Good morning, Broadsheet readers! We get an exclusive peek at Emily Chang’s Brotopia, two powerful women announced new CEO jobs, and Doritos wants to make a chip especially for women. Have a lovely Tuesday.
• Welcome to Brotopia. In this exclusive excerpt from her new book, Brotopia, which comes out today, journalist Emily Chang gathers a dozen female engineers at her home to talk about the realities of being a woman in tech. The dinner occurred just a few weeks after engineer and former Uber employee Susan Fowler published her now-famous blog post about the sexual harassment she experienced while working at the company. Not surprisingly, Fowler’s story was a focus of the evening’s conversation.
When I asked if anyone in the room wanted to share a “Susan Fowler” type of experience, Laura Holmes, senior product manager at Google, was the first to speak up. She hesitated as she started to tell the story, as if gathering courage, then continued in a steady tone.
It was the summer of 2008, just as a new wave of tech companies, including Uber and Airbnb, was about to take off. Holmes, then a computer science student at Stanford, got an internship at a hot new photo-app start-up in San Francisco named Cooliris. One evening, she and her co-workers went out for drinks at the Ruby Skye nightclub. Around 2:00 a.m., Holmes informed one of the male engineers that she was about to go home. Apparently, he had had too much to drink. “He was about six foot three, and he told me I was not going to leave,” Holmes recalled. “He put his hand around my neck and tried to choke me.”
As Holmes recounted this story, there were a few gasps from the women in the living room and then silence. This wasn’t some sick joke, Holmes went on; this man was angry. Fear overtook her. “I immediately burst into tears,” Holmes remembered. A bystander intervened, and the man’s grip was broken. Holmes never told anyone else at the company about it. As is common among Silicon Valley start-ups, Holmes said Cooliris did not have a human resources department. Instead, she buried that moment and went back to work the next day. It was the most dramatic, but far from the only offensive, incident to occur during her internship.
Sexist behavior often comes from the top, and in Holmes’s telling that was the case at Cooliris, where the young CEO, Soujanya Bhumkar, gave the entire staff copies of the Kama Sutra, an illustrated guide to sexual positions. Holmes said Bhumkar would often joke, “Thank God we don’t have an HR team,” a phrase that other employees at the company took up and repeated. One day, Bhumkar also passed out toothbrushes imprinted with the company’s core metrics. “He said, ‘So you can think about our metrics when you wake up in the morning,’” Holmes recalled. “And he made a joke that he would print them on condoms so we could think about them at night.” Bhumkar then held up a three-pack of condoms, though he never did pass them out. I reached out to Bhumkar several times for his reaction to these comments, but he did not respond.
Holmes, who hoped to become a product manager at Cooliris, was told to make special efforts to build alliances with the engineers, so she scheduled some collegial lunches. While she was walking to the restaurant with one particular engineer, things got very uncomfortable.
“He said, ‘I’m offensive, I bet I can offend you,’” Holmes remembered. Because she was “trying to be one of the bros,” she decided to play along. “He gets close to my face and says, ‘You’re so fucking dumb, and you don’t know shit. The only thing you’re good for is being taken out to the back parking lot and being raped.’” Yep, she told him, that sure was offensive.
“It was only the two of us. I was thinking that ‘oh, this is what the industry is like. This is bad. I didn’t sign up for this, but I guess I better get used to it,’” Holmes said. “Things were pretty atrocious, and I could have filed a lawsuit . . . But at the age of twenty-three, I didn’t want to be the whistle-blower; I didn’t want to be defined by this.” Her tone was almost apologetic, but as she looked around the room, it was clear that no one present was going to second-guess the difficult decision she had made. No ambitious, hardworking woman wants to be defined or thwarted by a few boneheaded men they have little choice but to work with.
Holmes’s story broke the ice. For the next three hours, each woman told her tale. Read on:
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
• Harassment with no HR. How do you deal with sexual harassment in a company that’s too small to have dedicated HR? (That’s a question Cooliris would have been smart to ask.) The answer is two-fold, writes Karen Firestone president and CEO of Aureus Asset Management. To begin with, “CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior.” And it’s up to the chief to make sure employees feel comfortable reporting unwanted advances to higher-level managers. “Without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.”
Harvard Business Review
• Nicola’s sad news. Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president for EMEA at Facebook and its highest-ranking executive outside the U.S., revealed on Sunday—World Cancer Day—that she has a currently incurable form of lymphoma. By making her diagnosis widely known, Mendelsohn says she aims to raise awareness about the disease. “It’s rare to see people in business telling personal stories like this,” she says. “I want to use my voice to help other people.”
• Justice is swift. Vincent Cirrincione, the talent manager who helped propel Halle Berry and Taraji P. Henson to Hollywood stardom, has announced that he will shut down his management agency after he was accused of sexual harassment by nine women of color. (Read yesterday’s edition of the Broadsheet for more detail on why this matters.) On a related note: Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society, has resigned after sexual harassment allegations against him prompted an uprising from staff and donors.
• Corner office queens. MPWs are making major moves:
- Helena Foulkes, a high-ranking CVS exec and no. 12 on Fortune‘s list of Most Powerful Women, is taking on the CEO role at Hudson’s Bay Company, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. It’s a surprising move, as many had pegged Foulkes as a potential pick for CEO of the drugstore chain.
- Former Intel president Renée James has taken on the CEO role at computer chip maker Ampere Computing. James was the highest-ranking woman at Intel until she left the company in 2015 after nearly three decades (she was on the MPW list in 2014).
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• Chips for chicks? PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is getting some flak for suggesting that when women eat Doritos, they “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public” and “don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.” She said the company is looking into snacks that are “low-crunch,” fit into purses, and don’t stick to your fingers. Now some women’s activists are accusing the snack giant of perpetuating gender stereotypes. PepsiCo’s quest for “snacks for women” isn’t really news, notes Fortune’s food reporter Beth Kowitt, who talked to Nooyi about the purse-friendly snacks last fall.
• A paradigm SHIFT. The New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino dives into the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation, a research initiative at Columbia University geared towards understanding the sexual behavior of college students—which ultimately aims to prevent campus sexual assault. She writes: “SHIFT is, in a sense, a reporting project of unprecedented scale, a map that genuinely reflects the size of the territory. It could be one of the first endeavors to show the magnitude and the texture of the problem at the same time.”
• Innovating for innovation. Melissa Schilling, an NYU professor who recently released a book about serial innovators, writes about why it includes only one woman: Marie Curie. The reason there are so few women in the ranks of inventors, she argues, has to do with the fact that their responsibilities as caregivers make it hard to be laser-focused on a single problem. The solution? Flexibility. “The more we can do to enable people to have nonlinear career paths, the more we will increase innovation among women—and productivity more generally.”
Wall Street Journal
• Nuland says ‘nyet.’ Former top diplomat Victoria Nuland—she served five presidents and 11 secretaries of state in her 32 years in the Foreign Service—talks to Politico about how she pushed the Obama administration to do more to stop Russia’s hacking in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. It is a story “of frustrating bureaucratic delays, of Russia experts who set alarm bells ringing but found themselves debating just what was the right thing to do even while understanding what the American public did not yet get: This was a major new escalation in ‘an ideological struggle’ with Putin’s resurgent Russia.”