It’s no secret that women in the tech industry, or any one of the STEM fields, walks on a much thinner tightrope than her male counterparts. It can be very difficult to get to the other side when you’ve got people wiggling an already slim string under your feet. But that doesn’t stop women from charging forward, and every so often something happens that brings attention to this historical issue.
For example, in August of 2015, software developer Isis Anchalee created the I Look Like an Engineer campaign to confront harmful stereotypes against women and promote diversity in the engineering industry. The campaign’s spark came from the fire started by a viral OneLogin ad that she was featured in, to which people responded with claims that it was unlikely that Anchalee was an actual engineer and was probably a model. The success of her campaign then catalyzed a slew of similar efforts, e.g. I Look Like a Surgeon, I Look Like a Professor, etc.
Still, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47% of the total workforce, yet only comprise 24% of all STEM jobs.
However, some big players make it part of their mission to change that. Big players like Google. In fact, they have an entire page dedicated to explaining their efforts — from hiring to education — and showing the makeup of their current workforce. Despite their efforts, however, women still only make up 31% of that workforce, and they admit that, “When it comes to diversity at Google, there’s more work to be done. While improvements will take time, we’re committed to making our workforce more reflective of the world we live in.”
Then on August 4th of this year, a wrench got lodged in their gears, a wrench known as James Damore. This is the day when his 10-page memo, which, as Vox reports, argued for “less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace,” was leaked to the public, something Damore, a Google engineer, should’ve probably guessed would happen.
Well, make that former Google engineer. Because of Damore’s claims that biological differences between men and women are the reason for the industry’s infamous gender gap, and that Google’s diversity efforts are both futile and detrimental, a viral firestorm took hold of the Internet. Armed with digital pitchforks, the online public picked apart and quoted bits and pieces of the memo which argued that “gender gaps [do not always] imply sexim,” and calls Google’s efforts to increase the representation of women in tech another form of “discrimination.” At the same time, there are some supporters who see Damore as a hero.
While the vast majority of Google employees claim to be against Damore’s ideas, he says he was encouraged by coworkers while the document was circulated internally prior to its public debut.
In response to the public’s outrage, Google fired Damore on August 7th for violating the company’s code of conduct by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the workplace. Damore then filed a labor complaint, citing “a legal right to express [his] concerns about the terms and conditions of [his] working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior.”
The memo has also shined an even brighter light on Google’s less-than-ideal metrics — which clearly show a primarily white male workforce — and have also reminded people of the fact that the company is facing wage discrimination scrutiny from the US Department of Labor.
More importantly, the incident takes a yellow highlighter to the industry-at-large and its continuous issue with gender inclusivity and representation.
For more on the unfolding of events, keep tabs on The Verge’s story stream.