Twitter Layoffs Spark the Latest Accusations of Sexism in Tech
Technology Policy Brief #76 | by: Mindy Spatt | December 23, 2022
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Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has sparked outrage, layoffs and lawsuits. But the news of a sex discrimination suit by laid off employees is no surprise; it is not the first for Musk or Twitter, and the tech industry is notorious for its unequal treatment of women.
The suit claims that women were unfairly targeted for layoffs, with 57% of its female workers getting the sack compared with 47% of male employees. Women engineers were particularly hard hit, with 635 losing their jobs compared with 485 of their male counterparts.
Cited in the complaint are sexist tweets by Musk’ including one in which he refers to a school using the acronym “TITS”.
It also cites his request for workers to either be in the office 24/7 or leave, alleging “Musk would certainly have known that these policy changes and expectations would have a disproportionate impact on women, who are more often caregivers for children and other family members, and thus not able to comply with such demands.”
Twitter is no stranger to high profile sex discrimination suits. In 2015 Tina Huang, who had been a software engineer at the company, filed a class action against Twitter for what she claimed was an “impenetrable glass ceiling” stopping females engineers like herself from being promoted.
Huang’s suit followed Ellen Pao’s against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, which drew widespread media attention. She not only alleged gender discrimination but also that she’d been retaliated against for complaining. Although she lost, she her case became a touchstone for the problems women were experiencing in the tech industry.
After the barrage of negative publicity these cases caused, many companies made noises about the need to change. But the discriminatory practices persisted, Including under Musk’s watch. In 2017 the New Yorker reported on a sex discrimination suit against Tesla; not just for failing to promote women but also complaining of a hostile work environment that included catcalling and other daily harassments.
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More recently, a 2020, a report on “The State of Women in Tech” found that in Silicon Valley men, on average, earned roughly 61% more than women ..and that less than 5% of leadership positions were held by women.
The problem isn’t limited to the US. An international survey by Web Summit Women in Tech found that in 2022 sexism remains pervasive in the industry. The majority of respondents, 78.5 per cent, were from Europe.
Approximately one half of women surveyed said they had experienced sexism in the last year, and 66.9 per cent believe they are paid unfairly as compared to their male counterparts,. A full 62.9 per cent feel pressure to choose between career and family and believe they have to work harder to prove themselves.
The technology industry has not just generated highly paid jobs, it has also generated enormous wealth, which has also gone almost exclusively to men. While tech executives have become the wealthiest people in human history only two women currently appear on Forbes’ list of tech’s 20 richest people. One is a widow of a male billionaire, the other an ex-wife of another.
The plaintiffs suing Twitter over the layoffs are seeking lost back pay and lost benefits, bonuses, and equity. They also asking for damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. And while Musk says Twitter is losing millions of dollars every day he can still easily afford to provide the plaintiffs with everything they are asking for. He remains the second wealthiest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $164 Billion.
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