Growing up, I had always been pressured by my family to pursue a career in technology. My dad had been in the computer technology field since he was fresh out of college and was constantly reinforcing in my impressionable mind the importance of his work. But my interest with the tech world only went as far as my interest in my Instagram feed. However, my sister Leah, the ambitious brainiac of the family, stepped up to the plate and decided to pursue a career in computer technology. She received the highest grade in her first computer science class, beating out all of the boys, and finished school with an exceptional transcript.
For a really good example of how gender inequality is all pervasive, you need to look no further than in this industry peopled by young, ostensibly open-minded, forward-thinking individuals (especially as the Moves Forum promotes STEM as an effective method to level the playing- field.) It illustrates so well that the core of the problem lies in the entrenched social and business norm of the “Class Ring” culture patriarchy which exists just as strongly today as it did 100 years ago, before women voted. It is up to women themselves to break this self-perpetuating, self-protecting and literally closed circle of dominance, preference and prejudice in every way possible. This discussion is not about bemoaning our fate. This discussion, this fight should include everybody but failing that it must include YOU.
By Angie Palmer
Unfortunately, her success ended there. For two years she struggled to find jobs and faced endless amounts of discrimination for being a female in a largely male-dominated field. A few years ago, she announced to my family that she had had enough and was going back to school to pursue a law degree, kicking her dreams of computer technology to the curb for good. The final straw, she said, was her latest job interview for a technology startup where the interviewer stated “This is the final round of interviews, it is between you and one other candidate, you are more qualified than him, however, we’re a little concerned about you disrupting the dynamic of an all male team”. Needless to say, she did not get the job. I was shocked that in 2017, such blatant discrimination still existed and as much as people complained about it, I rarely saw any sort of push to make progress. Why did we all just accept that the world leaders in tech were overwhelmingly made up of sexist men? As I began to do my own research, I realized that the gender gap in the tech world was proving to be far more horrifying than I had originally thought.
One study at Stanford University submitted an almost identical resume for a computer technology position, the only difference was one had the name “John” while the other “Jennifer.” They found that the decision makers not only overwhelmingly preferred to hire John, but on average recommended paying Jennifer $4000 less than John. It’s a classic study that we’ve all heard some version of. With growing awareness of these studies, more tech companies in 2020 than ever before have promised to do whatever they can to end this discrimination against women. Yet, in the past 20 years, women software engineer hires have only increased by 2%.
This all sounds very depressing—I know, but on a (slightly) more positive note, many companies in Silicon Valley have finally begun to address their lack of gender diversity and I’ve always followed the line of thought that it’s never too late to do the right thing. Of course for most companies this just means adding a performative anti-discrimination section to training courses, or making vague claims about the value of diversity. Pinterest is one of the only companies to really take action and challenge themselves with a self imposed quota. Even though they aren’t legally bound by any outside authority to actually reach the quota, it is still one of the first attempts to create clear goals in terms of numbers for women employees in Silicon Valley. Pinterest set a goal in 2016 to increase their tech engineers from 19% female to 30% female by the end of the year. They ended up falling short of their goal and only increased women employees to 22%. Still, a 3% increase is an accomplishment worthy of celebration and might just mean their initial plan was a little too ambitious for a twelve month period.
Even with Pinterest’s success in terms of raising their representation of women, other companies are still not convinced of their approach. Another common criticism for gender quotas is that female dominated fields exist just like male dominated fields do. Daily Telegraph columnist, Miranda Devine, vehemently opposes gender quotas in the workplace. She doesn’t view the lack of women representation in certain fields as sexist, rather, just a natural difference in career preference. She argues that if the roles were reversed, that is, men were demanding quotas in female dominated fields, we would see just how ridiculous quotas are. She raises the question, “What about those industries, such as nursing and teaching, that are majority female? Should women be forced out of jobs they want to do into jobs they don’t want to do and aren’t very good at?” But I refuse to accept that women coincidentally just prefer all of the lowest paying jobs and men just happen to like careers where they can make millions. Instead, we need to look at why these gendered social constructions in career paths even exist and how we can shift the narrative for future generations.
Former Google engineer, James Damore, spoke out in July 2017 claiming that men and women dominate certain fields not because of social constructs, but because of biological differences. He explained how the tech world is a physically demanding world that men choose to work in because of their higher levels of testosterone and the fact that “Women on average are more prone to anxiety” and therefore, cannot handle the stress. He attributes much of the gender gap to innate personality differences with men and women, “This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.
Damore boiled down the gender gap in tech to “women are more people-oriented” and “men are more things-oriented”. Damore was immediately fired from Google after releasing his memo internally to employees of the company before it was ultimately leaked to outside journalists. Even though he was fired, he apparently has not had a problem with receiving numerous job opportunities from other big name tech companies since. He has even received praise and support from other men from Google and Silicon Valley. However, many critics called him out on his sexist report and quickly debunked his theory, pointing to the fact that these same biological claims were also made during the women’s suffrage movement. Many people in the 1920’s believed that women were not biologically suited to make political decisions or handle the stressful world of politics. In 2020 101 women hold seats in congress, the very group that deals with declaring war and other important matters in politics. These biological claims were fortunately overruled and written off for their lack of actual scientific evidence and value. This sexist idea that women cannot handle stressful responsibilities is far from new. Why then, in the 21st century, does Damore think these claims are in anyway grounds to justify discrimination in the tech field? Just when we thought that the United States was advancing in terms of forward thinking, Damore’s memo shot us back 100 years. But all it takes to regain this hope is a quick reminder of the women, that despite facing discrimination from men like Damore, have managed to run some of the most influential and powerful companies in the world.
One of the loudest voices against Damore’s memo was Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube and a long-term employee at Google. Wojcicki first addressed her own personal experiences with sexism, “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.” Demore’s memo finally led her to speak out against the sexism she too had faced, “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 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.”
Damore’s memo is not only an example of discrimination in the technology field, but an example of why some people believe quotas to be harmful to companies. Supporters of Damore’s memo believe that by enforcing a quota, companies would be forced to hire women that are not biologically prepared for their roles. On the other hand, Wojcicki might argue that quotas give women the opportunity to excel and prove themselves at places like Google. Under Wojcicki’s watch, YouTube’s stock has surged 44% and become one of the most successful media sources of all time, even beating out Netflix. Clearly, Wojcicki is doing something right. Had she chosen to pursue a career in nursing that (according to Damore) aligned more accurately with her biology, YouTube would be nowhere near as prosperous.
So how many genius minds like Wojcicki do we lose when we don’t push to hire women and give them a proper place in the tech world? The fact is, many highly intelligent and ambitious women, like my sister Leah, end up leaving the tech world to pursue other careers where they will face less obstacles in regards to their gender. Leah didn’t spend four years and thousands of dollars on her education to end up in a career where she not only struggled to get hired and make similar figures as less educated men, but be viewed as a “dynamic disrupter” in the workplace. At the end of the day, she is more than capable of getting even better jobs outside of the tech world. So who really misses out in these scenarios? The world itself is dependent on new innovative minds. By closing the door on women, technology companies close the door on endless opportunities for new inventions and technological advancements. If only someone could explain this to Jeff Bezos, whose elite “S Team” made up of top Amazon executives consists of 22 men and only one woman. What innovative ideas is he missing out on when he refuses to grant women access to this exclusive team?