You can take Facebook out of the college dorm, but you apparently can't take the college dorm out of Facebook. So says a new tell-all book from a former Facebook employee, who claims misogyny was rife behind the scenes at the world's second-most-popular website, reports CNBC.
The book's release is aptly timed; just yesterday Facebook announced that its all-male and all-white board would be welcoming the company's second-in-command, Sheryl Sandberg, as its eighth member. But just because a woman is now one of the company's overlords, doesn't mean women aren't bashed in the lower ranks, at least according to Katherine Losse's "The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network."
Losse joined Facebook in 2005, just a year after Facebook had moved out of the Harvard dorms, to prove her stuff in the young customer service department. On her first day at the office she remembers a room of scruffy young men who "seemed startled -- if not displeased -- to see a strange new woman in the office," she writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The walls were covered with graffiti of women cartoonishly busty and tiny-waisted. "We had to move the really graphic painting to the men's bathroom because someone complained," an engineer allegedly told her, as if warning her to be a good sport.
She also remembers vividly a drunken night on a company retreat in Tahoe, where she donned a bear suit and someone snapped a photo with Zuckerberg "gesturing at me haughtily like an emperor." It was all in good fun, until she glanced at the photo on Facebook the next Monday, and sensed a strange subtext of you-will-submit-to-me-because-I-am-your-master.
In the early days, there were several other snags for Losse as a woman. There was the senior manager who propositioned female employees for threesomes. There was the engineer who dismissed female product managers. There were VIP parties in Las Vegas, where Facebook employees would have bouncers bring women to their table and then turn them away for not being hot enough. These were heady, testosterone-flushed times, when "engineers were told they could do whatever they wanted and a core company was value was to move fast and break things," Losse writes in The Huffington Post.
The focus on hotness is perhaps not so surprising for a company that began as FaceMash, a website for judging the relative attractiveness of female co-eds. Losse claims that FaceMash still existed at Facebook; employees would use a secret app called Judgebook to flash images of Facebook users for employees to rate.
The fratty culture of Facebook's beginnings isn't a secret. "It was difficult to break into the boys' club," the company's first female engineer, Ruchi Sanghvi, told The Huffington Post last year. Sanghvi said that she had to be more aggressive to get by, but as a result, "The impression that people had of me was that I was really harsh, hard-edged, brusque and to the point. All of that happened because I am a woman, and I was acting in that kind of environment."
Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter for "The Social Network," defended the "angry nerd misogyny" portrayed in his script as an accurate rendering of a "deeply misogynistic group of people" who are "very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback."
Losse left Facebook in 2010, after a stint as Zuckerberg's ghostwriter. So the current state of gender relations at the company could be much improved. Losse has kind words for Facebook COO Sandberg, who has made women in Silicon Valley something of her shtick.
Although Zuckerberg first introduced Sandberg to the team with a remark about how "she had really good skin," Sandberg had some fire burning behind the creamy complexion. She demoted the manager who propositioned employees. She moved the sexist engineer.
And now she joins Facebook's board, after criticism that a company that touts itself a model of progress, a world-mover, and whose users are majority female, should be governed by a body as diverse as the senate of ancient Rome.
"Sit at the table," Sandberg urged female Facebook employees, aware that the tech industry isn't always the most willing to free a seat for a woman. But they did, and she didn't pause to grab it.
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