Women outing 'bad actors' in tech was defining moment, experts say

At the Inclusion in Tech conference, a panel says that though women are speaking up about harassment in Silicon Valley, there’s still a ways to go.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
2 min read

This year will be remembered as a watershed in Silicon Valley, as male executives in power were finally called out after women began speaking up about sexual harassment, a panel of experts says.

"When people spoke up, there were repercussions. There was a loss of power, and a loss of reputation," tech executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy said Tuesday during the discussion, "Why Silicon Valley is so awful to women and what can be done about it," at The Atlantic's second annual Inclusion in Tech conference, in San Francisco.

More women need to speak out against harassment in tech, said a panel at The Atlantic's Inclusion in Tech conference in San Francisco.

More women need to speak out against harassment in tech, said a panel at The Atlantic's Inclusion in Tech conference in San Francisco.

Terry Collins/CNET

Singh Cassidy, founder of startup theBoardlist, which seeks to help put women on corporate boards, said this year was very unique because more women decided to courageously speak out. 

"In tech itself, there were a lot of bad actors. For the first time, it was also amplified across media and across politics," she said. "This is a defining moment for us."

The topic of scandal was a dominant theme during the daylong event, which also included more than its share of topics focusing on strategies to make the white male-dominated tech industry more diverse and inclusive.

Joining Singh Cassidy were panelists Project Include founder Erica Joy Baker and TechCrunch reporter Megan Rose Dickey. Their discussion focused on the impact of former Uber engineer Susan Fowler's scathing blog post in February about being harassed and discriminated against while working at the ride-hailing company. They said the fallout from Fowler's post, as well as subsequent staff firings and investigations, led to Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigning as CEO.

Baker said she was actually stunned by the development.

"We weren't ready for this, to be quite honest. We didn't believe one person's voice would take down an entire company," she said. "It was like, 'Finally, a woman was believed about what happened in her company!' Susan Fowler was not the first to speak up, but she now definitely won't be the last."

Baker also credited her Project Include co-founder Ellen Pao, who lost her landmark gender discrimination trial against Silicon Valley giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers two years ago, for paving the way for Fowler to come forth.

Dickey said she doesn't think male executives losing their power in tech will be permanent, as there are still more stories to be told of women being harassed.

Baker added that chief executives from all industries, including embattled Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who faces numerous sexual harassment allegations, and even Kalanick, do not deserve second chances.

"I don't need Harvey Weinstein back. I don't need to see Travis Kalanick back. They've had their time," Baker said, to raucous cheers and applause. "There are plenty of talented women out there and plenty people of color qualified to take their places."

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