Wednesday August 16, 2017

Why the anti-diversity Google 'manifesto' misses the point

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has fired employee James Damore for his memo 'perpetuating gender stereotypes.' But women in the tech world say his views are ubiquitous in the industry.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has fired employee James Damore for his memo 'perpetuating gender stereotypes.' But women in the tech world say his views are ubiquitous in the industry. (Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)

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It's been over a week since the so-called "Google "manifesto" went viral around the world and employee James Damore was fired by the big tech company for "perpetuating gender stereotypes."

In the internal memo, Damore writes that women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" and "more men may like coding because it requires systemizing." He asserts these biological differences between the sexes may explain why women are not equally represented in the tech industry.

If you are shaking your head, you are not alone.

As prominent Canadian lawyer Marie Henein put it in her Globe & Mail op-ed piece: "Is this seriously still happening?"

It is.

"There are many, many, many men in our field that hold these exact same views," asserts Brianna Wu, a software engineer and video game designer who heads a team of women. In her experience, she confirms Damore's argument is "simply just not true."

More to the point, many women argue that by focusing a lens on biological difference to justify a lack of diversity in the tech industry, it negates the real issue in the field: acknowledging and abolishing discrimination.

Irrelevant Show - The Google

A town hall scheduled for Aug. 3 meant to hear out Google employees after engineer James Damore was fired was cancelled because several people were concerned about being outed for speaking up. (Truth Leem/Reuters)

Wu, who is now running for Congress in Massachusetts, was a vicious target of online trolls in 2014 when GamerGate, an online movement, launched a harassment campaign against women in gaming.

She tells The Current's host Megan Williams that she received hundreds of extremely specific and credible death threats during that time and suggests GamerGate created a space for "anyone that's not a straight, white man ... to not feel welcome."

RelatedHow do you build a more diverse tech company? It starts at the top

"It really made people that have these views feel safe expressing them. And because law enforcement never went through and prosecuted any of these cases, it just really made it very mainstream."

Wu connects what's happening in the wake of Damore's Google memo as a continuation of GamerGate, "pushing back on women in tech." 

Dr. Joan Williams

A study by UC Hasting's Dr. Joan Williams found that 100 per cent of women interviewed who work in the STEM field reported gender bias. (UC Hastings, College of the Law San Francisco)

CEO of Vaya Consulting Nicole Sanchez has been working to improve diversity in the tech industry for many years. She adds that this unwelcoming environment creates a difficult landscape for women of colour to navigate.

"When you take into consideration the many axes on which we can be made to feel welcome … for women of color, the opportunites for people to mistreat us end up increasing because of your biases about gender or biases of race or ethnicity."

Sanchez points to the findings of a UC Hastings study by Dr. Joan Williams to emphasize how omnipresent these biases are in the tech industry for women of colour.

"What [Dr. Williams] found out by interviewing women of color in STEM fields is that 100 per cent of us ... face bias in our workplace — either by gender, either by race, or by both."

Other significant findings from this report include:

  • "Black women are more likely (77%) than other women (66%) to report having to prove themselves over and over again."
  • "The stereotype that Asians are good at science appears to help Asian-American women with students—but not with colleagues."
  • "Both Latinas and Black women report regularly being mistaken as janitors."

Questioning the science behind Damore's memo

Freelance science writer Megan Molteni explored the research in Damore's memo in an article for Wired. In it she writes: "The memo is a species of discourse peculiar to politically polarized times: cherry-picking scientific evidence to support a preexisting point of view. It's an exercise not in rational argument but in rhetorical point scoring. And a careful walk through the science proves it."

Molteni tells Williams using the biology argument absolves having to confront inherent discrimination.

"If you agree with the scientific conclusion that it's biologically determined, then you don't have to, as a male in the tech industry, ... change your behavior at all to accommodate for more diversity in the workplace."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Rachel Matlow and Julian Uzielli.