Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Kelly Dermody Speaks Out on Need for Behavioral Change in the Workplace

Kelly Dermody Speaks Out on Need for Behavioral Change in the Workplace

Lieff Cabraser partner Kelly M. Dermody recently spoke as a featured panelist at the 23rd Annual Women in Technology Summit in San Jose, California addressing gender discrimination in tech. The panel, titled “How To Be A Behavioral Change Agent In The Workplace,” discussed issues and strategies involved in working toward a culture of inclusion and diversity in the tech environment to ultimately shatter the “glass ceiling” that constrains women in the professional realm.

During the panel, Dermody highlighted the emotional weight and negative circumstances women face in a toxic work culture that plays to gender stereotypes. Gender discrimination, bullying, harassment, unfair treatment, and pay gaps are rampant in the technology sector, in spite of decades of progress by women as they seek equal status with men.

Dermody notes that “It’s not just men who are culturally coded about gender stereotypes. Women are also learning, from the time that they are on this planet, that it’s sometimes dangerous for women to speak out, for women to ask to be heard, that sometimes you can be victimized for asking to have equality.”

According to Dermody, many women go through this internal thought process at every micro-interaction, of whether they should even voice their opinion when they observe mistreatment or discrimination in the workplace. “It’s very, very difficult to speak up sometimes, far more difficult than we acknowledge. Which is why conversations like this are very important for how we figure out how to speak, when to speak, and how to support each other in speaking,” observed Dermody.

Dermody also spoke of the Kapor Center for Social Impact’s 2017 Tech Leavers Study, which analyzed why certain people voluntarily left their jobs in the tech industry. The study was conducted on 2,000 individuals who left tech jobs between 2013 and 2016. It found that two-thirds of these people would have stayed at their jobs if the work culture was different. According to the report, unfairness-based turnover within the tech industry results in a problem worth $16 billion annually. Unfair and toxic work environments drive mistreated employees out of the door. The study discovered that 78% of people experienced unfairness at their company, and 40% of these individuals left because of this unfair treatment.

“So people aren’t just leaving to get other jobs in other professions, they’re leaving because it’s crappy. People talk a lot about the pipeline, ‘Oh, we’ve got pipeline problems. We can’t find enough women and people of color.’ Well the pipeline’s awfully leaky. If we could plug the leaks by making the culture better, we could solve a lot of representation problems,” commented Dermody.

“These are people working to pay the rent, to support their families, to have a career, and they have to suffer through a toxic cesspool of sexist garbage. It’s not how it should be, it should not be acceptable, and it’s part of why these conversations are difficult because we all know that this is what’s going on, it’s not like these are isolated examples. These are examples that are rooted in a culture where ‘men will be men, boys will be boys, it’ll be playful, we’ll have fun, we’ll drink a lot, we’ll break things, we’ll break women’s hearts by being really gendered in the workplace.’ That’s what’s going on. We have to get to the root of why this culture is so toxic, and change it,” Dermody stated.

Many major Silicon Valley tech companies have come under scrutiny for what are viewed as cutthroat and inherently discriminatory company work cultures, along with various accusations of unprofessional and inappropriate workplace behavior. On Tuesday, Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive officer (CEO) of the ride-hailing service in the face of demands by the company’s board of directors. The San Francisco-based company has been facing widespread criticism and claims of employee mistreatment, as well as reports that many women in the tech industry now refuse to even consider working at Uber.

Watch the full Women in Tech Summit panel here.

About Women In Technology International

Founded by Carolyn Leighton in 1989 (formerly as The International Network of Women in Technology), Women In Technology International (WITI) seeks to help women advance by providing access, support and opportunities to other professional women working in the tech sector. The organization’s mission is to empower women worldwide to achieve “unimagined possibilities and transformations through technology, leadership and economic prosperity.”

About Kelly Dermody

The Chair of Lieff Cabraser’s employment practice group and Managing Partner of Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Kelly Dermody supervises many of the most significant and challenging employment lawsuits in our nation today, including the recently-filed gender discrimination case against Sandia National Labs and other cases challenging gender and race discrimination by top Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Fortune 100 firms; wage suppression claims against technology, healthcare, and academic institutions; overtime and lost pay lawsuits for low-wage workers, I/T professionals, and foreign nationals working for American corporations; and ERISA claims that she has tried on behalf of employees and retirees for pension plan abuses.