Snapchat, sexism and the reason women don’t stay in tech


Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel is surely wishing some emails he sent in college could disappear as easily as photos on the messaging service he co-founded.

On Wednesday, technology site ValleyWag posted some very NSFW e-mails from Spiegel's undergraduate days as a Kappa Sigma fraternity brother at Stanford. In the profanity-laced messages, which date back to 2009 and 2010, he talks of getting "sororisluts" wasted, shooting lasers at "fat chicks," and being so drunk he peed on a girl in bed. He calls Julie Lythcott-Haims, then Stanford's associate vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising, "dean-julie-show-us-your-tits."

And that's only the half of it. (If you want to read about the house's stripper pole or how much weed, cocaine or jello shots these guys had at parties, the whole gross e-mail trove is available here.)

Spiegel — who is 23 — has issued a statement to media outlets apologizing for the messages. "I’m obviously mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic emails during my fraternity days were made public," it reads, according to Bloomberg."I have no excuse. I’m sorry I wrote them at the time and I was jerk to have written them. They in no way reflect who I am today or my views towards women."

A Snapchat spokeswoman confirmed the statement and said the company had nothing further to say about the messages at this time.

It's not yet clear whether the e-mails will become an actual reputation risk for the company or largely be excused as merely imbecilic blather from a frat kid. But what the emails won't do is help change the tech industry's increasing reputation as having a testosterone-fueled "bro" culture.

Earlier this week, the co-founder of online annotation Web site Rap Genius resigned after marking up Elliott Rodger's misogynistic manifesto with lines such as "MY GUESS: his sister is smokin hot." That followed the ouster of RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal, who was terminated in April after a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence.

Other episodes don't grab as many headlines, but still speak to how much a male-oriented culture is part of the tech world. Programmers brag to mainstream news outlets about parties with naked women in the hot tub. Bikini-clad women are part of start-up pitches. Sexist attitudes have been showcased on industry leading stages. Some tech firms' job interview questions are more likely to resonate with men.

Tech companies like to tout their efforts to fund engineering education programs for young women and to advocate for getting more women into high-tech careers. And some are holding themselves more publicly accountable to diversity, as Google did earlier this week when it announced that just 30 percent of its employees are female. 

But if they really want to change the numbers of women in the tech world, tech leaders are going to need to do a lot more than just try to get women into the field. They need to make sure they keep them. Saying sorry isn't going to cut it — whether it's for their hiring practices, the loutish behavior of their personal lives or their undergraduate selves. They're going to have to proactively work to eliminate the "brogrammer" culture. 

Read also:

Google admits it has a diversity problem

Nearly a third of science and tech leaders think women can't reach the top

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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Jena McGregor · May 30, 2014

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