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This has been a difficult week for the technology industry, particularly for those who care deeply about diversity and inclusion. By now, many of us have read the viral memo penned by a former Google employee, James Damore, who questioned the efficacy of Google’s internal bias training and diversity initiatives. In doing so, Damore also suggested certain biological reasons may be at the root of why women and men achieve different levels of pay and seniority at work.
The responses to the memo, including Google’s subsequent decision to fire Damore, are as passionate as they have been varied. I spoke to Brandeis Professor (and an attorney Of Counsel at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC) Anita Hill – yes, the Anita Hill — about the issues women in technology face today and how to achieve solutions and systemic change to the problems. Hill became a national figure in 1991 when she publicly testified before Congress about being sexually harassed as an employee by then-nominee for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Since then, she has worked on behalf of - and been a symbol and inspiration for - all women and people who are willing to speak truth to power (the name of her subsequent book), particularly in the context of an unjust and unacceptable workplace environment.
This week, she penned an opinion piece for the New York Times arguing that women in technology should consider seeking legal action for the discrimination they face at work. In her piece, Hill argues that legal recourse, while certainly difficult, is one way to disrupt inequality issues that otherwise are not being adequately addressed by voluntary employer self-policing, government regulation, or negative publicity.
I had mixed feelings when I first read the piece. As a former lawyer, I understand the importance of litigation as a tool to effect justice and social change. On the other hand, it is always difficult to suggest that minority and marginalized individuals and groups should undertake the financial and emotional burden of turning to an imperfect justice system for an uncertain redress.
After speaking to Hill, I came to understand she believes that when issues are as deeply socially and culturally ingrained as those women in the workplace — and in this case, the technology industry — face, some women simply may not be aware of the options they have.
Specifically, Hill told me she hears from many women about the challenges they face at work with discrimination and inequality. She explained that one of the things she’s learned is that many women don’t come forward about their experiences because they don’t know all their options, adding, “I wrote the op-ed to let women know the option exists… not to wag a finger at them.”
The full article can be viewed here.