YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently spoke at an MSNBC town hall where their comments echoed much of the sentiment expressed in the viewpoint diversity memo published by fired Google engineer James Damore.
Mashable reports that during an MSNBC town hall, Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Google CEO Sundar Pichai discussed the issue of the representation of women in tech. Surprisingly, many of the two tech CEO’s opinions echoed similar sentiments to James Damore, the former Google engineer fired from the company for the publishing of a memo that claimed that the under-representation of women in tech was due to personal life choices rather than an inherent bias within the tech community.
The tech CEO’s spoke with MSNBC’s Ari Melber and Recode’s Kara Swisher at the MSNBC town hall titled, “Revolution: Google and YouTube Changing the World.” Swisher began the conversation by asking Wojcicki about her opinion of a recent estimate that two in 10 employees at Google are women, “Everyone talks about Silicon Valley as a meritocracy, I see it as a mirror-tocracy, meaning white guys look at each other and hire each other, essentially. What — where are we on this and what do you think needs to happen?” Swisher asked.
Wojcicki replied, “I think the problem is, is that computer science as a whole and tech as a whole has a reputation of being a very geeky male industry. And so if you look, not within the industry, but just as an educational pipeline, you see that we only have 20 percent of women graduating with computer science degrees, and that’s a problem in and of itself, because that means we don’t have enough people graduating who have those degrees. And you say, well, why is that? I think it has to do with these perceptions that the computer industry is, a geeky, not very interesting, not social industries, and it just couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Swisher seemed to take issue with Wojcicki’s comment stating, “I’m going to — I’m going to disagree with you [on] that strongly.” Swisher then brought up Uber as an example of a company with a problematic workplace culture, “Uber. I mean,” Swisher said. “It’s just — there is such hostility. You know there is. There’s hostility, not just in pay, it’s jobs, where people are. And I get the pipeline issue, I understand that. But it’s deeper than that.” Uber was forced to fire over 20 employees following allegations of sexual harassment within the workplace.
Wojcicki acknowledged this saying, “I do think there’s a stereotype that causes [women] to not go into it and then when women don’t go into it, those problems become a lot harder – like what you’re talking about, at Uber.” Wojcicki directly commented on the firing of James Damore from Google saying, “I think it was the right decision where a company trying to create a very diverse inclusive environment. And if something violates our code of conduct, we should be able to take an action.”
However, many of the reasons that Wojcicki listed for women not entering the tech field echo the same reasons provided by James Damore in his infamous memo. Damore’s memo made the following statement:
At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
They’re universal across human cultures
They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
The underlying traits are highly heritable
They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women 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. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai replied to Swisher’s question saying, “Really important, you can change this. Ever since Susan started running at YouTube, the percentage of women at YouTube has increased significantly. Why do you think that is?” This implies that Pichai’s solution to the gender disparity at tech companies is just to hire more female executives. Swisher replied to Pichai asking why more men couldn’t encourage women to join the industry saying, “Because she’s a woman, but why can’t men do it?”
Pichai replied, “But I’m saying the representation matters. Right, so the way you solve this is by increasing the percentage of women in the tech industry. So, we need to make the environment more welcoming, we need to make the jobs more interesting.” Pichai then made another statement which echoed Damore’s memo, “Women typically look for jobs with a purpose. Studies show that. I think it’s important for them to see the why of why you need to need technology.” Pichai is, of course, correct, Damore noted this in his memo also. The 2015 Management Education Graduate Survey also corroborated this.
Pichai stated “You know, I have a daughter, and I’m excited for her to go, if she chooses to, into technology. I think it’s going to be better the next 10 years than what’s been the past 10 years.”
Watch the full MSNBC town hall here.