E20 -

Ashkhen Kazaryan explains the tech world gender disparity which is most evident by the lack of women in executive‐​level positions at Google & Apple.

Paul Matzko
Tech & Innovation Editor

Matthew Feeney is the director of Cato’s Project on Emerging Technologies, where he works on issues concerning the intersection of new technologies and civil liberties. . Before coming to Cato, Matthew worked at Reason magazine as assistant editor of Rea​son​.com. He has also worked at The American Conservative, the Liberal Democrats, and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Matthew is a dual British/​American citizen and received both his B.A and M.A in philosophy from the University of Reading in England.

The presence of a gender gap in the tech industry is indisputable, but the causes and solutions for the gap are still up for debate. Ashkhen Kazaryan from TechFreedom joins Paul and Matthew to discuss several theories for the origins of the gap, ranging from overt discrimination to the insidious unintended consequences of the invention of the nerd archetype in the 1980s. Ashkhen compares her experience of discrimination in the tech policy world, which has relative gender parity, with the problems in the tech sector, which does not. Finally, the three talk about steps that can be taken to close the gender gap.

Is the gender gap the cause of sexual discrimination, or is sexual discrimination the cause of the gender gap? When did gender disparity become apparent in the tech world? How can women finally be heard in the tech world? Why are women clustered in non‐​executive and non‐​engineering staff positions at big tech giants like Google & Facebook? How should we encourage more young girls to enter the tech industry?

Further Reading:

Emerging Tech, Free Thoughts Podcast

The Psychology of Freedom: How Sexist Language Harms Women, written by Sharon Presley

Two Faces of Sexism: Exclusion and Exploitation, written by Sarah Skwire



00:05 Paul Matzko: Welcome to Building Tomorrow, a show about the ways tech and innovation are making the world a happier, healthier and more prosperous place. But today we’re going to discuss something rather less bullish. One broad problem in the tech sector that has far reaching significance is the gender gap, the fact that fewer women than men, are employed in tech companies, they receive lower pay for comparable work and they are more likely to endure sexual harassment in the workplace. But before we get into it, let me introduce our round table hosts. As always, I’m Paul Matzko, and I’m joined by Cato’s Director of Emerging Technology, Matthew Feeney. We are talking today with a special guest, Ashken Kazaryan, who is the Director of Civil Liberties at TechFreedom. Welcome to the show, Ashken.

00:49 Ashken Kazaryan: Paul, thank you for having me.

00:51 Paul Matzko: To start, let’s… Ashken, I wanted to ask you about how you ended up here in DC. You have a background in law. I think I saw that you went to Moscow State University for a law degree, then you got a Masters from Yale. You did a lot of research into law in the Art World. So how do you go from that in Russia, to Yale, to DC, to Tech?

01:13 Ashken Kazaryan: Well, it’s more linear than you would think, but it’s also a little bit all over the place. So I think you should start by saying that I started my undergrad when I was 15. And everywhere in the world, aside from America basically, you can get your law degree as your undergraduate degree. So I started law at 15. It was a five‐​year program and I just kind of experimented with every single possible area of law, going from human rights, to corporate law, to civil procedure, to intellectual property. And by the time I graduated, I had an idea that I wanted to continue studying law. That was one of the things that I wanted. And so, I started PhD, which is the one on Art Markets.

01:52 Paul Matzko: Cool.

01:53 Ashken Kazaryan: Which is the… All the expertise I have on that issue is just research into how countries actually regulate their Art Markets and do they let art in, do they let art out? What about art that was still in during wars? What about artist rights? All of these questions in the upcoming PhD thesis that is still TBD. Hopefully, 2019, coming into your TV boxes.

02:20 Paul Matzko: We will find some way to make that tech related, and have you back on the show to talk about it.

02:24 Ashken Kazaryan: Oh, absolutely. You know, what about high‐​tech art?

02:27 Paul Matzko: Yeah.

02:28 Ashken Kazaryan: Something like that.

02:28 Paul Matzko: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

02:29 Ashken Kazaryan: So that was one part of my legal career. The other part was, as I was in law school, Russia was going through a lot of changes. We had Vladimir Putin, our President and our Head of Government Dmitri Medvedev kind of switched roles and one became Prime Minister, the other one became President and then suddenly Prime Minister was more important than the President. And we’ve had a lot of laws adopted that were both taking parts of our free speech away, and also implementing surveillance mechanism, a surveillance state that was even broader than we had imagined and knew from the Soviet times. That was a very formative time for me. And I… Going into law school, I knew I wanted to work for public interest. I didn’t see myself in a law firm, I didn’t see myself in a corporation. This helped me identify the areas that I was interested in. So, having that all kind of in my head, but not having an outlet in Russia, because they’re very few NGOs left because of the way we regulate NGOs. I did some volunteer work for this Glasnost Defense Foundation, which is one of the oldest NGOs from Soviet times that protects journalist rights.

03:45 Ashken Kazaryan: And we would get calls from journalists in Siberia or all around the country saying, “I think I’m being followed,” “I think something’s gonna happen to me,” or “I’m being tapped. My phone is being tapped.” And there were all of these awful, horrible things that I saw and there was no way of fighting them, I guess. At that point, at least, I didn’t see them. At the same time, came an opportunity and an idea of studying abroad with full intention of returning. And so I did a Fox fellowship at the Yale University, which was, I would say, my first year at the Yale Law School. And as I was there, the war in Ukraine happened. And I think that really sealed for me understanding that Russia’s not getting better and there is no way for me to be safe and for my family to be safe, if I wanna continue doing the work I was doing. And after that, I decided, “Okay, I’m gonna get a Masters of Law from the Law School. That will help me establish myself more in the Western world, having a degree from this amazing school.”

04:47 Ashken Kazaryan: And it was also the school that gave me an opportunity to dig into the policy and not care about the actual legal texts as much, which was great. So we were talking about economics and sociology and ethics. I think more than we actually talked about laws in that air. And yeah, that was my experience. I graduated in 2016, and I knew I wanted to do free speech online. I knew I wanted to do surveillance reform and searching for jobs, found a job application online, which was TechFreedom. Applied, got it, moved to DC, have been in that job ever since. Moved on from a Legal Fellow to now kind of heading all of our Civil Liberties projects, which just means that I do way more work.


05:33 Ashken Kazaryan: And I’m enjoying it a lot. I think moving to DC in 2016 was definitely an experience I’ll be telling my grandchildren about.

05:41 Matthew Feeney: Yeah. So, for people who don’t know, what is TechFreedom?

05:45 Ashken Kazaryan: TechFreedom is a non‐​partisan think tank, here in Washington DC, that does tech policy, and that includes telecom policy, and that includes regulation of the internet in general, it includes free speech regulation online, and also all of our Civil Liberties projects that are, encryption in cybersecurity, and surveillance reform, all of those areas. Also AI and what’s coming up next in that, we dab into sharing economy and all of the issues that surround innovation and technology in our always changing world. And I would say that our work kind of has two paths. One path is legal, with all amicus briefs, with agencies arguing our position and trying to move a bull forward in that and then there’s a policy work, which is way less fast rewarding in a way, because you go and you try to educate policy makers, you go to staffers you go to same agencies, and just talk to them about policies. You write op‐​eds, you create content like podcasts. We have a Tech Policy Podcast. Please subscribe. I’m gonna do that plug in right now.

06:53 Paul Matzko: We’ll put a… We’ll put a link in the notes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

06:54 Ashken Kazaryan: Thank you. And so, we kind of just try to educate the public about what’s going on right now in tech policy, and also what’s coming up down the pipeline.

07:04 Matthew Feeney: And in this career that you’ve had, when would you say you first became aware of gender disparity in the tech sect or even the DC policy world?

07:14 Ashken Kazaryan: I’m gonna limit this to United States, because obviously, we can talk about this more globally. Day one would be a good example. And I was definitely the only lawyer woman in my organization, that actually compared to other places that I’ve seen in DC, employs a lot of minorities and we do hire women, but I was the only female lawyer at that point, and that was very interesting because I came from this little secluded Yale Law School world where, honestly, everyone was very aware of social dynamics and very interested in them. So day one, you kind of walk into a room and I’m not gonna name a staff or who I was meeting with, but he assumed I was the secretary, and then my boss said, “Oh no, no, this is Ash, she’s one of our lawyers, she just came to us from Yale Law School.” And this man became a little red, felt bad. But this is just a normal kind of dynamic, part of a social dynamic, that I think most of the women encounter, no matter what field they are in. If you’re young, there’s an assumption that you are in a lower position.

08:34 Ashken Kazaryan: If you’re attractive there is an assumption that, I don’t know… There are a lot of assumptions and obviously, I wanna premise this by saying I’m not an expert in this area that is more kind of a intersection between feminism and ethics, and just sociology. I’m a lawyer. But I was articles editor for lot of feminism journals, so I read a lot of… A lot of literature about this, and then I experienced the tech world myself, so I think I’m gonna speak from my own experience and the knowledge that I have.

09:11 Paul Matzko: Yeah. Well, you’re in good company here, on Building Tomorrow, we are rarely experts about the things we speak of. [chuckle] Sometimes, but, you know, speak for yourself.


09:22 Paul Matzko: I mean, by training I’m a historian. So what I know about tech policy is what I learned on the job, so… So I think that situation where you go into a space that is dominated by men, and then there are… Like, I mean, in that particular case, it’s not intentional, it’s not sexual harassment, it’s not… There’s not mal intent behind it. Yet, at the end of the day, it still can leave female workers entering a male‐​dominated space, uncomfortable. Like it’s an awkward social situation. I mean, so even in the least harmful or least overt cases, it’s still a barrier to integration into the workplace, it’s still… Something has to be overcome. I think that’s worth reminding. I mean, a lot of the statistics will focus on what percentage of women in tech sectors have experienced sexual harassment directly and that’s a very bad thing, but even if someone hasn’t experienced sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean they haven’t had problems because of the gender disparity in the workforce.

10:30 Ashken Kazaryan: Yes, and I think that is important to make a distinction between tech policy in policy world and the tech sector that we’re gonna talk about. So the tech policy world that obviously I’m… And you guys are a part of, in DC, is a bigger part of the policy world and the number of women that are in it is different from the number of women that are in the tech world, per se. Partially, we have more women in policy and if you talk about tech policy, I think there are fewer, just Mathew probably knows from all the coalition meetings and conferences that we have, that we are still aware that there are less women. When you put together a panel you always think about, “Okay, I gotta make sure this is not four white dudes talking to each other.”

11:16 Paul Matzko: Yeah, right.

11:16 Matthew Feeney: Yeah, yeah.

11:16 Ashken Kazaryan: Because that’s very easy to do. But there’s an amazing network of women that exist in DC, and it’s a very open and welcoming network. It’s not on paper, it’s just kind of out there. But when I meet young students, and I meet women who are interested in this policy, and they ask me, “Oh, how do I get into this particular kind of sub‐​field, or how do I get an internship at this place?” There is always someone I can refer them to and there’s always knowledge that I can give them about my experience that will help them. And so I think it’s kind of growing and it’s getting better. But we also have to keep in mind that it’s important for us to be aware of it, because when you shape policy, you need the minority voices. And we’re, right now, just talking about women, let’s talk about minority women. That’s a whole different sub‐​category that experiences multiple different structures that are oppressing on them. So we have to be aware of that because those voices need to be in the room when policy decisions are made.

12:23 Matthew Feeney: What do you think about the area that I know you were quite a bit in, and I do too, the surveillance in particular? Just thinking about my Twitter feed, and I would say that some of the go‐​to people in that field are women, for sure.

12:40 Ashken Kazaryan: Oh, absolutely.

12:41 Matthew Feeney: And like Fourth Amendment lawyers, professors, that some of the best people out there are women. And I think what you just touched on is really important because it’s worth reminding ourselves, that when we’re talking about surveillance and minority groups, of course, minorities in virtue of being minorities, tend to be on the receiving end of it and have a unique perspective that a white straight man might not have the same [chuckle] position to talk about that sort of stuff, but maybe we should shift to… So, there’s tech policy, which is what we do here in DC.

13:13 Ashken Kazaryan: And there’s tech law, which has more women.

13:15 Matthew Feeney: And there’s Tech Law, yeah.

13:16 Ashken Kazaryan: And so Fourth Amendment lawyers, we should talk about. Yeah, actually the legal field has pretty much an even number of men and women as of right now, I would say.

13:25 Paul Matzko: If you look at law school graduates it’s social parity.

13:28 Ashken Kazaryan: Yes, absolutely. So we’re doing all right in there.

13:30 Paul Matzko: Yeah, there are still are issues with pay discrepancies but just the over disparity with number of employees and rank of employees is much less severe in law versus… The numbers I saw for the tech sector, not tech policy, was women composed about a third of the workforce at the major tech giants? Think your Microsofts or Facebooks or Googles. But even that somewhat obscures the real situation, which is when you look at the employment patterns, it tends to be support staff where female employees at those tech giants are clustered, human resources and the like, and not in the engineering and direct engagement in creating tech sector. So the discrepancy between that and other fields that require lots of education, lots of expertise and skill is quite striking, where we’ve essentially reached parity that there is this one study that was done, the striking divide, even within STEM fields.

14:36 Paul Matzko: So this isn’t even just a… You can’t extrapolate across all of science and engineering and math, so obviously going back half a century, women are excluded from the workforce, cultural forces of patriarchy and women need to stay in the domestic sphere, so there is a low female labor workforce participation rate in the mid 20th century. That number starts to rise and in a lot of sectors, including in medicine, including in other areas of academic science, it’s near parity. The number of female undergraduates to male undergraduates approaches parity today, but that… You look at a trend chart, all these other fields, that’s going up, up, up, reaching near parity by the 90s.

15:24 Paul Matzko: Except for computer programming, which goes, tracks right along going up, up, up from the 20 percentile, it climbs and then it drops drastically in the 1980s. But only really for computer engineering. And in the 1980s, I don’t think people expect it. Obviously, they didn’t know about the digital revolution, the creation of Silicon Valley in its modern sense. Back then, it was all about building literal computers, personal computers, not about the digital side, the Internet side of that really. So to me that’s really instructive. Something was going on in computer programming, specifically with these kind of unforeseeable consequences when computer programming became kind of the key to the modern global economy, taking everyone by surprise 10, 20 years later.

16:17 Ashken Kazaryan: Absolutely, right now, I was actually talking to a professor just now who teaches economics at a very prestigious university, and she told me that a lot of the kids who used to go into the economics major, thinking that’s the most lucrative major because they wanted a business education, now go into Computer Science.

16:35 Paul Matzko: Oh, interesting. Yeah. ‘Cause you can get a six‐​figure paycheck, in theory straight out of school.

16:42 Ashken Kazaryan: Basically, straight out of school. Yeah. They don’t do graduate school anymore because they don’t need to. And I think it’s important that you touched upon the education part, because this starts at elementary school level. This starts at elementary and secondary education, where the way the science classes are constructed, the way the syllabus is constructed, the way the school and their just socio‐​economic ratio is. There are less classes for minorities, there are less classes for girls and there are organizations right now that are working to make that better. There are Girls Who Code, an amazing organization based in the Bay Area that make sure girls get not only training but books sometimes, and just syllabuses and outreach to know that there is math, out there.

17:33 Ashken Kazaryan: So that’s the number one step, ground zero of the issue. It’s also partially the social influences and biases, our society, and we’re talking about America and Europe, we’re not have even talking about countries that are still in a more developing stage that have different gender systems. Countries still think that women are the emotional part, the irrational versus emotional. We have a grandmaster Nigel Short, saying that women are just not hardwired to play chess, which I would argue is wrong, because I beat my dad, and he’s really good. [laughter] And he has some kind of a ranking. [chuckle]

18:16 Paul Matzko: I knew the reputation of Russia when it comes to chess. Yeah, right.

18:21 Ashken Kazaryan: Oh absolutely, yes. Yeah. But this goes back to Aristotle, I’m sure people at Cato would love that I just dropped name of Aristotle.


18:29 Paul Matzko: This is for you, Aaron.


18:31 Ashken Kazaryan: And it remains embedded in our social collective mind that women are the emotional ones, and when they should choose their major, they should choose their path, they should go into humanities. And this… I love my mother. But I remember, around eighth or ninth grade I said, “You know, I wanna become an astronomer.” And she said, “Well, there is only boys in that school, and they are all weird too. Do you really wanna do that?” That was the limit that she put on me. And obviously my mother is a law professor and has always been a feminist icon for me, but that question honestly, I think I was really bad at math, so this would have never happened just because I’m not wired that way. But that exists in everyone’s mind, not only, I’m not saying only bad people think women are not wired to do hard sciences. I myself think I’m not wired to do hard sciences, whereas probably, if I had a better math teacher or a special program that I could do after school, I’d be a software developer right now.

19:43 Matthew Feeney: Well, something that Paul dropped into the notes in preparation was a theory put forward by Alex Tabarrok, who’s an economist at George Mason, who… He had this interesting theory that I haven’t really unpacked, so I don’t have strong opinions on it, one way or the other. But, so correct me if this summary isn’t correct, but basically that actually women are better than men when it comes to, or just as good at STEM, if not slightly better, but that men aren’t as good at a wider field. That actually women out‐​perform men when it comes to a lot of the humanities. And that that might account for some of the disparity that we see, it’s not what like some people might say, which is, “Well, women aren’t wired for it, and men are.” It’s actually a very interesting other kind of thing going on, according to Tabarrok.

20:26 Paul Matzko: Yeah, his idea is that you get to that crucial stage in upper high school where you’re thinking about where you’re going to college and what you’re going to study, what’s your major gonna be? And when you look at actual scores in advanced placement classes, and so this is a very US context, but I think it applies more broadly. Women scores in AP Science, AP mathematics classes, any of the STEM fields are just as good as men’s in high school and yet fewer of them select STEM majors and especially computer programming majors in college than men and so the question is why… That makes no sense right? So, the disparity is not a function of anything inherent they are doing just as well, just as qualified. But what he notes in the piece which is quite fascinating is that women outperform men on other measures so they are out performing in humanities. Basically anything involving literacy and communication.

21:28 Paul Matzko: And so relative to their equal performance to men in STEM they are out‐​performing men in other fields, which pushes some and then I think you layer on… So they’re just… It’s not a function of male superiority in STEM it’s a function of male disability in everything that is not STEM, which I think is a really fascinating it turns that all on it’s head. But I think you layer on top of that the cultural forces, right? And it’s not malicious. Your mom was not trying to keep you from maximizing your dreams and what not but there is that kind of informal pressure there is this great planet money episode where they dig into this phenomenon, the drop and the number of women going into Computer Programming, Computer Science and they basically say it’s the self‐​fulfilling prophecy that in the early 80s we created a cultural narrative which was that programming and computers are for nerds the invention of the nerd really, in the late 70s and 80s.

22:27 Ashken Kazaryan: And nerd somehow is a gendered figure. It’s only a man.

22:31 Paul Matzko: We gendered it. Yeah, so we created the nerd, we made him, made it male and then we decided that that was actually weird and uncool, but someone to be pitied but also someone to be admired for their smarts but they were socially inept.

22:47 Ashken Kazaryan: Yeah and then the nerd becomes the hero if he makes enough money.

22:51 Paul Matzko: And if he acts and honestly just if you watch any of those movies like Revenge of the Nerds, or any of the 80s, they act like in a really rapey manner so if they make money and they trick a girl into sleeping with them, that’s like a core part of nerd movie culture in the ‘80s as well. So like…

23:08 Ashken Kazaryan: I wasnt I wasn’t born in the 80s, so I haven’t seen those movies, but they sound horrible.

23:13 Paul Matzko: Yeah, if you really want a blast from the past, Revenge of the Nerds is probably the first one to start with, but it is problematic now.

23:20 Matthew Feeney: So there’s that, but something that I’ve always found rather odd is, and you can admire Steve Jobs for a lot of things clearly an interesting, innovative thinker, but I think it is really regrettable that a lot of people seem to think that because he was successful, we should idolize that form of management, right? [chuckle] It is like very odd, and I think some people might say, “Well, in the long run, the nerds win, look at Bill Gates, and Steve jobs and Zuckerberg. Look at… They are doing really well.” But there are other parts of that culture that aren’t very healthy, right? And even today though, The Big Bang Theory which like a show I just hate, quote hate, ’cause it’s all about nerdy guys and just fulfilling these stereotypes that I thought had died a while ago. And of course there is the attractive dumb girl, who lives across the hall from these really smart guys.

24:10 Ashken Kazaryan: He hasn’t watched further than season one, because they introduced two nerdy women into the mix, but I’m sure…

24:15 Matthew Feeney: So I guess I cut off before, but… Well so there is the nerdy women that Sheldon… Or is it Sheldon who actually gets hooked with…

24:22 Ashken Kazaryan: There is two… So, Horowitz marries a nerdy biologist who also makes way more money than him.

24:28 Matthew Feeney: Excellent.

24:28 Ashken Kazaryan: And then Sheldon marries, this is a lot of spoilers guys. But honestly…

24:31 Paul Matzko: Spoiler alert.

24:32 Ashken Kazaryan: Big Bang Theory is on season 10, so get over yourself. So and then Sheldon marries Amy Farrah Fowler who is a, I wanna say brain biologist scientist who can intellectually keep up with him.

24:47 Matthew Feeney: Excellent. Well yeah, I stand corrected, I guess I opted out.

24:50 Ashken Kazaryan: But I see the stereotype, but I see the stereotype and I see that this actually kind of is a great segue into what we are gonna talk next, which is the workplace systems, and that tech is a boys club. It really isn’t… The thing is, if you look at the Silicon Valley culture and you hear from women who have worked there and have gotten out or are still there and the way it’s structured is the nerds are the top of the hill, they rule the show and they just, they were weird in college, right? Kind of obviously over exaggerating and putting a negative spin on it but they were anti‐​social and didn’t really get with women and now they are cool and they make money and they are in Silicon Valley, and they just go kind of approach women in an irrespectful way and they treat women in a way they shouldn’t.

25:49 Paul Matzko: Yeah, well they’ve been imbued with a sense of toxic masculinity that comes out of that sense of I mean and again, it’s a it’s a self‐​fulfilling prophecy you create a generation of people who are now you know they were kids, they were maybe born in the 70s they are kids in the ‘80s absorbing this idea of toxic masculinity, what it means to be a nerd, the need for revenge, to get back to show the world their stuff, and by now they’re in their 40s, they’re in their 40s. Basically, all of our tech leadership, whether it’s Elon Musk, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, even Mark Zuckerberg’s a little bit younger, born in the 80s, but there’s a whole generation who are inculcated in that mindset, who now are adults with power and money and they’re acting like they were kind of taught to act.

26:44 Matthew Feeney: Well, in 2018 though, it’s worth asking the question, asking Ash, taking a look at the Valley, do you think that enough people that view this as a problem? And then I guess supposed secondly, what are the kind of solutions that the industry has tried to roll out, if any?

27:01 Ashken Kazaryan: Alright, so let’s start by saying that I don’t think the Valley sees this as a problem, I think it’s a problem that has been set out loud, and there are people who are fighting really good fight of trying to bring it up to the front, but these companies still make money. And they still keep the employers that are there. So, unless an issue gets a huge publicity, nothing is gonna happen. And this is a little side track, but this is actually a San Francisco case, that I’ve just been very appalled by. It’s a professor that does… This is kind of innovation policy, so it applies, that does anti‐​vaping research and he has been accused of harassment by multiple graduate students.

27:50 Ashken Kazaryan: And you have a plethora of different things that he’s been accused of, from cutting student out of credit for of a research they’ve done, to discriminating them, to harassing them, to trying to basically assault them. And this professor, his name is David Glantz, he still gets government funding and he’s still in tenure because there are not enough, just not enough eyeballs on the issue. And so we had that one story go viral, with Uber employee who talked about her experiences and how… It was so bizarre. Basically, if your department did well, your supervisor would get everyone jackets, just kind of leather jackets that the bikers would get and was considered cool, but the only two women in the group wouldn’t get them because it wasn’t something girls would wear by the assumption of a supervisor. And that’s just the top of iceberg, obviously. She went through a lot of workplace discrimination, and I encourage everyone to read about this, and I think this was partially the cause of a CEO stepping down.

28:58 Ashken Kazaryan: But this is just localized incidents and there’s no framework to address this in Silicon Valley. Even if you look at startups and numbers, only 15% of the startups have at least a female co‐​lead or a female CEO. There are just not enough women and there are not enough voices that would make this a structure that can be applied. And answering your question about what can be done, awareness is the first one. People just talking about it, I think us talking about this is important because you guys obviously have a lot of listeners who maybe have heard pieces here and there, but don’t understand how awful and big the picture is. And talking about it, then talking about the ethics, talking about workplace training, talking about being aware. A lot of people get upset if they hear that we should hire more women because I think they’re taking jobs away from men, or that it’s kind of this weird affirmative action in workplace. But you can get better results. And it’s been shown that if you actually hire more women, your company gets better numbers, it gets better efficient, it gets just way ahead. So honestly, in the end, everyone wins.

30:20 Paul Matzko: Well, it turns out that most businesses are in the business of selling to the American public and American public is about half female, imagine that. So you’re gonna be better off if your workforce reflects going into producing the products that the public want, it’s gonna do a better job of that, if it reflects the public.

30:41 Ashken Kazaryan: Even if you look at companies that are led by women, most of them are more in the kind of area that’s still considered female sell shopping, dating, socializing, the companies that women are kind of putting forwards, and I think it’s amazing that they’re creating these companies and they are just fascinating role models. But they still kind of, in the tech world, they probably found funding in a niche, because the venture capitals were like, “Oh, she knows… She knows about dating. She knows about clothing. Yeah, she can figure that out. We can give her money, she seems smart, and she understands it.” So, that’s still a problem. And the few women that headed companies that didn’t do so well, I think they should be treated like men. So, I’m forgetting her name, but the one who kind of created this company that’s gonna analyze your blood without…

31:39 Matthew Feeney: Oh, yeah, what was… She was on the cover of every magazine.

31:42 Ashken Kazaryan: She was.

31:42 Matthew Feeney: I forget her name, though.

31:44 Paul Matzko: Elizabeth Holmes?

31:45 Ashken Kazaryan: Yes.

31:46 Matthew Feeney: Yeah.

31:46 Ashken Kazaryan: Elizabeth Holmes or…

31:47 Paul Matzko: Theranos.

31:49 Ashken Kazaryan: Well, we all know what happened when, Yahoo tried to bring in a female CEO and she just kind of ran around and gave few interviews, but they should have the same standards applied to them as men. I’m not saying, “Take it easy on them.” I’m just saying, “Give them a chance.”

32:04 Paul Matzko: Yeah. I mean, it… It’s actually interesting, you know, which companies… There’s almost these carve‐​outs where it’s like, “Okay, yes, we’ll let women run or be involved in these operations because we think of them as female spaces.” You can even see that when you look at the list of the tech companies with the highest percentage of female employees, it tends to be things like Pinterest, Pandora, eBay, whereas the ones with the fewest female employees are Microsoft, Google, right? So there’s almost a consumer versus back‐​end engineering folk difference and… Yeah, so, even where you see success, it’s still kind of falling into these preconceived notions of how gender affects what can be produced in technology. So it feels like we have a chicken or an egg problem, which is, on the one hand, so there is a gender gap and there is the problem of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in the workforce. And the question on my mind, I don’t have a satisfactory answer to this, is, “Is the gender gap the cause of sexual discrimination, or is sexual discrimination, the cause of the gender gap?” If that makes sense.

33:17 Paul Matzko: So, you enter into a space that’s dominated, that’s 80% male. They then allow a few token women in subservient roles, right? Like, at Tesla, and The New Yorker article you sent, or… They’re going to experience sexual discrimination almost as a matter of course, because men aren’t used to working with them, they say stupid stuff, they sexually harass them even. So, one argument would be that the sexual discrimination is a function of the gender gap. The other would be to say, “No. The gender gap is caused by sexual discrimination, making women feel unwelcome in the hostile work place, being more likely to drop out, thus perpetuating the gender gap.” So how do you grapple with which causes which with that relationship?

34:03 Ashken Kazaryan: I think the discrimination comes from within, right? It comes from our societal structure and the way men grow up and see how they can treat women and the way male‐​dominant workplaces operate. And so, that kind of I think is the cause of the gender gap because, well, who do you wanna hire? Do you wanna hire John, who was in a Lacrosse team, and he kind of can relate to your Lacrosse days and just…

34:33 Paul Matzko: Who was in your frat. Yeah.

34:35 Ashken Kazaryan: Yeah, you guys can go out and get drinks. Or, do you wanna hire Jane, who, well, has same, if not, better grades and kind of can do the same… Jane can be into football. So, for example, this is personal anecdote, but I watch a lot of American football. Unhealthy amount. I watch the NFL draft, I’m on a fantasy team, by the way, the only girl on my fantasy team, and I’m top three right now, I’m just saying. I’m definitely making playoffs and in a lot of settings when football comes up and I say something, I’m literally asked to name three players on the team, and I just go by naming the head coach and then the defensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator and saying, “Well you guys just drafted… Well, you just drafted Patrick Mahomes. What are you talking about?” And, “Oh, you really know football, you’re not faking it.”

35:29 Ashken Kazaryan: So, it’s that mindset, it’s that attitude towards women. And I don’t think we really dive into, because obviously we can do this like we can do a whole series on this, but the workplace discrimination is also… It’s not just the harassment which is awful, it’s not just passing women for promotion or not hiring them. By the way, there has been a lot of research in both tech and just in general where you would send resumes and they would be identical aside from the gender name… Like, gender name on top. And if it’s a John, he had a higher chance than if it was a Jane. I once was asked during an interview for a job if I’m planning to have children anytime soon, or getting married, which is illegal by the way.

36:12 Paul Matzko: Yeah, yeah it is.


36:13 Ashken Kazaryan: So, just putting this out there, it’s illegal, I didn’t have any energy to sue. But this is kind of just that top tip of the iceberg. And then we have boys going to get a drink after work and not inviting girls, or going to watch a game and not inviting the girls. And then making decisions that are concerning about… That concern the workflow, that some guy who was out with them gets a project, whereas you should’ve done that conversation in the office and heard different pitches, but no, instead you just kind of assign it to the guy sitting next to you. Or guys go on a smoke break. They are so many things that happen throughout just every workday that are just structured because of the discrimination that comes in decades and centuries and just thousands of years that we have built up, that we don’t even think about, that affect women. And so, I definitely think that creates a gender gap.

37:19 Paul Matzko: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, something else I put on the notes here, which is that it’s not… This truly is a global issue, because the tech sector is a global sector.

37:34 Ashken Kazaryan: And America is the leading country, for now.

37:38 Paul Matzko: Yeah. And you go to Silicon Valley and we import as much talent as we educate ourselves here in the United States. So one of the other factors that plays into this is that the US is a destination for global programmers. So STEM graduate students, I went to Penn State, the overall majority of our Computer Science graduate students were from Indian subcontinent or East Asia. So lots of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani… Overwhelmingly male. So you have a lot of men coming from countries with a history of even… In a sense, when it comes to gender in the workforce, they’re a century behind the US and the rest of the developing world.

38:24 Ashken Kazaryan: In some fields. Actually, if you look at India’s numbers, I think, in class right now for STEM in general and software too, particularly, they have an even number of men and women. The other thing, though, is who comes here? Who’s family… If the way those countries operate is, you spend your money on the boy, ’cause the boy’s gonna go and make something of himself and be the provider. You don’t usually invest in the girl. And same applies to people who employ. If you have a female software developer from India and a male one, you’re worried if the female one would get married and have children and want a maternity leave, even though it’s not really a thing in America.


39:07 Ashken Kazaryan: But you’re worried about just continuity of investing into a foreign employer, and going for a very painful, trust me, I’ve been through it, immigration process.

39:17 Paul Matzko: Not getting any easier either.

39:19 Ashken Kazaryan: Nope.

39:21 Matthew Feeney: No.


39:22 Paul Matzko: What was it the… It’s actually… We’re expecting, everyone in the tech sector is worried that essentially we’re… We’re not gonna see the effects of it for 20 or 30 years, but the number of foreign graduate students who are gonna come into STEM programs is… The number of Visa approvals is just plummeting, because the administration wants fewer of them. And you won’t see the ramifications now, there’ll be a lag, but that means fewer people starting startups in Silicon Valley. If you were…

39:48 Ashken Kazaryan: What’s fascinating, yeah, the number of foreigners and immigrants who start as startups is 50% or something, it’s insane.

40:00 Matthew Feeney: That was a moment, in the last Presidential election and the aftermath of it, I forget exactly when, but Steve Bannon, when he actually explicitly said something like, “No, I do worry about the Indian engineers coming here.” He said, “No, these are… We have to have an immigration system that takes into account all education levels, and I’m totally fine to exclude the post‐​graduate Indian students.” That was really chilling, and I thought, “Wow, that guys got an ideology, that’s for sure.”

40:31 Paul Matzko: Now, for the sake of time, can we talk a little bit about what should we do? You’ve touched on this some, Ash. Workshops, awareness, self‐​education. And I suppose there’s kind of two related questions here, which is, what can we do and what should we do to address this gender disparity going forward?

40:50 Ashken Kazaryan: All right, so as I said, it has to be a mindset shift. We have to, as an industry, and I’m talking about the policy and the tech industry, we should be partnering with educators in schools and universities to demonstrate what kind of projects exist for women to come into. And we also need to be aware of the gender structures that exist within our organizations and within the industry, and just navigate around them, because these women are gonna found our future and we need to encourage them to come into this world, because they have the opportunity to shape the future in many amazing ways that we can’t even imagine right now. So I think it has to be a very coordinated, not one big council. There are a lot of wonderful organizations, as I already mentioned, Girls Who Code, there are Girls in Tech, there are Women in Technology, there are DCFemTech. And those are just few that I can name at the top of my head that work in this, but they need more publicity, they need more funding, they need fresh blood.


42:00 Paul Matzko: Building Tomorrow is produced by Tess Terrible. If you enjoy our show, please rate, review, and subscribe to us on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. To learn about Building Tomorrow or to discover other great podcasts, visit us on the web at lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.