Working remotely causing increase in racial harassment, tech survey finds

Anti-harassment advocate Ellen Pao behind a report that finds working from home has increased issues

According to a new survey, the tech field – which is often criticized for being predominantly white – has seen an uptick in problematic behavior towards women and people of color during the pandemic.

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Between May of 2020 and February of 2021, Project Include – a nonprofit founded by Ellen Pao that advocates for diversity in Silicon Valley – surveyed nearly 3,000 people around the country and found some disturbing trends.

Overall participants reported an increase in harassment based on age, gender, race, and ethnicity despite working remotely from their colleagues during the quarantine. Not surprisingly, those most affected by this growing tension were transgender and nonbinary people, Asian, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and women.

A report says female tech professionals and those of color have been harassed even while working from home (Adobe stock photo)

According to NPR, “more than 1 in 4 respondents said they experienced more gender-based harassment. That figure increased, when race and gender identity were accounted for, to 39% of Asian woman and nonbinary people; 38% of Latinx woman and nonbinary people; and 42% of transgender people.”

In 2012 Pao sued her then-employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, over gender discrimination. Even though she lost that lawsuit, it was the impetus she needed to become an advocate for more diversity in the boy’s club that is the tech world.

The tech investor said she was prompted to run this particular survey after she began to hear rumblings at the beginning of the pandemic about how people were taking out their frustrations on minority colleagues even while everyone was working from home.

“There’s the assumption that once everybody went separately and you were protected in your own home, that you wouldn’t see the same level of harassment,” she said. “It turned out that actually wasn’t the case.”

For clarity, the survey defined “harassment” to include any hostile behaviors such as yelling, requests for dates or sex, and micro-aggressions like asking invasive or repeated questions about someone’s identity or appearance.

Even in instances where the behavior was less abusive than harassment and may not have broken company rules, those surveyed also called out an increase in overall hostility from their white counterparts that created a harmful ecosystem.

Pao believes her findings suggest that some of the harassment and hostility could be a symptom of frustrations spawned from employees working longer hours, and the overall trend of people in quarantine blurring the lines between work and home life. To her point, nearly two-thirds of participants confirmed that they were working longer hours.

“There’s more one-on-one interaction when you’re not in the office,” Pao said. “People are seeing more harassment on chat and on email and on video conferencing.”

Women of color were found to be those most affected by this behavior, including 45% of women who identified as African, African American or Black and 30% of women who described themselves as Asian or Asian American.

Given these factors, Pao was not surprised to discover that 85% of people surveyed said they were more anxious. She also notes that this is alarming given that so many major tech companies have announced that they plan to continue allowing people to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

“It’s time for companies to address all of the harms that are caused by bias, by racism, by sexism, by transphobia,” Pao said.

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“How do we actually get to the root of these problems?” she inquired, adding, “It’s not by giving people a wellness app.”

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