot of interviewing gets done.
Chang: Exactly, and so it — these tests basically solidified this sort of antisocial, mostly white male nerd stereotype that persists to this day, and then it got repeated in movies and popular culture. And, people sort of think, oh, you know, “Revenge of the Nerds,” they created this stereotype, when in fact they were just repeating what they saw in the industry already. And so my argument is that the tech industry created its own pipeline problem. In 1984, women were earning 37 percent of computer science degrees. That has since plummeted to 18 percent where it’s been flat for the last decade. And you see the same sort of trend with tech jobs.
Rascoff: And in medicine, for example, it’s been quite the opposite.
Chang: It’s been the opposite. And actually the implementation of Title IX in the ’70s had the opposite effect in law and medicine, where women started charging into these fields and lowering the barriers to entry, but tech actually raised the barriers to entry. And you see the same sort of stereotypes and perception repeated to this day. Case in point, James Damore at Google, who wrote that viral memo where he argued that men are biologically more suited to this job than women, and he was just repeating the same sort of hostile, you know, mythical stereotype that those early programming tests perpetuated.
Rascoff: And yet I thought some of the responses to that were spot on where they talked about actually the importance of empathy, that what engineers are doing, what product people do, is they’re trying to solve other people’s problems. So, actually empathy is very important.
Chang: Absolutely. I mean, there’s a great argument to be made that we need people who like people and care about people to be doing these jobs as well, but, you know, that overall we should have people of a variety of backgrounds building products that billions of people around the world are using. I mean, this is an industry — you guys are building the future. You’re changing the way we live our lives, and so it makes zero sense for 95 percent of the decisions to be made by white men.
Rascoff: So, I think we can all agree that some of the things that you discuss here, whether it’s the cuddle puddles (which is a term I’d never heard before I read your book and I never want to hear again) or, you know, VCs asking entrepreneurs to pitch them their business idea in a hot tub. I mean, these are obviously gross and inappropriate and disgusting.
Chang: I’m glad you think so.
Rascoff: But the more subtle forms of discrimination or things that impact employee engagement — let’s discuss why diversity and inclusion is important. Like, what are the business outcomes that get changed if you have a more diverse set of people forming these decisions and building these products?
Chang: So, I fully believe that if we had, you know, more diverse teams create better products, make more money, are more innovative, and research proves that out. But just saying that can kind of fly over people’s heads. So, I interviewed Ev Williams, for example, the founder of Twitter — co-founder of Twitter, and I asked him, “If you had more women on the early Twitter team, designing early Twitter, do you think online harassment and trolling would be such a problem?” And he was like, “You know what, I don’t think it would be. We weren’t thinking about that at all when we were building Twitter. We were thinking about all the wonderful and amazing things that could be done with it, not how it could be used to send death threats or how it could be used to send rape threats.” And, you know, facial recognition technology is already a little bit sexist and a little bit racist and doesn’t recognize women and people of color as easily as it does white men. And so I think, well, if women had had a seat at the table 10, 20, 30 years ago, maybe the internet would be a friendlier place, maybe video games would not be so violent, maybe porn wouldn’t be so ubiquitous. And so I think there’s an incredibly compelling business case here that this can impact product and product design, and you — you know, I know that you guys at Zillow are really focused on this and, you know, for the first time, you’ve added some pretty innovative information to your listings that has never been done before, right?
Rascoff: This is the Trulia LGBTQ protections. So, a round of applause, by the way, because this team built it.
Rascoff: Yeah, I mean, some other examples, I mean, Uber being built really without passenger or driver safety features, which now they’re scrambling to roll out, I mean, probably if more women had been involved in the creation of Uber, perhaps it would have occurred to somebody that some of these people are going to do bad things to riders or to drivers.
Chang: I mean, it is astonishing that this is a company that’s been around for almost a decade now and that only now are they thinking about these things. And actually it’s so much harder when you are already at scale to go backwards and try to fix what is broken, which is why, you know, it’s so much better if you start thinking about these things really early on, and then it’s just easier as you go. And I hear from people so often, “Well, it’s so hard; it takes so much time to find more diverse candidates.” And you know, my answer is, “Well, this will save you time in the long run.”
Rascoff: When we first launched Zillow almost 10 years ago, our idea was to turn on the lights and set all this real estate information free — what people paid for their home, what homes were worth, et cetera. And part of that information set is the owner of the home. And so it was very natural for us to consider putting the owner’s name on every home, 100 million homes in America. And we were getting ready to do that. Lloyd Frank, our vice chairman, and I thought this was a terrific idea. This is “set information free.” And Kristin Acker, who’s SVP of product and also very involved here in this office at Trulia, she said, “That’s a terrible idea. There are stalkers out there that are going to use Zillow to figure out where their ex-wife lives and bad things are going to happen. And the first time someone gets raped or killed because they were able to find that information out through our site, that’s going to be a really awful day.” And having — in that case, it was gender diversity in the room and just give that totally different perspective was really valuable, and it allowed us to, I think, make the right product decision.
Okay, let’s talk solutions and then we’re going to ask — I’m going to ask you some questions that some of our employees submitted through Slack. What can we do about all this? We as a company, we as a society, you know, what’s the answer?
Chang: So, first of all, I think change needs to come from the top, and we need CEOs and investors to make this a priority. And so that’s why I’m so glad that you invited me here, I’m so glad you’re talking about this, I’m so glad you’re willing to admit the mistakes. And there are people in the book who are willing to talk about the things that they did wrong, and that’s so important. Like, we all have biases, right? Whether you’re the CEO or a product designer, you know, we all come at problems based on our own life experience, no matter what that might be, and I think we just need to recognize that.
If you just focus on raising awareness about bias, however, it’s not necessarily going to have a huge impact. If you give people tools to combat their bias, that can have a big impact. So, whether that is, you know, not even starting an interview process until you have two female candidates and two candidates of color, or diversifying your recruiting team, or structuring your interview process so you’re asking everyone the same questions rather than doing this sort of free-form thing where you sort of tailor the questions to, you know, who they are and, you know, that can obviously lead to bias because if someone looks “the part,” you’re going to ask them different questions than if someone doesn’t look the part.
It’s not just about hiring, though. It’s about retention and progression and creating a culture where everybody can thrive. And so women are twice as likely to leave tech as men, and they’re leaving, you know, 12 years into their career, which could be at this huge inflection point where they’ve got some real experience and could sort of skyrocket up, but at the same time, you know, they’re having this sort of moment of, “Well, am I really feeling valued here?” And there’s this perception that women leave because they have families or they’re leaning back in their careers, but actually they’re going to jobs in other fields. And so, you know, we need to make sure that you’re not losing the women that you have. And so that’s about creating a culture where everyone can feel included and comfortable and a place where they can be themselves.
And so it’s — you know, I talked about structuring the interview process, but structuring review and feedback systems. Slack is an example in the book. Their motto is work hard and go home. They’re like, “We’re trying to hire adults here, not just kids out of college,” and they’re very focused on making sure that people can sustain careers over a long life. This is a super competitive industry. You know, talent — it’s a war for talent. And so you don’t want people just hanging around for a year and a half, you want them for as long as you can have them. And so there are so many things that I think also individuals can do, and I think we all need to listen better, we need to be having these conversations. I know they might make people feel a little bit uncomfortable. I kind of think that’s a good thing right now to raise awareness.
And you know, I’m so grateful for the women who have spoken up over the last year and the collective courage that they have summoned, but this this is not just on women. This is on all of us, men too, and so if you see someone — I mean, I think mentorship and advocacy is so important. I know that’s really important to you guys here. But if you see someone being interrupted or you see someone not getting an opportunity, call that out. It can be a lot easier for you to do it as a bystander or a witness than for the victim to say, “Hey, I’m being mansplained. Can you stop that, please?” So I just think there’s so much that, sort of, we all can do to help each other on this to get to a better place.
Rascoff: Where we started on this journey, we, at Zillow Group, when we started focusing more on this issue, which was probably three-ish years ago, it actually started with employee engagement. You know, the first thing we did was we said, “OK, we have — we’re sadly underrepresented in terms of diversity, but we’re not nowhere. Let’s actually see how engaged different sets of employees are.” And the results were eye-opening and not good. Non-whites were less engaged. They felt less connected to the company, they felt less welcome, and that was the eye-opening moment for me. It was like we spend all this time, effort and money trying to get the world’s greatest people into this company. It is incumbent upon us, not to mention that it’s the right thing to do, but in terms of business results, I want all of these people to be doing their best work, and if they don’t feel connected to the company, we should fix that.
And we’ve made huge strides in that regard.
The other thing that your comments made me think of was the culture-fit issue. Because a lot of this happens — the tip of the spear is the interview and recruiting. And we try not to talk about culture fit. I think culture fit can be code for hire people that look like me and dress like me and act like me. And so we talk a lot about core-value fit and assessing a candidate to see, do they fit to our six core values, not is it a good culture fit.
Chang: I have a new term for you: culture addition. So looking — it’s like you honor your culture, you like your culture, but you’re looking for people who are going to add to your culture and expand your culture. You know, and I love the core value ideas as well. And I think writing those down and communicating them to employees is so important.
Rascoff: All right, so a couple questions that came from employees via our Slack channels. From Megan Hansen, who works for Trulia in content strategy, she writes, “Any advice on how we can change a work culture that sees moms as moms but not dads as dads? Specifically, it seems that the work of childcare still falls to working moms, such as needing to leave early for doctors’ appointments and daycare pickup, potentially because it seems less likely that working dads are also seen as caretakers while in the workplace.”
Chang: So, I do think that work needs to be shared at home more equally if we want work to be shared at work. That’s not the reality today. I think that so many of the things that women want at work dads want too, and, you know, both moms and dads are parents. I think it can start with benefits and having equal maternity and paternity leave policies and actually encouraging the dads to take it, because there is — I mean, just like there’s — I know that I’ve taken three maternity leaves. I know how hard it is as a woman to leave for that period of time. And you know, I think for dads, there’s still this sort of social stigma against taking that time off, and so I think that that can be really important in sort of starting to change those kinds of cultural norms.
I think flexibility is really important in making sure that work after work is valued, and so I leave to pick up my kids because my boss, the editor in chief of Bloomberg, has said people should feel okay going home and picking up their kids. But I get back online, and I do my work, and I want that work to count. We all want sustainable lives, and so making work work for people of all kinds should be the focus.
Rascoff: From Natalie, an engineer at Trulia, she writes, “In your book, you write about Sheryl Sandberg’s response to your email. In addition to having women in leadership roles paving the way for more women in leadership roles, what else do you think is critical to successfully increasing female representation in the workplace?”
Chang: When I was pregnant with my first child, this was now six years ago, and it was just when that article “Why Women Can’t Have It All Still” came out. And I was like devastated. I was seven months pregnant, I was having all these sort of conflicting emotions, “How am I going to do this? Maybe it’s impossible,” and then that article came out and I cried myself to sleep that night. And the next day — and the article really took aim at Sheryl. And I’d never met Sheryl at that point, and I just emailed her out of the blue. And I said, “You know what, I just want to say thank you for putting yourself out there on these issues.” She had done her TED Talk and I had re-watched it, and it actually made a difference to me.
And she wrote right back, like in 15 seconds, and said, “Congratulations! Is this your first?” And I was like, “Yes,” and wrote this sort of very overzealous response. And then she said “Here’s my cell phone. Let me know if you ever want advice.” And I was, again, shocked. And of course I didn’t just call her cell phone. I found out who her assistant was, I figured — and I got time in her calendar in three weeks, and she called me on the dot. And I got a half-hour of uninterrupted time with her one-on-one — this is before “Lean In” — where she kind of gave me a little pep talk and was like, “You can do this. You will do this, and you need to do this. Like, you’re going to keep working.”
And I think that that sort of advice and mentorship is really, really important. But I’ve also had to seek it out, and so I ask those questions. And you know, there’s so much that, sort of, we all can do to help other people that we see in these situations, and that really made a huge difference for me.
Rascoff: Question from a Trulia analyst, Ini Li asks, “How much do you believe in a person’s ability to evolve some of their views?”
Chang: I think that it’s — I believe in us, and I’m really optimistic. I mean, despite the title, I think that the smartest people in the world who are taking us to Mars and building self-driving cars and connecting the world, whether you’re, you know, all the way up to the top, I think people — we’re smart people. I think we can change, and I think part of it is the ignorance has gone on for too long. But at this point, we can — I’ve written 300 pages about it. We’ve been talking about it now for a year, like ignorance can only be willful. Like, we know this is a problem. And so I think people can change, and I think the business case makes a lot of sense, but it’s only when the numbers really change that a real culture shift is going to happen. So, if you have 10 men around a dinner table, you swap out one man for a woman, the conversation might change a little bit. But if it’s half and half, it’s a completely different conversation. And that’s when you will see the results. And, unfortunately, we just don’t have a lot of great examples where, you know, places are 50-50 and you can see the results. But I do think it’s going to take that sort of true number shift that will lead to a true culture shift where views will actually change.
Rascoff: I mean, you see this with other social movements, right? Whether it’s the civil rights movement or America’s acceptance of LGBTQ. I mean, there have been radical changes in just 30 years. And some of that is demographic and generational, but a lot of that is individual people changing their attitudes on these topics.
Chang: Becoming woke, if you will.
Rascoff: And I think we’re seeing it in a very short period of time here because society has been so jarred by some of these scandals that it’s — I mean, it’s going to happen — hopefully at least people’s attitudes will change faster. Now, it’ll probably take decades for more equality to come into the workplace in terms of representation, but attitudes I think are changing.
All right, from an anonymous person, “Is there anything you didn’t include in “Brotopia” that, in retrospect, you wish you had? And is there anything you wish you’d left out?”
Chang: I had a very high bar for what was going to be in print. And when you’re taking on someone’s career and life, you know, I don’t take that lightly, and so everything was, like, fully vetted by multiple lawyers, and Bloomberg luckily was very, very supportive and very supportive of good journalism in general. I mean, I’m just — it was 500 pages and I had to cut it down to 300, so I’m more — I think about all the babies that are, like, lying on the floor that I could not include.
Rascoff: Anything you included you regret?
Chang: No. I mean, I have an opportunity — we’re coming out with a paperback in March, so I’m going to update it, I’m going to add another chapter, and I’m really excited to talk about sort of the impact that the book has had and the reaction, you know, good and bad. And I mean, for me, the reaction has been what I’ve seen as mostly positive, and I have been so encouraged by invitations to speak at tech companies, which I honestly did not expect. So you know, I’ve spoken at Amazon and Microsoft and LinkedIn and Google and places where they could have easily said, you know, “No, thank you. Your book is called ‘Brotopia.’” You were one of the first to ask.
Rascoff: Well, but I saw you at a tech conference right when the book had come out, and there was so much heat, let’s call it, and I said, “Are you persona non grata, like, at most of these companies, or are you still able to get people to come to your — do your show?” And it was too early to tell, I think, was the —
Chang: Yeah. I think there’s a few people who won’t be coming on, but you know what, no good change comes without some people feeling a little bit uncomfortable. And honestly, the vast majority of people, I think, are glad that I did it and probably respect me more for putting my voice behind this and, you know, I think some of the people who maybe aren’t so happy, hopefully in the long run they understand.
Rascoff: All right, last question. What are the simple, easy, day-to-day things that we can do at work with our teams and at the company to improve equity and inclusion in our workplaces?
Chang: I mentioned listening. I think that’s important. And also asking. I think we don’t ask each other enough, “How are you doing?” And some people don’t want to talk about their personal lives at work, and that’s OK, but some people do. Sheryl Sandberg talks about this bringing your whole self to work thing, and it speaks to exactly what you said earlier, that if you don’t feel like you can be yourself, you can’t be your best self at work.
You know, I had someone who works at a startup tell me, “You know, I was talking to one of my employees, and I found out that both her parents passed away when she was really young.” He’s like, “I didn’t even know. I felt so horrible that I didn’t know that that’s where she had come from.” And those are the things that maybe we should know each other — know about each other.
You know, I think in general we do need to see more examples of female leadership, and maybe that means taking a chance on someone and training them for that role. We see people like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer, and we think it can only be that way or that way. Those are the two versions of female success. And the problem is we don’t have a lot of other examples, but women — you know, there are all kinds of male bosses, right? And there are all kinds of female bosses as well, we just don’t see it enough. And you know, to the point you can’t be what you can’t see. Like, we can’t be what we can’t see.
I interviewed seven young girls, teenage girls, at the end of the book who’ve all learned how to code, and they’re so excited to do their part to change the world, but they already have an idea of what they’re up against. And, you know, they’re in women in tech groups on Facebook, and they read the news and, you know, one of them said to me, “I mean, I heard that Travis was, like, meditating in the lactation room at Uber. What is that about?” And so, yeah, I was surprised. I’m like, “Wow, you guys know your stuff.” So they can’t be what they can’t see.
Rascoff: Some things that I think we’ve done and can continue to do: Mentor people of all types. Do a great job in interviewing and recruiting. Focus on employee engagement so that everybody feels connected to the company, to the mission, they feel welcome. I’ll say the obvious thing, which shouldn’t have to be said, but just treat each other kindly and respectfully. Don’t make inappropriate comments. Don’t do illegal and dumb things. I mean, it’s crazy that we say it, but apparently it needs to be said, so don’t do that. And, gosh, there’s so many more things. I really think the employee engagement is important here.
Also, actually, I think we need to do a better job at this company, and at all companies, of convincing white males why this is important. I’ll just be direct and I’ll say white males in that case, that there are a lot of people who probably think, “Oh, this doesn’t affect me,” or, “It’s not my problem,” or, “I didn’t cause this.” And I agree — I didn’t cause it — but I do think it affects me, and I think it’s important that white males understand why it’s important to the company, why it’s important to our colleagues and our peers, and how they can be part of the solution, even if maybe they weren’t part of the problem. So, those are just a couple of my thoughts.
Emily, thank you for turning on the lights on this important issue, and thank you for being here.
Chang: Thank you for having me. Thank you all.