The Good Ol’ Boy Culture is Alive and Well in High Tech

Sometimes the news contains what a former co-worker used to call “a confewgelty of events.” Today is one of those days but, despite the date, the events have nothing to do with what happened twelve years ago. Instead they deal with bullying, harassment and violence against women. Here’s a lineup that demonstrates the good ol’ boy culture is alive and well:

Three Events in the Good Ol’ Boy Culture

TechCrunch ConferenceThe TechCrunch Conference:  This high-tech event, sponsored by AOL and held in San Francisco this week, presented the audience with two ostensibly grown men offering an app called Titstare. It is what it sounds like, a way for men to photograph themselves staring at breasts. The hackers involved said it was joke after calling it “titillating” and “the breast app ever.”

Later, another presenter demonstrated a game called CircleShake that counts how many times someone can shake a smart phone up and down in ten seconds. While on stage, he pretended to be masturbating as he shook the phone. Seriously, these are supposed to be adults and they were given approval to stand up in front of a paying audience that included women and children.

A “Defining Narrative” on Journalism:  On the same day, a paper called “Riptide, What Really Happened to the News Business” by three male authors was published by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Of the 61 people interviewed by the authors, 54 were white men, five were white women and two were Indian men. The authors (100% male) presented their paper based on 90% male interviews as a defining statement on “what really happened to the news business.”

It did not include the following words: women, gender, Hispanic, diversity, minorities, Latino or African American. Rachel Sklar, founder of, does an excellent job of connecting these two events. In her article “The Riptide of Titstare,” she also skewers the predominantly white male culture that spawned them.

A High-school Programming Class: This morning I read a very disturbing letter from the mother of a girl to the teacher of her daughter’s high-school programming class. She asked what he was doing while the boys harassed her daughter, who was the only girl in the class. Telling the girl to go out into the kitchen and make sandwiches for them was the least of it. The mother, Rikki Endsley, also offers seven excellent suggestions for teaching programming in high-school.

Reasons for Distress

If you take the time to read all these articles, you may end up as distressed as I am. I’m concerned because (1) these problems exist at all in 2013 and (2) they show in vivid detail why so few women go into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. At a time when businesses are complaining that they can’t find enough qualified graduates to fill STEM positions, it’s clear that a “No Women Wanted” sign is still hanging on the door. 

Women are 52% of the population. It makes no sense to look the other way while American boys bully, harass, ignore, and humiliate girls who want to go into STEM disciplines, then for American men to complain that they can’t find enough qualified candidates for their companies. Why are we as a culture and an industry allowing this to happen? Actually, it’s more like we’re encouraging it to happen, even in elite institutions. 

A Harvard Business School Project:  The New York Times published an article on gender equity in what’s known around here as “the B School.”  In “Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity,” author Jodi Kantor explores in detail how many of the country’s best and brightest speak, study and socialize together in her analysis of Harvard’s attempt to solve a knotty problem: As Ms. Kantor describes it in @NYT: “Year after year, women who had arrived with the same test scores and grades as men fell behind. Attracting and retaining female professors was a losing battle; from 2006 to 2007, a third of the female junior faculty left.” The school’s efforts are commendable but the comments from both women and men are distressingly familiar.

The Good Ol’ Boy Culture

no women wanted, women forbidden, good ol' boy cultureThe Good Ol’ Boy culture is alive and well in America and not just in places where people are poorly educated or extremely conservative.  It’s virulent in our technology industry and that does not augur well for the future of our businesses.

We need startups that deal with real problems, not pictures of men ogling breasts. We need hardware engineers, software developers, and company founders who want to address the issues that affect people, not overgrown boys jerking off on stage or dumping on the one girl who dares to take a technical class.

If you’re immune to the impact of the Good Ol’ Boy Culture or think it’s unimportant, a joke, just the way things are, or boys being boys, ask yourself how you would feel if this happened to your sister or your wife or your daughter. How would you have felt if you had taken your daughter to @TechCrunch Conference and sat next to her while she watched those presentations?  How would you react if your daughter dropped out of an engineering program because her male classmates harassed her?  

As I said in a previous post, “Lean In Part 2: That Man Behind the Curtain Has to Act,” this is not a problem that women can solve. The Good Ol’ Boys have to get involved.  They have to figure out that this culture is not helping the technology industry or American business in general. And then they have to do something about it.  Once they grow up, that is.