“Girlfriends of Silicon Valley” producer insists “we don’t want to reinforce gender stereotypes”


This past weekend, just as my gender-based outrage muscles were starting to atrophy, post- Pao trial — a flyer showed up in my Twitter stream…

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Oh no. Oh no, no, no.

I sent an email to the address on the flyer, asking for more details on the project. On Monday morning, I received a reply from Jason Mitchell, the Creative Director of the Connected Set, the British production company behind it.

From the tone of his email — a triumph of the PR backpedaller’s art — it was clear Mitchell and his fellow producers had started to realise that their casting call had struck an epicly inappropriate tone re: women in Silicon Valley, and at a historically inappropriate moment.

“I’m afraid we are restricted by the broadcaster on giving statements to the press on this project,” Mitchell began, before proceeding with four paragraphs of exhaustive explanation.

And all I’d said was that I was interested to know more.

Continued Mitchell:

“You’ve come across a flier targeted at one section of the cast we’re looking for. We also have many successful female entrepreneurs involved, although we are not primarily focusing on work-life for this particular project.”


“I recognise it’s tough to communicate all our casting objectives in one flier and I also recognise that the tone of the language was quite breathless and wide eyed to appeal to the fun, light hearted side of those who work in tech, which is one aspect of the show.

“We recognise the important issues about the representation of women in Silicon Valley – we take it very seriously – and again I’d encourage you to watch our show next Monday.  We certainly don’t want to reinforce gender or other negative stereotypes with the show we’re casting. In fact by making a show for a broad audience we have the chance to show Silicon Valley is not exclusively for privileged, well educated, wealthy, white, middle class men.”

It should be noted that Mitchell, like me, is a privileged, educated, white, middle-class man.

Mitchell might not be wrong, though, when he says his flyer doesn’t tell the whole story of his show. Next Monday, The Connected Set debuts a reality show on Channel 4 in the UK called “How to Be a Young Billionaire,” following three young British tech entrepreneurs setting out for Silicon Valley, with high hopes and TV crews in tow. Two of those three entrepreneurs — Robyn Exton and Julia Onken — are women, another is Josh Buckley who seems to be behind some kind of struggling YC-backed gaming company and, according to Channel 4’s site, the fourth plucky wannabee is… uh… Michael Birch, who a few years back sold Bebo to AOL for $ 850 million dollars. Hopefully this show will be his big break.

Robyn Exton, the founder of lesbian dating app Her, continues to make her way in San Francisco after production of “How to Be a Young Billionaire” has wrapped. I spoke to her this afternoon by phone and asked her what she thought of the flyer, which she hadn’t seen. Her first response:

“Oh, god.”

“I never had any impression of disrespect towards women,” she said of The Connected Set. Her hunch is they are preparing something around the other female entrepreneur in the show — Julia Onken — who had a more outgoing social life. Still, she said, “there really is no good excuse for that flier.”

Regardless of whether the show is in good taste or bad, perhaps a better question is why it’s being considered at all. After all, the last time a TV company tried to make young tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley seems sexy and cool — Bravo’s “Silicon Valley” — the show was laughed off the screen.

Surely it’s time for a show that truly represents “how fun it can be for women living in the world’s biggest tech hub”?

Real plaintiffs of Silicon Valley,” anyone?