It's been hard to open a paper this week without stumbling upon a reference to the controversial memo circulated by now-former Google employee James Damore. A broad ideological debate has ensued and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has since posted an essay about her experience with sexism in Silicon Valley. She was prompted to do this after her daughter asked whether it was true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership.
One of the most apparent things about the post is that Wojcicki didn't attempt to offer solutions on how to tackle sexism in the tech industry. Nor did she praise Google for doing the right thing. Instead, she showed solidarity with her fellow women in tech.
I was brought up by a working mother who has run her own company from before I can remember. I wonder whether my determination and attitude to work would be different if I hadn't grown up in a household where I believed that a woman could run a business just as well as a man. As Wojcicki points out, Silicon Valley’s sexist culture impacts women at all levels of the industry; even their daughters. It's time we stopped blaming or praising companies like Google so highly in the media for incidents like this but instead focus on what initiatives they're putting in place moving forward. Let's make every little girl feel like Kristen Visbal's Fearless Girl.
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. When I saw the memo that circulated last week, I once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. 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 (which I’ve written about before), 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.