It is not a surprise to anyone that there is a dearth of women employed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs. Recently, my sixteen- year-old son attended a week-long engineering summer camp. Upon his return, he said that out of about 25 kids, only three were girls. The question is, why? Is it nature or nurture or some combination of the two? The discussion of this rages everywhere except apparently in the place it most honestly should be addressed: Google.
This issue was highlighted by two recent events: Google’s firing of James Damore, the author of an internal google memo that went viral titled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber in which he critiqued Google’s diversity programs. The second is the story of a brewing lawsuit by women at Google alleging pay discrimination.
Damore was fired on the grounds that the memo touted women’s biological attributes as something that keeps them from being successful in tech fields. He has been accused of being against diversity and perpetuating gender stereotypes.
A closer examination of the 10-page memo revealed little more than a mixed statement, albeit long, of opinions and facts. Is it controversial? Perhaps some of it, but so what?
At the end of the day, there is a gender gap in tech. The vast majority of people on both sides of the political spectrum want to see it reduced. Ivanka Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, have made it clear that supporting women in STEM fields is a priority of theirs. It makes sense – female voices in matters of medicine, computer science, and engineering are crucial to creating effective service for half of the American population. (When, oh when, is a woman going to take a crack are redesigning mammograms but I digress?)
The illusive question how do we bring more women into the STEM? There is not a simple answer to that question, and there will surely not be any conclusions if major companies freely fire their employees just for sharing their opinion in answer to that very question.
Google spent over $265 million in the past few years to try to fix their “diversity” problem and recruit more minorities, including women. The result? Absolutely no change in the percentage of women employed at the company. Something didn’t go well. Maybe it’s because the company has been systematically underpaying women. They are currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor on this very issue and 60 women may take legal action for discrimination.
This controversy aside, it is inexcusable (and illegal) that someone should be fired from their job because they stated their opinion and specifically disagreed with the arbiters of political correctness. This is viewpoint discrimination, and it was ruled as a violation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois in 1990.
But here is an idea, maybe better pay would increase the number of female employees as well as job satisfaction. Instead, Google has set a frightening precedent by firing Damore and revealed an even more pressing question: why should we be afraid of this conversation? This is a necessary discussion and one that strong, confident women are not and should not be afraid to address and discuss.
Google has done a disservice to themselves by firing Damore for exactly that which he was critiquing them: “a culture of shaming and misrepresentation.” Why is the culture of Google so restrictive and authoritarian that no ideological dissent can be allowed?
But far more detrimental, Google has done a disservice to women by shutting down an important dialogue about ideas such as nature vs. nurture and everything else that goes into the cause of a gender gap in tech.
Do they view women as snowflakes incapable of taking in other’s opinions, digesting them logically, and refuting them gracefully? Are we so fragile that controversial opinions surrounding the gender gap must be shut down and those voicing them fired?
As a woman, I am not offended by Damore’s memo. However, I am offended by Google feeling the need to shield us from an opinion that we are apparently too weak to handle.
How paternalistic. Articles regarding pay inequity at Google makes one wonder if all this diversity “training” isn’t smoke and mirrors to distract from the real issues. If indeed the company with all their big talk about diversity is simply not paying women equally then we may have uncovered the crux of the issue. Ping pong tables, massages on site and even childcare can’t make up for a good pay check. All their moralizing is tedious and pretentious..
This entire sordid story is however instructive to the bigger picture. Honest dialogue is important so that this crucial question can be answered and the next generation of women can increase their presence in the STEM fields in an organic manner. There is one thing all women can agree on – women want to advance their careers because of hard work and achievement, not because of pity handouts. Silicon valley could take the hundreds of millions sunk into sensitivity training, increase pay and achieve far more diversity in their work force. Just pay women what they deserve and fire sexual predators who behave as if they are in a frat house instead of work. It doesn’t seem that complicated. Shutting down debate isn’t the answer.