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Does TechCrunch Controversy Expose Tech Industry Sexism Problem?

Daily Ticker

After the presentation of a new app called “Titstare” became the Miley Cyrus moment of the TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 conference in San Francisco, articles and blog posts have been crowding the web. Almost all of them take this point of view: That's It - I'm Finished Defending Sexism In Tech.

The app in question is described by its creators as an “app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits,” and TechCrunch responded quickly with a policy change noting that future presentations will get a thorough screening and that sexism will not be allowed (It should be noted that another app in poor taste also made it to the stage at the conference).

So is this just an issue of an app that offends people, or is there a problem with sexism in technology? And is it impacting opportunities for women?

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The short answer is yes, to both, says Rachel Sklar -- cofounder of Change The Ratio and TheLi.st, two endeavors that aim to increase visibility and opportunity for women in tech and new media. She tells The Daily Ticker that she’s been working on addressing these types of gender issues over the past three years.

Then you have an example like Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer (disclosure, Yahoo is the parent company that oversees Yahoo Finance). She was quoted in a Vogue profile as being “blind to gender” in college and to this day. The article says when she was at Google (GOOG), “as employee number 20, she was often asked how it felt to be the only woman on engineering teams. She’d answer truthfully: She hadn’t noticed.”

We also reached out to Alexis Goldstein, a computer programmer and author of how-to books for web developers like this one. She used to work on Wall Street as a vice president in equity derivatives technology at Merrill Lynch (BAC) and Deutsche Bank (DB).

Here's what she told The Daily Ticker. “There exists in much of the tech startup scene the same juvenile attitude that exists in some hedge funds: that one's abilities or smarts makes one superior to others. And this translates into a feeling…that you can treat women, or anyone seen as an outsider, however you like, without consequence.”

(Interestingly, Goldstein says this culture does not exist on the surface anymore at corporate Wall Street firms for the most part, “due in large part to multiple sex discrimination lawsuits leading to strict HR policies.” She believes “the sexism is still there - it's just been forced underground.”)

When it comes to tech, while Sklar believes the “lion's share of the behavior, inclinations, and tendencies that calcify the status quo are not done by ‘mean evil bros,’” they result in what she considers an “institutional bias” in tech that makes it easier for male entrepreneurs.

She says there are plenty of women in tech, but she describes what you might call a boys’ club, where men dominate the upper echelons of media coverage and conference participation -- getting amplified in the echo chamber, getting access to the best funding opportunities, and so on.

Sklar's choice antidote? Working to "counteract a status quo that notices what men do more and what women do less" – and increase the visibility of superstars in tech that are female or otherwise marginalized.

And when it comes to a male view, check out the video above to see Henry Blodget’s reaction and the discussion it inspired for us at The Daily Ticker.

We reached out to some men in tech for this story, but either didn’t get a response or they didn’t have any comment. But if you’re a male in tech (or anyone else) feel free to email us your thoughts at thedailyticker@yahoo.com or leave a note in the comment section below.

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