Sexual Harassment in the Tech Industry: What You Need to Know

Sexual harassment pervades every industry in California; the technology industry is no exception. Despite being an industry that is focused on progress and advanced thinking, the tech and IT fields have startlingly high sexual harassment rates. Women are the primary targets, although men also experience sexual harassment in this industry. Find out what to do if you’ve been sexually harassed in tech. 

Why the Tech Industry?

In California’s innovative economy, technology is an enormous work sector, currently employing around 1.88 million people within the state. California has led the nation as the state with the most jobs in the tech industry since 2010. Unfortunately, this sector is plagued with sexual harassment and discrimination.

Certain elements of the technology industry make it a breeding ground for sexual harassment, particularly against women. The tech industry is historically male, with females finding it difficult to break into the field. This means a predominantly male industry that is not always productive or safe for female professionals.

There are also power dynamics between investors and entrepreneurs that can lead to inappropriate sexual advances against the latter. According to one survey, 89 percent of investors at the top 72 tech firms in the country are male. This can make it difficult and even dangerous for female entrepreneurs in tech to forward their careers.

How Big Is the Problem?

A study by Elephant in the Valley found that 60 percent of the women in the tech industry they surveyed had experienced sexual harassment. One in three women stated that they feared for their personal safety because of work-related circumstances. The majority of the unwanted sexual advances (65 percent) came from a superior. 

The study also found that 39 percent of the women surveyed did not report the sexual harassment for fear of retaliation, such as it hurting their careers. Of the women who did come forward, 60 percent were unsatisfied with the course of action offered to them. Finally, 90 percent of the women surveyed witnessed sexist behavior at tech industry conferences and company offsites. 

What Are the Most Common Types of Sexual Harassment in Tech?

Although the study only surveyed women, sexual harassment against men in the tech industry is also prevalent. There are two main categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is this-for-that sexual harassment. It describes someone in a position of power offering to do something for the worker in exchange for sexual favors. 

An example is an investor offering to invest in a female startup tech company in exchange for sex. A harasser may also threaten adverse employment action if the victim does not comply, such as a male worker getting fired for refusing to go on a date with a female supervisor.

A hostile work environment is a workplace where a tech industry worker does not feel safe due to a persistent culture or atmosphere of harassment, discrimination, threats or derogatory remarks. To establish a sexual harassment claim based on a hostile work environment, the issue must be consistent over a period of time rather than an isolated event, unless the event is severe.

What to Do if You’ve Been Sexually Harassed in the Tech Industry

If you have experienced any form of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances in the tech industry in California, document the incident in as much detail as possible. Tell an authority at your place of employment right away, such as someone at the human resources department. Do not fear retaliation, as it is against the law for your employer to punish you for coming forward about harassment or discrimination. 

Next, consult with an attorney about your legal options. If the act of sexual harassment inflicted losses, such as lost wages, lost earning potential, the loss of your job, damage to your reputation, emotional distress, physical injuries, medical bills (including therapy), or legal fees, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against an individual or enterprise. Contact a sexual harassment attorney in Los Angeles today for a free, 100 percent confidential consultation about your legal options.