There are ping pong tables in the office, and nap rooms with meditative music and dim lighting adjoining the open floor plan. The same floor plan means employees can work in the garden or on the couch or not come into the office at all because it’s Silicon Valley and everything is online and don’t these people know – they’re changing the world?
Then on the weekends, there are sex parties.
In an explosive expose by author Emily Chang, published in Vanity Fair, the secret and sickening reality of the tech industry after dark is uncovered.
In her book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, Chang reveals an undercurrent of sexual exploitation and gender inequality in the hub that is California’s Silicon Valley – the Hollywood of the tech world, home to startups and monstrosities such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn.
The worst of it is seen at the parties.
Sometimes it’s a single night, other times it’s a destination weekend. Always, the invitations are exclusive and, though nothing is explicitly stated, there is a lot that is implied. For example, the invitations are usually sent via Snapchat because they are automatically deleted. Men can bring any number of women with them; women aren’t allowed plus-ones of the opposite sex. There’s an understanding among all guests that to accept the invitation, it means they’re willing to play ball.
First there is dinner, usually cooked by the hosts to eliminate the problem that is lingering waitstaff. For after dinner, begins the fun. Drugs are provided and the alcohol has been flowing since the first guest arrived. The drug of choice is ecstasy – or ‘Molly’ – because it lowers inhibitions; lasts for a couple of hours; and – this is imperative – the feeling of human touch and intimacy is intensified.
“You know when it’s that kind of party,” one male tech investor told Chang. “At normal tech parties, there are hardly any women. At these kinds of parties, there are tons of them.”
One of the many examples in Chang's piece depicts a party at the home of a wealthy venture capitalist in which pillows and faux fur had been pre-arranged on the floor. A place that would - after the drugs kicked in - fulfill its purpose as a comfy location for a "cuddle puddle". Where threesomes and foursomes would begin, before being taken somewhere slightly more private.
"It was so weird," one woman who was invited to this particular party told Chang, referring to the moment a founder asked to kiss her when his wife was right beside them both. "I’m like, 'Your wife is right there; is she okay with this?'"
He said she was. They kissed, but then the woman began to feel uncomfortable. "Won't people wonder?" she asked, before walking away. She said the same man followed her throughout the night. He wouldn't stop his pursuit because she'd come to play ball, hadn't she?
There is not necessarily anything nonconsensual about the parties - adults attend with the understanding of what will take place. However, men and women hold two very different views on why women attend - and this is where the inequality lies.
Men believe women attend these parties because they are 'on the hunt' and looking to 'hook' a wealthy tech founder into a legitimate relationship to reap the benefits of his wealth. Men even have a name for these women. They call them 'Founder Hounders'.
It's a typical excuse that enables powerful men to get away with behaviour that otherwise would be condemned. Chang heard from many women who had been flown to luxurious places and taken to extravagant dinners, meanwhile the man involved was dating a dozen other women and playing host to these parties.
These men have perfected the balancing act that is leading a woman on, and acting like the jock-he-never-was at the same time. This sense of entitlement - that women are out to 'get' them and what they have to offer - is misguided and fuelling a dangerous double standard in the industry.
Because the reality? The reality is much different.
Women, for the most part, aren't interested in the dinners or the wealth. They are afraid of being locked out of an industry in which men unequivocally have the power. Women account for only 17 per cent of startup founders, according to TechCrunch. And, on average women in tech are offered four per cent less than men in pay, according to a recent analysis conducted by industry recruiter Hired, as reported by Inc. And, in 63 per cent of situations, women receive lower offers than men for the same roles at the same company.
So women attend these parties - where, make no mistake, business is conducted - in order to stay in the game. Yet their options are limited: if they partake in sex exploration, they are slut-shamed. If they don't, they are snubbed by the powers-at-be and locked out.
"There is this undercurrent of a feeling like you’re prostituting yourself in order to get ahead because, let’s be real, if you’re dating someone powerful, it can open doors for you. And that’s what women who make the calculation to play the game want, but they don’t know all the risks associated with it," a female entrepreneur told Chang.
"If you do participate in these sex parties, don’t ever think about starting a company or having someone invest in you. Those doors get shut. But if you don’t participate, you’re shut out. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t."
LISTEN: Porn Star Madison Missina walks us through the etiquette and intricacies of group sex from start to finish. Post continues after audio.
It's a dangerous and tiresome system solely designed to benefit men. You see that in the practical: Men are not judged for attending or not. You see that in the physical, also: It's a male fantasy played out every time, in which women are with other women and any male-on-male action is unheard of.
All of this exploitation is excused with one myth and one lame, very lame, excuse.
The myth is the way men - because it is men hosting these parties - say the events are simply a reflection of the same ethos that made them successful in the first place.
They are pushing boundaries professionally, thus they refuse to play by the 'rules' of monogamy privately. The 'openness' and 'sense of fun' that provides the ping pong tables in the office simply extends to near-orgies on the weekend.
Then there is the excuse that these men - most of them tech nerds - were the people at school and university who were never popular and never had much success with women. Now, suddenly, they are surrounded by wealth and women and what are they doing? Simply getting their dues, of course.
Neither narrative does justice to the women caught in the middle of these scenarios. Neither narrative considers women, at all.
The whole shebang - the office, the parties, the sex and the socialising - is tilted in a way that excludes the needs and rights of women. There is nothing liberating, professionally or sexually, about this. It's simply the same old ugly story of the Wolf of Wall Street and Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, even.
The only difference? It's being played out in offices with nap rooms.
To read Emily Chang's Vanity Fair expose, click here.