"What we're seeing right now [is] Armageddon," said Herman, on stage at the 8th annual Web Summit in Lisbon on Wednesday, referring explicitly to "downright sexual abuse and sexual harassment" in the workplace. Herman spoke in conversation with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving and the Guardian's Jane Martinson on a panel decisively called--with no question mark--"Tech Has a Diversity Problem." (Shradha Agarwal, co-founder of the troubled advertising startup Outcome Health, was also slated to speak, but canceled.)
Indeed, women hold only 25 percent of all computing jobs--despite holding 57 percent of all professional occupations, according to the most recent available data from the National Center for Women and Information Related Technology. Where minorities are concerned, the numbers are even worse: African-Americans account for only about 7 percent of tech jobs, while Hispanics account for about 8 percent, according to the Equal Employment Opportunty Commission. The way Herman sees it, sexual misconduct and discrimination is directly correlated to this lack of inclusion.
This past fall in particular has been something of a watershed moment for women in business, following a New York Times report revealing allegations of rape and sexual harassment against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since October, a total of 57 women have come forward accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct--leading to his ouster as CEO of the Weinstein Company from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The problem extends beyond the entertainment industry, however. Silicon Valley has for many years faced similar problems. Earlier this year, allegations of sexual harassment at ride-hailing giant Uber led to the exit of the company's co-founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick. Then in September, a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct at the alternative lending firm Social Finance Inc. led to the departure of its CEO, Mike Cagney.
One silver lining, according to the ACLU's Herman: These revelations have encouraged women across the world to come forward with their own experiences of discrimination, such as on social media with the hashtag #MeToo. She urges tech entrepreneurs to think of this time as a wakeup call. "You don't want to be sued or have a public relations disaster," she said. "You want to get out ahead of the problem."
How can executives tell if something might be going on? Unfortunately, she says, "everyone has to assume that if they're not part of the solution, they're part of the problem."