Employer Branding

Google’s Leaked Memo and Diversity in Tech

Women coder’s took us to the moon, helped fight wars, contributed in creating the first computers, and changed the world. Yet this seems to all be forgotten in today’s tech industry dominated by men.

When Google was hit by controversy over a leaked memo by one of its employees, James Damore, we were reminded of this extreme gender imbalance. Google scrambled to quell controversy by releasing a statement by Google’s vice-president of diversity, integrity and governance Danielle Brown:

We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As [Balogh] said in his internal G+ post, ‘Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. “Nuff said.”

“Nuff said?” – Not quite, in fact there’s still a lot to say on the matter. Because the same oft-repeated words over commitment to diversity doesn’t tally up to the facts. Google’s workforce is made up of 69% male, only 2% Black, 4% Hispanic, with just 20% of technical jobs held by women.

Google may be unequivocal in their belief in diversity and inclusion, but the facts tell a different story – that they prefer to hire white and Asian men over women and other racial minorities.

So could this memo’s denunciation of women be the real indication for why women are so underrepresented in the tech field? The author of the memo argues, among many things, that women prefer “jobs in social and artistic areas” to the hard-edged, competitive industry of tech, and that biological differences between genders is the true reason for the extreme gender imbalance in Google and the coding world.

James Damore, added:

Women, on average, have more: Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average. Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part-time work though can keep more women in tech.

Debates around extreme gender imbalance in tech often mulls between two questions: whether there are enough women in engineering to choose from, or whether women are discriminated against (consciously or unconsciously).

This memo would definitely serve the latter assumption, and could possibly be an insight to some of the many unspoken, or unconscious bias views that manifests in the tech world.

Like much of the tech industry, Google claim that the problem doesn’t lie completely with them, but actually far earlier on in the process; that there just aren’t enough qualified women applying. There is some truth in this, but it doesn’t quite account for the sizeable gender imbalance. Interestingly, a study by GapJumpers found the gender breakdown of hired candidates was 58% women, 42% men, after they provided software to enable tech companies to blind hire nearly 1,200 candidates, across 13 companies; some food for thought to these repeated excuses claiming lack of women applicants as the cause.

So is there a lesson to be learnt here? For James Damore, who has since been sacked – for sure – don’t share sexist drivel on the world-wide web. Whether he was rightly sacked crosses another messy debate in openness and free speech. But for Google and other tech companies, the lesson is much more important. Prejudice is prevalent, and its roots run deep in the workplace and in many of us. Repeated platitudes on diversity wont fix this, but rather a real reflection and a sincere effort to hire diverse talent.