Here’s a Dismal Reflection on What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Silicon Valley

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Photo: Bloomberg

Have you gotten your fill of Equal Pay Day jollies yet? Sufficiently achieved the rare dream of getting a man to buy you lunch, as well as getting him to acknowledge that the pay gap actually exists? Well, as long as you feel comfortable sustaining that high for the next few minutes, here’s a story from Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou on how she has found working in Silicon Valley. She starts as a woman at Stanford learning computer engineering:

Lots of my classmates talked about how the course really wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. I disagreed. By the end of the quarter, their unflappable self-assurance had me convinced that I was meant to be rooted out. I decided not to major in computer science.

Like many a woman before me, I had run smack into the confidence gap. Researchers have shown that women consistently rate their abilities more negatively than men, while men give themselves inflated marks. In the face of my classmates’ bluster, I didn’t consider the idea that they might be bluffing. Instead I assumed the problem was me.

Her classmates were not encouraging of her potential success in her studies either. “They told me about a couple of other girls in my year who had had great success flirting shamelessly with the teaching staff — nerdy awkward guys unaccustomed to female attention, and therefore overly eager to be helpful in office hours,” she writes. “I wondered if the implication was that I ought to do the same — or that in their eyes, I already was.”

Though Chou came up against lots of casual sexism in her computer-engineering classes — classes with very few women — she persisted, and was offered a teaching-assistant position and then an internship at Google and Facebook. Thinking that she’d finally made it out into the real world and away from the immature behavior of boys, she found much of the same treatment by her mostly male colleagues:

I could never shake the feeling of being petted as an adorably confused young intern. I felt as if I was welcomed because I was cute to keep around, not because there was any expectation of my doing useful, good work. My fellow interns and full-time coworkers were first friendly, then flirty. They floated awkward pick-up lines and complimented me on the way I looked, not the work I produced. One offered to give me a massage “because I looked stressed.” Another tried to get me to watch a movie with him in a dark room with the door locked and blinds closed. Later, he gave me a custom-made t-shirt with his name emblazoned across the front.

The rest of Chou’s story can be read at Quartz. She’s a software engineer at Pinterest now, and she says the tech industry’s “insatiable demand for software engineers still drew me into the field.” But even with all the advantages Chou had from the start, she says she “still barely made it.”

Hey, Silicon Valley still doesn’t sound like a great place to be a woman.