The push for gender equality in the technology industry is unfair, divisive and discriminates against men. Biologically, women are not suited for the tech workplace: low confidence levels and introversion prevent women from earning higher salaries and asserting themselves into leadership positions. Their higher anxiety levels make them poor candidates for high stress technology jobs.
Or so James Damore, an ex-Google engineer, claims. In a 10-page tirade against the company’s efforts to diversify its workforce, Damore blamed the gender gap on biological differences.
By dismissing the constant complaints of discrimination and bias faced by women working in technology companies, Damore infuriated thousands of women and men alike.
While the opinions expressed in the Google Memo may not be shared by every man in technology, the number of men coming together and speaking out about their gender diversity opinions now seems to be expanding, according to a recent New York Times article.
The article showcases the opinions of many men in Silicon Valley who feel that the push for gender equality in technology has gone too far. But it also notes that women in the workplace, especially in technology companies, have always felt isolated from the “boys’ club” that often occurs in companies.
Despite these difficulties, as more women enter the tech workforce, they are moving closer and closer to breaking the glass ceiling that separates them from the “boys’ club” of technology.
Discrimination in the workplace
In the wake of the Google memo, more women have begun to share stories of the discrimination they have faced to defend themselves against those who believe diversification is hurting male engineers.
Sophia Velastegui has worked at a variety of companies, including Doppler Labs, Nest and Apple, and is listed as one of Business Insider’s 43 most powerful female engineers of 2017. Sipping her tea at a local coffee shop, she reflects on her path to success within the tech industry.
Velastegui recalls that when she told her grandparents her major was applied physics, they suggested she pursue ceramics instead, because they were worried about her finding a husband. Velastegui was astonished that she was given such outdated advice.
While she ultimately followed her passion and majored in physics, building a career in tech hasn’t been an easy fight for Velastegui, who grew up in a one bedroom apartment occupied by seven people.
“There are a lot of interruptions that happen with women … you just have to overcome it and get your voice heard,” Velastegui says. “Part of it is actually sitting at the table. In many ways, I shouldn’t be where I am. I’ve overcome [challenges]. [I have] worked really hard.”
Shellye Archambeau, the CEO of software company MetricStream, echoes Velastegui’s sentiment of standing her ground.
Throughout her time in the tech workforce, Archambeau says she endured seemingly insignificant comments like being called ‘sweetpea’ that belittle her contributions in the industry. She has learned several lessons about thriving in a male-dominated workplace.
“You have to stand up for yourself. You have to ask for what you want. You can’t assume that just because you’re doing a good job that you’re gonna get rewarded … You have to make sure that people know.”
“You can’t assume that just because you’re doing a good job that you’re gonna get rewarded.”
-Shellye Archambeau, MetricStream CEO
Changing the culture
In contrast to women who entered the tech workplace when it was first emerging, young interns say they have not encountered blatant discrimination in the workplace.
Ambika Acharya, a Computer Science Masters graduate from Stanford University, has experienced feelings of isolation in place of discrimination.
In high school, she participated in Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science, an annual engineering competition for middle and high school students.
Although Acharya enjoyed the science and engineering aspects of the program, she felt isolated from the culture of her team because she was the only girl.
“It’s disheartening to see such few girls in the program,” Acharya says.
Acharya has noticed that young boys are more likely to be introduced to STEM programs and activities than girls, making it hard for girls to get interested.
The lack of fellow women engineers and women role models can make joining STEM programs intimidating for girls and dissuade them from participating.
A brighter future
Velastegui hasn’t let the tech industry’s biases stop her and knows exactly how she’s going to help break the glass ceiling: via mentorship and advocacy.
Mentors had a profound impact on her career. “She [my mentor] made such a big difference … My mentor told me ‘what I have done for you, think about what you can do for others.’”
Yet, Velastegui says that mentorship is only the first step toward significant reform.
“It’s a combination of being a mentor and an advocate … Mentoring is great, but advocating for minorities, women, to have active roles is important too,” Velastegui says.
While the tech industry still has a dearth of female role models, women engineers are more confident and taking a larger role in the workplace. Michelle McGhee, a rising senior at Stanford majoring in Computer Science, was visiting her family when the Google memo surfaced.
“I found it disturbing that it had been published and someone had probably approved it and multiple people felt this way and that it was felt strongly enough that it had reached this platform,” McGhee says. “[However, I] wasn’t interested in having debates about whether women are capable engineers because … I know that I am a capable engineer and I know lots of other women who are capable engineers.”
“I know that I am a capable engineer and I know lots of other women who are capable engineers.”
-Michelle McGhee, engineer
Although the Google memo didn’t affect McGhee personally or alter the way she viewed the technology industry, for her it highlighted people’s lack of understanding of this issue.
Throughout the years, women’s rights and representation have increased in every field, from science to engineering. More than ever, women in tech are supporting each other through mentorship and advocacy.
The Google memo is just one example of the lack of empathy that occurs within male-dominated workplaces. Even under these hostile situations, strong women have persisted in building a future in which women’s capabilities are not questioned, but appreciated for what they are.