Pando’s Sarah Lacy explains why “toxic masculinity” pervades Silicon Valley

sarah lacy

The Silicon Valley bro culture bubble has burst, and Sarah Lacy wants you to know it.

Award-winning journalist, founder of PandoDaily, and former senior editor at TechCrunch, Lacy has been reporting on the Silicon Valley tech scene for more than fifteen years. She has written two critically-acclaimed books about it.

She wants the men of Silicon Valley to be terrified right about now, because the resurgence of feminism resulting from the behaviour of President Trump has finally given women a sense of urgency. Women are willing to risk their own careers to call out the gross sexism that pervades Silicon Valley and tech culture in general. The beginning of the end is here.

“What we’re seeing is not just greed. Toxic masculinity is superseding data.”
– Sarah Lacy, PandoDaily founder

Speaking at Startupfest in Montreal on Friday, Lacy called attention, in the most vehement way, to the confusion of the pursuit of money and power with the pursuit of masculinity that you see across Silicon Valley.

This “toxic masculinity” is now impossible to ignore. We’ve reached a point where despite what many men would like to say and think, the world at large is aware of the sexism, sexual harassment, and overall “shitty behaviour” coming out of tech companies in the Valley.

“80 percent of female VCs say they have witnessed sexism in tech,” said Lacy, “Only 28 percent of men did. So these conversations that have been happening in the last couple of weeks, where people say ‘well, this isn’t happening at my firm’ or ‘I’ve never seen this’ or ‘these must be outliers’ or ‘it can’t really be this bad’… look at that stat. It is happening even if you’re not seeing it, and by the way, there’s a race element to this too.”

Lacy argues that Silicon Valley has become a place where people “brag about law breaking,” where the culture of disruption has led to founders who are willing to jeopardize the future of their companies in order to get the headline, “so [the rise of toxic masculinity] isn’t a surprise if that’s how you’re building companies” she said. “Grabbing, possessing, and putting women in their place fits that psychological pattern.”

“It’s all been about this big man syndrome, proving this precarious masculinity of ‘look how big and bad and awesome and risk-taker and bro-ey and baller I am,’ to borrow Uber’s favourite word,” Lacy continued.

This behaviour, of course, goes against all of the data. We have read the reports that state that working more than 50 hours a week leads to declines in productivity. We have all seen the stats about diversity driving innovation, and the advantages of female leadership in companies. And yet this idea that “you have to be 24/7 crushing it,” persists, said Lacy, and this keeps a lot of women, in particular mothers, out of the industry.

Data also shows that companies with female founders perform better, as do female VCs.

“That’s particularly shocking,” said Lacy, “Because a lot of female VCs are ghettoized into sectors like healthcare, or ecommerce, or corporate venture capital groups, which have the worst proceeds overall.”

“If you’re in your forties, you’re not in your young misogyny phase that all men go through. You are a misogynist.”

While female VCs have been outperforming men, the number of firms led by female VCs has been reduced by half, Lacy continued. “There are fewer women getting the job, even though they are statistically creating the best returns.”

“What we’re seeing is not just greed. Toxic masculinity is superseding data.”

There is hope, however. Trump has energized feminism in the US, and we’re now seeing the most cohesive and unsplintered move for women’s rights in history. As more women speak out, more scandals will force the Travis Kalanicks of the world out of their companies, and the blinders will come off for the rest of them.

So how men can help? “It’s not by co-opting the conversation and trying to use the same rational factor ego of wanting to compare valuations with suddenly trying to compare ‘wokeness,’” said Lacy, alluding to a popular term that describes awareness of social injustices. Believe women when they speak out, for one. And don’t hire known sexual predators, Lacy continued. She also warned against believing or congratulating someone for their apologies as “so far they’ve tried to walk it back every single time.”

“White men have to stop getting endless chances,” Lacy concluded. “If you’re in your forties, you’re not in your young misogyny phase that all men go through. You are a misogynist and you cannot work in this industry.”

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller is passionate writer and storyteller. With a background in documentary film and journalism, she has now found her niche writing for and about the continually evolving world of technology.

  • Canadamanzo

    Yeah cause white men are sexist misogynists? Even though the stats out there show white males being the exact opposite. You can just look at white male countries versus non-white and see which one’s have a patriarchy. Talk about blaming a whole group of people, who by the way is diverse (Italian, French, English, etc etc) for the actions of a few people who happen to have similar skin color and sex organs. I am not Donald Trump and I am not the CEO of Uber. Those are two individuals. Get it through your thick skull.

    Yet after years of effort from white males, all we’ve done is set ourselves up to be punching bags for racist sexist feminists. Mind your privilege if you are a women or a person of color. Stop beating on white men just because we can’t fight back. You are justifying being a bigot by using straw man arguments. Show us some facts and we’ll correct them as a society together. Stop with the anecdotal situations you are using as proof of a systemic issue.

    Also note that men are saddled with hormones that make them desire sex. Another privilege that most women don’t understand, and clearly feminists have no idea about. We didn’t choose those hormones. We just so happen to be humans by nature. Hot romances occur in the workplace all the time and they are natural and healthy, not misogynistic. Speak for yourself and what you want, and certainly don’t assume as a feminist with that narrative that most other females agree with you. They like men as men, even if sometimes we need to be put in our place.

    • Jonathan Soifer

      I’m glad that you’re not a sexist misogynist. Really happy for you.

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist and/or that it isn’t widespread.

      Saying that “we all have faults” does not lead to a solution. Actually, quite the opposite: it normalizes the sort of behavior that make our loved ones suffer. A lot.

      I get that you’re tired of being accused. Sorry about that. Now: the minor discomfort that you feel while being accused is nothing compared to the myriad issues that women and minorities face daily on the workplace. You get that right?

      So, let’s ignore that discomfort. We’re strong brave men. We can do it. And while at it, let’s help make the workplace and the Tech Industry as a whole a better place for, you know, like, the other half of the population?

      Hot romance is super cool. I love it. Being sexually attacked is not. I’m hoping that you’re aware that sexual assaults (not flirting, assaults) happen on a daily basis on professional settings.

      You’re aware of that, right?

      No one wants to stop romance. Hot romance rocks.

      But sexual assaults must stop. Can we agree on this one?

      Can we agree to stop protecting the assailant?

      By the way, unless you’re very intelligent and humble (simultaneously), I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m writing this answer because I don’t want your point of view to go unchallenged on an important article like this one.

      TL,DR: I’m so happy that you’re not a sexual predator. Kudos. Now, let’s acknowledge the problem caused by “the other ones” and help build a healthy tech industry.