The news out of the high-profile sex discrimination suit roiling Silicon Valley isn’t good. Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of gossip and titillation in the back and forth between Ellen Pao and her former employer, venture-capital behemoth Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers. There’s the affair Pao, a junior partner, had with a male colleague, and the allegation that said colleague, upon becoming senior to her, was permitted to contribute to her (poor) performance reviews—after she’d ended their relationship. Then there’s the old boys’ club culture of Kleiner Perkins—the all-male ski trip, the alleged exclusion of women from meetings because they “kill the buzz.”
The case has riveted the tech world, and that’s because it goes beyond the he-said/she-said facts of one particular case and captures a disturbing industry-wide zeitgeist, in which women are either invisible or treated as “other”—the odd Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer success story notwithstanding. This is particularly true at venture-capital firms, where women make up just 6 percent of partners, down from 10 percent in 1999. (Pao, now the interim CEO at Reddit, was earning roughly $500,000 a year as a junior partner at Kleiner along with three male colleagues; the men were all promoted to senior partner, a salary bump by a factor of five).
Which gets us to Philly, where the burgeoning tech scene has a vibrant female community committed to addressing this industry-wide imbalance. This Friday and Saturday, the University City offices of First Round Capital will host the third annual LadyHacks hackathon—Philly’s only such women-only event. Women of all skill levels—from beginners and tech-curious to experienced coders—will come together to work collaboratively on projects that help solve social problems.
“There are a lot of strong women in the tech community here asking questions about the kind of roles women perform in the tech industry,” says Amelia Longo, one of the LadyHacks organizers. “Women tend to be project managers, office managers, or in charge of communications. Not designers or coders. We want to help change that.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton’s Adam Grant recently made clear in The New York Times just how insidious these role assignment stereotypes can be; even at supposedly enlightened workplaces, women tend to do the “empathy” work. That’s why LadyHacks—which last year drew 80 women—is female-only. Hackathons tend to be male-dominated. Instead, come Friday, female developers will be working with female project managers. “Even if you have no tech experience, but have an idea for an app, there’s a place for you on a team,” says Longo.
The organizers of LadyHacks come out of the many groups here that are trying to change tech culture. There’s Girl Develop It, which offers classes in everything from coding to design to salary negotiation; Girl Geek Dinners, a social meetup for women in tech; TechGirlz, a nonprofit that teaches middle-schoolers to code, and the Philly Women in Tech Summit—an annual conference that’s part of Philly Tech Week.
By focusing on providing the skills and connections women need, they’re taking on the culture Emily Bazelon wrote about last week in the New York Times: “’You can’t take for granted you’ll be taken seriously,’ one female start-up adviser who had worked at a major tech company told me. ‘That is different for men, 100 percent.’ Many of the women spoke with a mix of frustration and dismay about the guys in computer-science class who were reluctant to code with them or the executives who weren’t sure they were right for a job or promotion.”
Registration for LadyHacks is $10. Visit LadyHacks.org.