8 Inspiring Books on Women Overcoming the Challenges of Working in Tech
March marks Women’s History Month, a time to look back at the contributions of trailblazing women and reflect upon their legacies. But in celebrating these achievements, the glaring disparities between genders that persist become all the more apparent.
Given that technology and Silicon Valley are such cultural zeitgeists, many women who are raising their voices, telling one another’s professional stories and calling attention to inequality and discrimination hail from the ever-broadening tech sector.
And in the wake of the #MeToo movement today, the stories that emerge from boardrooms, private jets, mansions and even message threads are simultaneously empowering, because women are speaking up, and demoralizing, because age-old dynamics are at play. A tech-industry-wide culture that purports to prioritize diversity and inclusion constantly undermines its own goals.
Over the past few years, several women who run or work at tech companies, or report on them, have collected anecdotes and advice about how the value women add toward technology development is disproportionate to the way male colleagues treat them, their representation in certain careers and leadership roles, and in turn, sometimes, the way they view their own potential.
The following eight books, by Ellen Pao, Emily Chang, Sarah Lacy and other prominent women business leaders and authors, serve to unveil the truth about women in tech -- and forge a path forward toward a more equitable and less toxic future. Click through the slides to learn more.
‘Reset’ by Ellen Pao
Ellen Pao lost a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, in 2015. Despite this disappointment, as well as the backlash and scrutiny shed from putting herself in the spotlight, she didn’t give up her efforts to raise awareness about the disadvantages and unfair treatment women in tech face.
In late 2017, Pao published Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. The book describes her personal experiences with male colleagues, from private jet rides where she was literally denied a seat at the table and relegated to the sofa, to comments she’s heard men make about the professional roles of women vs. men.
“When I gave birth to my first child, some partners at work treated my taking maternity leave as the equivalent of abandoning a ship in the middle of a typhoon to get a manicure,” Pao writes.
In outlining the range of issues that women face at work, and especially in tech, today, Pao inspires women to speak up -- her influence has been dubbed the “Pao effect” -- and explores how employers can hold themselves accountable for inclusion.
‘Brotopia’ by Emily Chang
Silicon Valley is a playground for people who seek money, power and the ability to affect change through technology. But if you’re a woman, it’s a lot harder to achieve those goals.
In Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley, Bloomberg TV’s Emily Chang unpacks why sexual harassment and discrimination and discrimination run rampant in the Valley. Networks of powerful men host sex parties, which women feel obligated to attend, then taken less seriously if they do. Or they exclude women by holding meetings at strip clubs. They often don’t push back against their peers’ remarks that objectify women, perpetuating disparity.
At the same time, Chang says, the bros of Silicon Valley try to have it both ways. She quotes one anonymous venture capitalist, who says founders don’t own their sleazy behavior: “They talk about diversity on one side of their mouth, but on the other side they say all of this shit.”
The book features interviews with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, and Chang also tells the stories of women in tech who made names for themselves by calling out the toxic, male-centric culture in their industries. Ultimately, it examines the roles both sexes can play in dismantling the Silicon Valley patriarchy.
‘Technically Wrong’ by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Rather than focusing on the interpersonal dynamics within the tech industry, Wachter-Boettcher’s book dives into the ways in which the biases of the people who build consumer tech are reflected in their products.
In Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech, Wachter-Boettcher talks about how the apps and services that we use online, from social media to personal health trackers, are designed with features that may unintentionally offend, harm or endanger certain groups of users.
One example she cites is Twitter: The company temporarily disabled a function that notified users when they were added to lists. Twitter hadn’t foreseen that this would prevent women from knowing whether they’d been added to a discriminatory list, or anyone from knowing whether they’d been targeted in an unfair or dangerous manner.
Other examples include sexist, racist and insensitive AI or algorithms. But in addition to these case studies, Wachter-Boettcher looks at how people can be more mindful in building tools and services, and how users can express concerns.
“I think that loud, massive outcry is actually a gift to a tech company,” Wachter-Boettcher told Entrepreneur. “It’s free feedback that may allow them to uncover a problem that they hadn’t anticipated, before it hurts people.”
‘A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug’ by Sarah Lacy
Sarah Lacy, founder and CEO of PandoMedia and Chairman Mom, has lived in Silicon Valley for nearly 20 years and seen a lot change, as prominent women executives have spoken up about balancing work and family. But there’s work left to be done, and mindsets yet to shift.
In A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman's Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy, Lacy talks about the stigmas working mothers face, as well as the unfair stereotypes that are thrust upon them.
Mothers in tech are not less capable than their male or childless counterparts -- quite the contrary, Lacy argues. She backs up her argument with anecdotes and data about the contributions working women make, and she contrasts it with stats about the disadvantages mothers face in seeking jobs and promotions and speaking about their families at work.
“I found after I had kids, I was better at everything,” Lacy said in an interview with Recode. "I was more confident, my voice as a writer was better, I could write quicker, I was more productive, I became more successful -- the exact opposite of what I was told would happen, happened!”
Throughout the book, Lacy encourages women themselves to revise their perceptions of what it means to be a working mom.
‘Women in Tech’ by Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack
Entrepreneur and cybersecurity researcher Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack covers a range of topics in Women in Tech: Take Your Career to the Next Level with Practical Advice and Inspiring Stories, providing actionable advice to women looking to enter the tech field or advance within it.
Like Wachter-Boettcher in Technically Wrong, much of Wheeler Van Vlack’s collected anecdotes and tips center around the biases that disadvantage women in tech and the ways in which women themselves can work against them to prevail in their careers. The book covers resume writing, interviewing, salary negotiations, contract work vs. salaried positions, mentorship, starting a business and more.
“We want to see women succeed in tech, and I certainly don’t believe we should burn the system down,” Wheeler Van Vlack wrote on a Kickstarter page to fund the book back in 2015. “I also don’t believe that there’s a vast conspiracy to keep women out of tech.”
She compiles stories from various successful women in tech -- Brianna Wu, Keren Elazari, Miah Johnson, Kamilah Taylor and more -- discussing how they overcame obstacles. These women contributed to the book, so they’re co-authors rather than interview subjects.
‘Girl Code’ by Cara Alwill Leyba
Alwill Leyba’s Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur, is all about women supporting themselves and supporting each other.
Despite competition for jobs and funding, women can achieve more when they truly help each other succeed, she argues. Part of this, she writes, is letting other women see your vulnerabilities, rather than trying to maintain a perfect image. It builds empathy and lets other women see success as something that is attainable when they discuss mistakes and trepidations with one another.
In addition to speaking candidly about their own struggles in life and work, women can also share information with one another, introduce one another to promising connections, opportunities and more.
Whether women have salaried jobs in tech, run businesses of their own or hustle across a range of gigs, Alwill Leyba aims to help women boost their own confidence and that of others, find intrinsic motivation and understand the mutual power of connections and cooperation among women.
Companies such as Kate Spade and Macy’s have invited Alwill Leyba to speak with their teams about her ideas behind “the Code.”
‘Hidden Figures’ by Margot Lee Shetterly
Conversations about the dearth of women in tech often overlook the women whose contributions to the field have shaped the lives of millions.
In Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, Shetterly details the work of three black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA -- Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan. The calculations they performed were crucial to several space missions, including John Glenn’s Earth orbit. Johnson calculated rocket trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo missions.
These women overcame both gender and racial discrimination in the mid-20th century, at a time when Jim Crow laws were still on the books and women who worked in science and technology professions were positioned in the background -- more intentionally than they are today. The three women whose stories are chronicled in Hidden Figures were called “human computers” because of their anonymity.
Shetterly’s book gives long overdue credit to these three women who were integral in some of humankind’s greatest feats. Telling their story paves the way for women today to pursue careers in STEM fields. Hidden Figures was adapted into the 2016 film of the same title.
‘(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love’ by Brooke Erin Duffy
Duffy’s book dives into the rapidly emerging social media influencer economy and how it underpays hardworking women who pursue this line of work.
In (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, Duffy discusses how aspiring bloggers and influencers on Instagram, YouTube and other online platforms get taken advantage of, shilling for brands without fair compensation. She explains the dynamics at play that allow this unfair treatment, through interviews and additional reporting, and she provides a glimpse into lifestyles that may look fabulous in photos but are anything but behind the scenes. It’s hard work to frame the perfect photo, but many influencers feel pressured to make it all seem effortless.
Duffy refutes the idea that anyone can make a living doing what they love online -- whether they’re a food or fashion influencer or any other kind of gig worker. Women, especially, get exploited as the line blurs between hobby and career, she explains.