Are families the elephant in the workplace?

susan johnson
Susan Johnson, founder of, with her two daughters.

What's it like to be a woman working in tech?

As a reporter covering the startups beat, I've talked to many, many women about their experiences.

One female founder told me about trying to determine whether an investor touching her breast was inappropriate -- or unintentional. Another founder felt the only way to take her personal life off the table was to come out as a lesbian.

A new survey of 200 women in tech -- dubbed the Elephant in the Valley -- is putting stats to individual stories like these.

Disturbingly -- yet unsurprisingly -- workplace harassment is very much alive and well: 60% of the 200 women surveyed said they've experienced it. Unconscious bias was also all too common for the women surveyed: 88% said they've been overlooked at meetings because of their gender.

But one finding that was particularly striking in the survey, released Monday, centered on family life.

Of those polled, 75% said they had been asked about their family, marital status and children during job interviews -- which is a legal gray area.

Moreover, 40% said they speak less about their family in order to be taken more seriously -- even doing things like keeping their desks free of family photos.

Related: CODEGIRL documentary takes on tech's gender gap

"I wasn't surprised by the study at all," said Susan Johnson, founder and CEO of

Johnson, 35, has two kids. She had the first while working at Facebook (FB) in Los Angeles. Her second child was born just before she was accepted into Y Combinator. Y Combinator requires participants to move to Mountain View for the three-month program. For most, it's a no-brainer.

"I knew I couldn't permanently move up," Johnson told CNNMoney. So she decided to quietly fly up to Mountain View on Mondays with her two girls in tow (a four-month-old and a three-year-old) and return home every weekend. She'd travel Southwest Airlines "with my breastfeeding shawl and a bunch of businessmen around me."

Johnson said it was a costly decision -- she estimates she spent $15,000 in flights and Airbnb lodging. Many of the other entrepreneurs in the program had "no idea I was a mom."

Many women, like Johnson, have made a decision not to talk about family at work for fear that they'll be judged differently.

During her time at Facebook (FB), Johnson said she was "hellbent" on never missing work due to morning sickness or doctor's appointments: "I knew the optics and how people viewed me."

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The Elephant in the Valley survey included raw, anonymous anecdotes from women. One was told that having a second child was a "career-limiting move." Another was asked in an interview if she would work as hard as the other partners, given "that you are a mom with a young child."

Silicon Valley leaders also play a role in removing the stigma associated with parenthood. Mark Zuckerberg took a two-month paternity leave, which many took as a positive signal to other parents. Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer's two-week maternity leave may have made some women feel like they need to cut theirs (and, in fact, 52% of the women polled shortened their maternity leave).

"It's an undercurrent," said Johnson, who added that she's never "volunteered" information about her marital status and children.

The conversation around gender bias reached a fever pitch last year when Ellen Pao sued Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for discrimination. That trial is what sparked the idea for the survey.

"What we realized is that while many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace," wrote the survey coauthors. "In an effort to correct the massive information disparity, we decided to get the data and the stories."

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