The CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, responded in Fortune to the recent viewpoint diversity memo by James Damore. She claims that she has faced massive discrimination for being a woman working in the technology industry, and that implicit biases still exist within it.
The memo in question was released late last week after Damore had circulated among his colleagues at Google. It suggested reasons why there were fewer women working in technology-related fields, and argued for a wider diversity of viewpoints in the company. “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” Damore wrote. He was swiftly fired as a result, with the CEO of Google Sundar Pichai claiming that he had violated their code of conduct by advancing “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” despite the fact that numerous psychologists, male and female, deemed the manifesto to be scientifically accurate.
In her piece, Wojcicki, claimed that time and time again she was questioned about her “abilities and commitment,” was left out of “key industry events and social gatherings,” and had comments “frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men.” The memo brought up memories of this discrimination against her:
When I saw the memo that circulated last week, I once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. 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 the women throughout the tech field who are already dealing with the implicit biases that haunt our industry… now confronting them explicitly. 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 [and] I thought about how tragic it was that this unfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation.
According to Wojcicki, the decision to fire Damore did not breach his right to freedom of speech, as Google was also free to “take action” against any comments that “perpetuate negative stereotypes” about women. She went on to posit that nobody would be defending him if his comments were made against other groups:
What if we replaced the word “women” in the memo with another group? What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author? I don’t ask this to compare one group to another, but rather to point out that the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.
Despite this argument, Damore is currently exploring “possible legal remedies” against Google, revealing to CNBC that he “submitted a charge to the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing Google upper management of trying to shame him into silence,” shortly before being fired. In an email, he explained that “it’s illegal to retaliate against an NLRB charge.” He has also been offered employment by both Wikileaks and Gab, the free speech social network.
In an ironic twist, over 60 women are reportedly considering a sexism and “pay gap” lawsuit against Google, YouTube’s parent company, according to an interview with James Finsberg, a civil rights attorney, that was published in the Guardian, with the employees “concerned that women are channeled to levels and positions that pay less than men with similar education and experience.”