Aug 9, 2017

Google memo outcry is about something bigger

Sam Jayne / Axios

Google has spent the past week embroiled in controversy, following the leak of an internal memo that included arguments about how the company's lack of gender parity can be partially explained by biological differences between the sexes. The memo's author was quickly fired for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes in [Google's] workplace."

Story behind the story: The loudest outcries invoked the memo's specific contents and the employment fate of its author. But I suspect that the weightier undercurrent from women who work in Silicon Valley — especially from those with Google on their resumes — is that the incident is a reminder of all the other wrongs and inequities at Google that predate the memo, and of those that they fear will persist.

  • Women still make up only 31% of Google's workforce, 20% of technical jobs, and 25% of leadership roles. Figures for Black and Latino employees are even more dismal.
  • Amit Singhal, a 15-year veteran of Google's search unit, reportedly resigned last year after an investigation into allegations of sexual harassments were found to be "credible." But despite Google's conclusion, it allowed Singhal to pen a farewell letter and depart in a dignified manner (though it may have been in part because the victim declined to go public).
  • In 2015, former Google employee Kelly Ellis claimed to have been sexually harassed while at the company, adding that she was reprimanded by Google HR for reporting the behavior.
  • There's an internal message board titled "Yes, at Google" through which employees share incidents of sexism, racism, bigotry, and misconduct. More than 15,000 employees reportedly have subscribed.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor recently sued Google to obtain more data about its employees' salaries after a routine audit revealed evidence that the company is underpaying women. Google denies the claims.

So backlash should be expected when a white male Googler takes issue with the resources that women and other underrepresented groups have only recently been afforded—and worse, describes them as discriminatory. The real question for Google isn't what it does when a controversial memo becomes public, but what it does when most people aren't looking.

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