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Google has been in the news for controversial reasons of late, where an internal memo written by a (now-former) Google engineer went viral, with the contents stating the author’s personal opinion on Google’s current diversity initiatives, calling them discriminatory.
He stated that he strongly believes in gender and racial diversity, but that we should “stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” putting gender gaps down to “biological causes.” Google has since reportedly fired the author of the memo, who is “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.”
In the latest development, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Google’s subsidiary YouTube, has published a memo in Fortune, as a response to her daughter’s question: “Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?”
Wojcicki wrote: “Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question. I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings.
“I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.”
Referring to the leaked memo on diversity, Wojcicki admitted she “once again felt that pain, and empathised with the pain it must have caused others.”
She went on to cite the number ways that she thought about the question her daughter raised:
- “I thought about the women at Google who are now facing a very public discussion about their abilities, sparked by one of their own co-workers.”
- “I thought about the women throughout the tech field who are already dealing with the implicit biases that haunt our industry, now confronting them explicitly.”
- “I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields, how hard we’ve been working as an industry to reverse that trend, and how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science.”
- “And as my child asked me the question I’d long sought to overcome in my own life, I thought about how tragic it was that this unfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation.”
Specifically at Google, Wojcicki pointed out that the “company that has long supported free expression”, including employees’ right to publish or tweet their opinions. However, in her view: “… that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender.”
She went on to raise key questions: “… what if we replaced the word “women” in the memo with another group? What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author?”
“I thought about all of this, looked at my daughter and answered simply,” Wojcicki wrote. “No, it’s not true.”