Brotopia Summary and Review

by Emily Chang
  Has Brotopia by Emily Chang been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Over the past three decades, the tech industry has reached the forefront of the worldwide economy, with Silicon Valley considered the heart of innovation and of successful business ventures. The biggest tech companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, PayPal Facebook, and Uber are considered by many as most amazing places to work, mainly because they seem to promote a more progressive and fair work environment. But are these tech giants really progressive? The fact that they have far more male employees than female employees is undeniable. We can actually go as far as to say that predominantly male workplaces are the norm. And if we examine the work culture of each one of these companies, we realize that they have been tailored to service male employees and to encourage the “bro” mentality. This is not good news. Throughout this book summary, we’ll discuss how male-dominated workplaces can have negative consequences on society and business. From Emily Chang’s Brotopia book summary you’ll learn:
  • why antisocial men are so successful in the tech industry;
  • how many women held computer science degrees today compared to the 80s; and
  • how much money gets invested in companies that are male-led in comparison to the ones who are led by females.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #1: A lot of women used to be computer programmers up until the 1960s when a report changed everything.

What do you think a computer programmer typically looks like? You will probably think of a nerdy-looking man who is awkward in social situations but who is very good at maths. However, this is just a stereotype and it is in massive contrast to the typical programmer of the twentieth century. Because throughout the beginning of the twentieth century, computer programming was considered a clerical job, similar to operating a switchboard or typing, it was largely considered “women’s work”. In other words, the majority of computer programmers used to be women. It shouldn’t be surprising that the person who programmed the US Army’s first computer during WWII was a female. Or that Mark I, a computer found at Harvard University and that contributed to the creation of the atomic bombs of 1945 was programed by Grace Hopper, who had a Ph.D. in maths. Additionally, the 1962 successful orbit of the earth performed by astronaut John Glenn was made possible by three talented mathematicians from NASA. They were all female and none of them got any recognition for their merits. They were also the primary source of inspiration for Theodore Melfi’s 2016 film Hidden Figures. Then, in a Cosmopolitan magazine edition of 1967, an article titled “The Computer Girls” was published. The piece contained a very interesting interview with Grace Hopper, who said that programming is a lot like organizing a dinner party. She said that women were exceptional computer programmers thanks to their attention to detail and patience. But, in the 1960s something completely unexpected happened. A report was released claiming that programming was a job that was better suited for men. Unsurprisingly, the report was written by William Cannon and Dallis Perry, two male psychologists. Perry and Cannon were hired by a computer software company to write a report about the perfect computer programmer. Because they only interviewed 186 female programmers and more than 1,000 male programmers, Cannon and Perry concluded that one of the most vital features of computer programmers consisted of “not liking people”. According to them, because the ideal computer programmer was a combination of good maths and programming skills and introversion and anti-social behavior, companies should focus on hiring men. It is worth mentioning that men are three times more likely to suffer from antisocial personality disorder than women. Since the report was releasee, the industry was determined to hire more and more antisocial men. This is how male dominance has become the norm in this field and what led to the misconception that the best computer programmers are men.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #2: After the 1960s report men started to dominate the tech industry.

Commercialized computers started to enter the market in the 1980s and by that time, the male computer nerd stereotype had already been firmly established. But before we dig deeper into this, we should take a quick look at the first men who took over the computer industry. Two important things happened in the late 1960s: women programmers started to be replaced by men and the technology industry to gained a lot of traction. Around this time, the tech industry was expanding and computer programming was starting to be considered an intellectual job. As a product of the times, men were associated with the intellect and not the women. As we’ll see, as computer sciences grew in popularity, more boys started to become familiar with computers. Conveniently, as male college applicants became more interested in this topic, they also had more success in their admission tests than their female counterparts did. If we analyze the statistics, we can still see this dominance today. In the 1980s, around forty percent of computer science degrees were held by females and in 2011 this percentage had dropped to eighteen percent. This was because, as time passed, computer sciences became a boys thing and computers and other types of consoles were generally perceived as “boys’ toys.”S Despite this huge discrepancy between the numbers of female and male programmers, studied have found that high school children are equally good at computers regardless of their gender. But ever since Cannon and Perry had created their infamous report, computers became a guy thing and the industry became dominated by men. Parents, toy manufacturers, teachers, the media, and even the children themselves perpetuated Cannon and Perry’s stereotype. Because in the 1980s computers became commercialized and marketed as gifts for boys, and the great majority of video games targeted males, girls were completely left out. Furthermore, the nerd male stereotype started to dominate not just the tech industry but pop culture as well. A lot of films from that era such as Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science, and WarGames were all about nerdy boys who impressed attractive, but uninterested girls with their computer skills. Of the few women who managed to infiltrate into the tech industry, despite having to deal with discouragement from teachers, parents, and peers, not many succeeded. As a result, the number of women that were working in the industry was greatly affected by this bias. By 1995, twice more women than men were dropping out of computer-related courses. As you can see, the tech industry became a male-dominated state due to many external and internal reasons.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #3: Bro culture can seem progressive at first, but if you look closer, you’ll notice that it actually objectifies and marginalizes women.

The first stereotype that came from the tech industry was the nerd, and since then, many others followed. The rising popularity of the tech industry gave rise to the term “brogrammer”, which is a rather complimentary term – a combination of “bro” and “programmer.” This concept combined with the “work hard, play hard” philosophy made women feel extremely unwelcome at the workplace. A great example of bro culture is that a lot of business meetings and deals happen in places that are uninviting and uncomfortable for women. As crazy as it sounds, a lot of companies organize team-building events and meets in strip clubs and hot tubs. These paces make a lot of women feel uncomfortable and if they choose not to attend, they will most likely be left out. As a consequence of missing a meeting, a woman can also miss out on a raise, on an investment opportunity, and she might even end up losing her job. But on the other hand, by attending such a meeting she risks being sexually assaulted and losing credibility. If you have a hard time believing that strip clubs have become a regular meeting place for a lot of businesses, you can check Yelp. On the website, you’ll find that the Yelp team refers to a strip club called Gold Club as “Conference Room G”. Conveniently enough, the Gold Club is located in San Jose, California. The place has been associated with numerous sexual harassment allegations. One such case involves a former Uber software engineer by the name of Susan Fowler. The woman reported that her boss made indecent propositions to her on her first day of work - a claim that was dismissed by the HR and discarded as a simple misunderstanding. In 2017, when Susan Fowler discussed her experiences on a blog, the entire tech industry was found guilty of misconduct concerning mainly female employees. Susan Fowler’s experience draws special attention to the patriarchal structures that are currently controlling the tech industry. The contrast between how Silicon Valley presents itself and how it really is can be quite shocking. It might come as a surprise, but many people have reported that sex parties are a common occurrence in Silicon Valley. Because of the idea of a polyamorous culture that promotes free love is becoming mainstream, these parties are considered liberal and progressive. The only problem is, the only ones who see these events as beneficial are the men. The truth is that these parties exist only because males wish to assert their dominance and to fulfill their fantasies. Unfortunately, females who attend end up losing their credibility and hard-earned respect. This was confirmed by two different people. The first person to confirm is a woman who used to be a Google employee. She admits that once her colleagues found out that she had been to several sex parties, she immediately became a sexual target. Another person who confirms our theory is a male venture capitalist who admits that he would not hire women that he saw at sex parties.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #4: Women are often undervalued when they work in tech and their work/family balance is very difficult.

It is true that there are a few very prominent women who work in tech like YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer. Unfortunately, their success stories are regarded as lucky opportunities instead of hard work and fairness. However, when men succeed in tech, their success is always associated with their intellect and ability. Women’s quality of work is put under scrutiny and doubted much more often than men’s, which indicated that women are often considered less skillful than man. Furthermore, women’s coding is double-checked more often without good reason. A study that was focusing on GitHub, a community that hides the coder’s gender, showed that when the gender is hidden, the code that was written by women was approved much more often than the code written by men. Another example equally unjust is that venture capitalists prefer male-led companies to those that are led by females. Fortune magazine reported in 2016 that male-founded ventures received a total of $58 billion investment money, while female-founded ones received just $1.46 billion. Single men also have an advantage over married people in the tech industry, and mothers are the most underprivileged employee category. Even large corporations like Google often promote a workplace that combines work, leisure, and social life. In order for their employees to spend as much time at work as possible, the company provides haircuts, meals, exercise classes, and beer-filled fridges to their employees. Uber also promoted this by offering their employees dinner at  8:15 p.m. These workplace amenities and gratuities indicate that companies want their employees to spend more time at work, which can lead to them neglecting their families. It is obvious that parenthood is not something that companies care about and the unfair expectations can be terrible for a working mother. CEO of Naya, a breast pump company, Janica Alvarez is often asked by investors whether she can focus on her business and take care of her children at the same time. Her husband, who is also her business partner, was never asked such a question. Because the tech world has become exclusionary over the past sixty years, breaking into the industry is extremely difficult for women and so is progressing in their careers. Read the following chapter to learn more about the reasons behind the small numbers of female tech employees.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #5: Because people prefer to hire candidates that are similar to themselves, changing the status quo is extremely difficult.

Let’s get one thing clear: there is no conspiration in Silicon Valley that focuses on keeping women out of tech. There are, however, a lot of hiring practices that preserve men’s prioritization over women. First, despite purporting to be a meritocracy-based industry, Silicon Valley is not that. For instance, PayPal is a company that is very proud of hiring people based on their merits. However, in the early days of the company, the staff consisted of the founder’s close friends and acquaintances. Furthermore, the company still believes that individuals with conforming ideas and philosophies are the right choice. The problem is, if PayPal selects their employees based on their ideas and on their merits, chances are the staff will consist mainly of educated while males And this is exactly the kind of bias that needs to be addressed in Silicon Valley. That being said, once the status quo had been established it can be very difficult to change. If men represent the majority of staff, then they are extremely likely to call upon other men with similar world views when it comes to referring to another employee. In order to prevent this from happening, Jelle Emerson, a diversity advisor suggests that companies should instruct their Human Resources departments to keep diversity in mind before the company reaches 50 employees. Or, they can take Pinterest’s example and ask for potential employee referrals from those groups that are most underrepresented. If the work culture marginalizes certain groups, it will become increasingly harder for those groups to succeed in the industry. The rise of bro culture has become so poignant that Christa Quarles, current OpenTable CEO, had to go to a strip club during her job interview in order for to prove that she fits in with the company’s work culture. These events have a detrimental effect on potential employees, current employees, and consumers. If a new technology is only developed by white men, issues such as racism and misogyny will be completely ignored and their products will probably be ill-equipped. Take social media platforms for example. In 2014, journalists and female game developers started to speak out against the blatant sexism that we can see in video games. A lot of women received rape threats and death threats when sharing their opinions because there were not sufficient safeguards. This happened on Twitter, a company created by four men who also happen to be white.

BROTOPIA CHAPTER #6: Companies have a lot to gain from gender diversity.

It’s clear as day that women are not treated fairly in the tech industry, but Silicon Valley has no problem producing successful companies, so why would they change their culture? One reason for changing the company culture is that profit margins can be improved by inclusivity. The customer base grew exponentially when companies started working toward eliminating sexism. Ever since League of Legends, an online multiplayer game, started to focus towards suspending abusive and toxic gamers and providing them with detailed explanations as to why they were sanctioned, their number of unique monthly users saw a huge increase (from 67 million to 100 million). Additionally, between seventy and eighty percent of all consumer purchases are made by women, so targeting them would make a lot of sense. James Damore, a Google employee, complained that because women tend to empathize instead of systemizing, they are bad at programming. Damore’s logic is completely flawed: empathy is exactly what makes businesses appeal to customers, and it can be very useful when designing products and services. Empathy also gives companies valuable insights into what the customers want and need. Another reason why companies should strive to achieve gender equality in the workplace is that bigger earnings were reported by the great majority of diverse-leadership companies. An International Monetary Fund study that analyzed data from 2 million European companies found that companies that hired women in 40-60% of leadership roles had substantially better financial returns. The study also found that diverse workplace results in higher rates of critical thinking and creativity due to the different approaches and perspectives of their employees. Additionally, companies that have relatively equal numbers of females and males were less likely to go out of business because women are naturally less inclined to take risks. These claims are backed by Roger McNamee, a tech investor, who confirms that companies that are more gender-balanced are less likely to fail. Business leaders should take a moment and think about these things. When a certain demographic is considered the most successful, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other groups of people would be ineffective. Diversity will usually lead to more financial stability and success and tech companies should put in a lot more effort to become more considerate and welcoming towards women employees.


What’s the key message of Emily Chang’s book Brotopia: The tech industry that we know today is a male-dominated world that was shaped by society and history. Providing women and other minorities inclusion and fairness in the working field can be a difficult task, but it can also be very beneficial for companies, as diversity can bring financial stability.