When Katherine Losse became a part of Facebook's Customer Support Team back in 2005, she was taken aback by the open discrimination on the basis of sex. In the new book, The Boy: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network Kings, Losse shares the impression she gained on her first day at work.
"Much of the graffiti in the room featured stylised women bursting from small tops that tapered down to tiny waists, mimicking the proportions of female videogame characters. It seemed juvenile but I wasn't very bothered-it seemed like the kind of thing that suburban boys from Harvard would think was urban and cool," she writes.
While he was showing Losse around the small office, an engineer disclosed, "We had to move the really graphic painting to the men's bathroom because someone complained."
As can be expected, the founder of Facebook features in some anecdotes. Losse says that Mark Zuckerberg not only had "I'm CEO, bitch" written on his business card, he also responded nonchalantly when a female employee complained about a co-worker who said, "I want to put my teeth in your ass."
Losse also mentions the direction given on Zuckerberg's birthday in 2006. "I received an email from his administrative assistant telling me that it would be my job that day, along with all the other women in the office, to wear a T-shirt with Mark's picture on it." The men, on the other hand, were told they would be wearing Adidas sandals all day. "The gender coding was clear: women were to declare allegiance to Mark, and men were to become Mark."
Giving an example of the immature behaviour of her male colleagues, Losse refers to a Las Vegas outing. "The boys" were at Caesar's Pure nightclub. But instead of chatting up and kissing girls, they rejected the women the bouncers had brought to their table. "'Leave! You're not pretty enough!' one of them seemed to say over the din of the club as he shooed the girls away in succession like so many servants."
Losse cites some of the effective steps taken by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg after the latter was apprised about two cases of sexual harassment.
"I didn't hear back immediately about any of the issues I had raised with her, until she stopped briefly by my desk one day a few months later and in the low, succinct office voice that she mastered, said, 'I just want you to know that the situations you told me about have both been handled.' I had heard nothing about it. 'You see, I'm so good that I make things happen and no one even knows about them,' she said with a smile. Sure enough, the manager who propositioned employees had been subtly demoted and the aggressive engineer moved to another team."
The fact that Losse's book is full of such revelations makes it an interesting read.