From the communes of the 1960s to the “bro culture” of Silicon Valley today (Lusoli & Turner, 2020), the dominance of white males has been perpetuated. The “bro culture” has been coded in the tech sector, pushing the monoculture of white male nerds (O’Hara & Hall, 2018) to dominance as technology keeps targeting to serve and provide value to white males. Nevertheless, the lack of diversity among women, tech companies, minorities, and female minorities has poisoned the innovation and harmonious online environment and brought unease and conflict to individuals and society.
The Internet is not an equal space
It’s no secret that discrimination against women in the tech industry is rampant. According to interviews conducted by Kieran Snyder, a former senior leader at Microsoft and Amazon, approximately 27% of the 716 women in technology positions at 654 companies reported experiencing overt or implicit discrimination (Marcus, 2015). The lack of gender diversity reduces the knowledge base within companies and allows homogenised information to spread on the Internet. Men and women have various experiences and ways of thinking, which contribute to new knowledge and provide the opportunity for new features on the Internet (Ritter-Hayashi et al., 2019). Therefore, the lack of female representation makes information within companies monotonous and weakens creativity.
The diversity of content providers (Picard & Pickard, 2017a) is crucial for the Internet. Imagine a website that tries to provide service and help for female, but the staff are all male. The vast number of male-dominated technology companies has led to the Internet being flooded with male perspectives and the functions that serve them, making Internet information uniformly masculine, undermining the beautiful vision of a pluralistic Internet with diverse values.
Why the presence of women in the Internet industry is so important？
The lack of female content providers also contributes to social prejudice. Society needs a wide range of sources and content in media and communication. The internet, as the primary source of information available to people today, shoulders a responsibility to adequately represent the voices and perspectives of female citizens. However, the unbridled male viewpoint on the internet has created a lack of empathy for women, triggered online user conflicts, and provoked a confrontational situation between men and women.
The lack of gender diversity is detrimental to acquire talent, resource equality, and women’s rights. According to Statista Research, three-quarters of female tech founders have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, and 11% have experienced stalking (2022). It illustrates that women’s potential in tech is limited by males, which leads talented women to leave the field. Digital technology appears to offer opportunities to leapfrog (Barr et al., 2012). For example, women can earn income through online platforms to increase employment opportunities. However, the decline in the number of women choosing to work on the internet results in a reduction in personal opportunities for female workers and erodes the culture of equal rights in society.
The following video shows the sexism women engineers experience in Silicon Valley:
Pride and prejudices in Algorithms
As algorithms become widespread, algorithms shape our perceptions and decisions, and the issue of algorithmic bias is coming to light. Gender bias embedded in search engines has led to a significant undervaluation of women. A study by Bing Photos found that women were more likely to appear when searched for warmth traits, whereas men often occur when searching for ability traits such as intelligence instead (Otterbacher et al., 2017, as cited in Fabris et al., 2020), intentionally or unintentionally assigning submissive, uneducated attributes to women. Similarly, University of Washington researchers found that women were significantly underrepresented in images when searching for CEOs on Google (Langston, 2015). These search results perpetuate stereotypes of women, objectify women, and undervalue them. It’s crystal clear that putting millions of users in a position of invisible bias is pernicious.
The political impact and economic influence of digital markets and tech giants
The digital marketplace and the monopoly of the tech giants also reflect the lack of diversity. As many public services have shifted online, online platforms have become marketplaces for online user trading. By capturing the market, the tech giants have gained access to a massive database of users. According to Edward Snowden’s revelations, the government is working with tech companies such as Google to collect digital activity records of users around the world (Noble, 2018). The government relies on the rich user data of the tech companies, while the tech companies gain support from the government, thus achieving a win-win.
Tech giants have obtained a monopoly on the internet. For instance, Google has 81% of the search engine market (Hendrickson & Galston, 2017, as cited in Popiel, 2018). The tech industry lobby to keep its hegemonic position (Popiel, 2018). This act puts commercial interests above the public interest and accelerates the commercialisation of the internet. Furthermore, the monopoly of the tech giants has swallowed up small, growing companies, giving users a poor online experience and hindering innovation in the internet industry. Today, technology companies have become highly political players, and the absence of minorities in technology companies has tipped the scales of the internet in favour of the white-led Western countries, accelerating the oppression of minorities by the majority.
The health of minorities is under threat
The lack of ethnic diversity is doubly harmful to the physical and mental health of ethnic minorities. There is far less research on ethnic minorities in online environments than the majority, leaving minorities feeling like outsiders and exacerbating racism. A study found that Black and Latino’s people were underrepresented in search engines and social media prostate cancer content by (Loeb et al., 2022). This lack of representation and information about racial diversity limits the pursuit of health knowledge by Blacks and Latinos, which in turn widens the racial health gap. At the same time, minorities might feel excluded and ignored by society. Has the Internet truly embraced racial diversity? Or is it just transforming it into another form and presenting it to the public?
Black girls in search engines
In many cases, the lack of diversity is intersectional and happens simultaneously. Female minorities are facing significant challenges. As Noble discusses, searching for black girls in Google yields pornographic results, even if the individual never searches for pornography in the search bar (2018). This trafficking of minority female bodies undermines individual rights and privacy and exposes the internet’s use of pornography for profit, thereby reducing public trust on the internet. This double attack on identity is disturbing. Ultimately, the misrepresentation of black girls hints at a crisis where the reality of prejudice is replicated in the technological sphere, reinforcing social divisions and ideological fragmentation.
The lack of diversity amplifies the negative impacts of the Internet towards individuals and society, which is detrimental to its development. There is an urgent need for more women and minority groups to be represented on the Internet, to increase gender and racial sensitivity in technical coding, and to change the male monopoly of the Internet industry. On the other hand, the technical and regulatory aspects of eliminating and preventing algorithmic discrimination in the field of artificial intelligence will contribute to the advancement of online gender and racial harmony. Overall, the absence of gender and race is problematic and toxic to the Internet, which needs further adjustment and improvement.
Barr, A., Dekker, M., & Fafchamps, M. (2012). Bridging the Gender Divide: An Experimental Analysis of Group Formation in African Villages. World Development, 40(10), 2063–2077. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.04.016
Fabris, A., Purpura, A., Silvello, G., & Susto, G. A. (2020). Gender stereotype reinforcement: Measuring the gender bias conveyed by ranking algorithms. Information Processing & Management, 57(6), 102377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ipm.2020.102377
Langston, J. (2015, April 9). Who’s a CEO? Google image results can shift gender biases. UW News. https://www.washington.edu/news/2015/04/09/whos-a-ceo-google-image-results-can-shift-gender-biases/
Loeb, S., Borno, H. T., Gomez, S., Ravenell, J., Myrie, A., Sanchez Nolasco, T., Byrne, N., Cole, R., Black, K., Stair, S., Macaluso, J. N., Walter, D., Siu, K., Samuels, C., Kazemi, A., Crocker, R., Sherman, R., Wilson, G., Griffith, D. M., & Langford, A. T. (2022). Representation in Online Prostate Cancer Content Lacks Racial and Ethnic Diversity: Implications for Black and Latinx Men. Journal of Urology, 207(3), 559–564. https://doi.org/10.1097/ju.0000000000002257
Lusoli, A., & Turner, F. (2020). “It’s an Ongoing Bromance”: Counterculture and Cyberculture in Silicon Valley—An Interview with Fred Turner. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(2), 105649262094107. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492620941075
Marcus, B. (2015, August 12). The Lack Of Diversity In Tech Is A Cultural Issue. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2015/08/12/the-lack-of-diversity-in-tech-is-a-cultural-issue/?sh=33b1ef8e79a2
Mundy, L. (2017, March 14). Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women? The Atlantic; The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/why-is-silicon-valley-so-awful-to-women/517788/
Noble, S. (2018). Searching for Black Girls. In Algorithms of Oppression (p. 15 – 63). NYU Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1pwt9w5.5
O’ Hara, K., & Hall, W. (2018). Four Internets: The Geopolitics of Digital Governance. CIGI No.206. https://www.cigionline.org/publications/four-internets-geopolitics-digital-governance/
Picard, R. G., & Pickard, V. (2017a). Essential Principles for Contemporary Media and
Communications Policymaking. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: University
Popiel, P. (2018). The Tech Lobby: Tracing the Contours of New Media Elite Lobbying Power. Communication, Culture and Critique, 11(4), 566–585. https://doi.org/10.1093/ccc/tcy027
Ritter-Hayashi, D., Vermeulen, P., & Knoben, J. (2019). Is this a man’s world? The effect of
gender diversity and gender equality on firm innovativeness. PloS One, 14(9), e0222443–
Statista Research Department. (2022, June 11). Founders: harassment experienced by gender 2020. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1218029/type-harassment-male-female-founders-global/
WIRED. (2017, July 7). Women Engineers On the Rampant Sexism of Silicon Valley. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyDbRaaXEvc