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Women Discuss Inequality, Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley


In recent months, reports of sexual bias and harassment have shaken California’s Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is famous as a center for start-up businesses and high-technology companies. Many of its products are popular across the United States and around the world.

But some women working there say they have been mistreated. They talk about men making unwanted sexual comments in an office environment.

And a number of male business leaders have left their companies. They include Travis Kalanick, the former head of Uber. He resigned from the company after women criticized the culture of the ride-sharing service.

Recently, more than 30 women took part in an indoor cycling event to try to increase understanding of one issue: how male investors treat women who create startup businesses and female employees.

Tim Draper, a well-known investor, owns Draper Associates and Draper University. He organized the event in San Mateo, California.

“This is an exciting time for women and I’m all for it. Let’s go. Let’s start businesses. There’s no glass ceiling if you start your own business.”

Pearly Chen is the top aide to a woman heading a technology company.

“I think men have to be very important champions for women empowerment, because the reality is that most decision-makers today on the top -- political, business leaders -- are men, so they have to be part of the change.”

Many women have begun telling stories about the discrimination and harassment they faced when proposing ideas to male investors.

Wendy Dent is the founder of Cinemmerse, a tech company.

“You pitch your idea and they go, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting.’ And it was more like they were just setting up dates.”

Dent once worked as a fashion model. She is now a businesswoman. She says she faced harassment when she met with a would-be adviser.

“What was I going to do, go to the police?”

Instead, Dent worked on her company, which makes an app for computers.

“I fell deeply into a hole and didn’t know what to do. And I learned to code. I decided he’s not gonna win.”

As more women talk about the problem publicly and on social media, they are having an effect on the industry.

Kate Mitchell is an investor in high-tech companies.

“You can use things like social media now, and other many outlets we have, not just the courts, to communicate what we’re all seeing within the industry. And I think that’s one of the biggest changes.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA Silicon Valley Correspondents Deana Mitchell and Michelle Quinn reported this story from San Mateo, California. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted their report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bias – n. the act of having a strong and often unfair influence on (someone or something)

harassment – n. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way

glass ceiling – n. an unfair system or set of attitudes that prevents some people (such as women or people of a certain race) from getting the most powerful jobs

pitch – v. to talk about or describe (something) in a favorable way so that people will want to buy it, accept it, etc.

code – n. to change (information) into a set of letters, numbers or symbols that can be read by a computer

impact – n. to have a strong and often bad effect on (something or someone)

outlet – n. something that people use to express their emotions or talents

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