Row over Google employee's defense of tech gender gap

August 7, 2017 by Luc Olinga
The controversy comes as increasing numbers of women are going public with complaints of gender-based discrimination in Silicon Valley

Google found itself at the center of controversy Sunday after an employee in a leaked internal document claimed "biological causes" explained the lack of women in tech industry leadership roles.

The screed—dubbed "sexist" by US media—went viral, reviving the simmering debate over a culture of sexism and lack of diversity in tech sectors.

"I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership," read the 3,000-word fulmination by an anonymous male software engineer.

According to the author, natural aptitudes of men allow them to become better computer programmers. Women, he said, have more "openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas"—meaning they "prefer jobs in social or artistic areas."

In response to the leaked memo, Danielle Brown, Google's new vice president of diversity, told employees in an email that "it's not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages."

"I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender." she said. "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."

"Changing a culture is hard, and it's often uncomfortable."

Brown added, however, that "part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions."

'Harmful assumptions'

It was unclear whether the memo's author would face disciplinary action.

Ari Balogh, a Google engineering executive, said in an internal memo obtained by AFP that "questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture."

"But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part," he said. "One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way."

"That is stereotyping, and it is harmful."

Currently some 69 percent of Google's employees are men, according to the company's latest figures, a proportion that rises to 80 percent when it comes to technology jobs.

In 2016 at Facebook just 27 percent of senior executives were women. At Apple, around 30 percent of total employees are women.

The controversy comes as increasing numbers of women are going public with complaints of gender-based discrimination in Silicon Valley.

Uber's embattled chief executive Travis Kalanick resigned earlier this year under pressure from investors seeking to clean up the company's allegedly toxic corporate culture.

His departure capped a rocky period for the global ridesharing giant, which has been roiled by disturbing reports of cutthroat workplace conditions, harassment and discrimination.

June also saw venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck take an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital in Silicon Valley, over allegations he made sexual advances towards female entrepreneurs interested in funding.

A few days later, tech sector investor Dave McClure confessed to being "a creep" for making "advances towards multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate."

These cases came to light three years after Ellen Pao became symbolic of the debate over Silicon Valley's allegedly sexist culture.

She sued her former employee, a prominent , for gender discrimination—charges ultimately rejected—in a case seen as a proxy trial of the 's sex bias.

Explore further: Growing chorus denounces sexist Silicon Valley culture

Related Stories

Silicon Valley's sexism problem: Could the tide be turning?

July 3, 2017

Sexism in Silicon Valley has been an open secret for years. What's changing: A growing number of women are coming forward with personal stories of sexual harassment and discrimination, prompting apologies, resignations and ...

Silicon Valley investors taking heat over sexual harassment

July 2, 2017

Sexism in Silicon Valley may be coming in for a reckoning, prompted by women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment by industry bigshots. Apologies, resignations and self-reflection have followed, although it's ...

Recommended for you

What do you get when you cross an airplane with a submarine?

February 15, 2018

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed the first unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of traveling both through the air and under the water – transitioning repeatedly between sky and sea. ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
3 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2017
Saying women have "openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas" is throwing a bone and, if that does not represent the situation, that can still do more harm than good.
It seems many if not most men are more capable in areas involving soul, emotions, mind, and so on than many if not most women. If something does not stroke one's fur the way they like, that doesn't make it wrong. If something does not promote a political agenda does not mean it's wrong. If something works against political ploys to put individuals into positions they don't deserve to buy votes, that doesn't make it wrong.
rrrander
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2017
Women are not interested in technology or engineering, any further than using their smart phones.. They are rarely if ever involved in hobbies of the technical nature. Whatever the reason, you can't force them to be, for political-correctness.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2017
Women are not interested in technology or engineering, any further than using their smart phones.. They are rarely if ever involved in hobbies of the technical nature
@rrrander
bullsh*t
what world do you live in?

i have three daughters who are all techies
... one is an electrical engineer (as well as aeronautical engineer)
one granddaughter is working with her school as a computer tech assisting the IT dept.

pull the other one
Whatever the reason, you can't force them to be, for political-correctness
that sounds like the BS juli was saying

maybe the problem isn't the women... maybe the problem is people and attitudes like juli and you?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2017
Millions of years of evolution won't be overturned in a single generation... Or even 3 or 4, for that matter.
The male and female brains function differently. That has been proven in numerous FMRI studies.
Ergo, training for ANY field of endeavor requires gender relevant customization...
kreosol
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2017
"...We are unequivocal in OUR BELIEF that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company.."

This is the equivalent of "I believe in God father who created the Heaven and the Earth" or "Allah is the only god and Mohammed is his prophet".
murky303
not rated yet Aug 09, 2017
"Google found itself at the center of controversy Sunday after an employee in a leaked internal document claimed "biological causes" explained the lack of women in tech industry leadership roles.

The screed—dubbed "sexist" by US media—went viral..."

"Screed" is an emotionally-loaded term which doesn't describe the actual document in question. Phys.org, meet moveon.org - and merge!
Da Schneib
not rated yet Aug 09, 2017
It doesn't have anything to do with his opinion; he can have any opinion he likes. It has to do with what's acceptable discourse within a company, on their email servers, and the company gets to choose that. You do not have any right to free speech on company email. Get over it.
Dingbone
Aug 10, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Dingbone
Aug 13, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Dingbone
Aug 13, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.