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By Anita Hill
The recent leak of a Google engineer’s screed against the company’s diversity initiatives is a reminder that the notion of Silicon Valley as the seat of human progress is a myth — at least when it comes to way the women behind the latest in technology are treated.
The tech industry is stuck in the past, more closely resembling “Mad Men”-era Madison Avenue or 1980s Wall Street than a modern egalitarian society. It may take the force of our legal system to change that.
The leaked memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” called on the company to abandon its efforts for gender diversity and replace them with a focus on “ideological diversity.” The author even claimed that biological differences make women poorly suited to engineering. While the document may be unusual in its explicit embrace of this kind of backward thinking, the attitudes that underlie it are nothing new in Silicon Valley. Google’s reported decision to fire the employee responsible for the memo neither dispels the notion that a systemic problem exists nor solves it.
Since a former Uber employee published her blog post detailing her experience with the ride-sharing company’s toxic, male-dominated culture, a stream of female coders, engineers and others have come forward to discuss their experiences with sexual harassment and hostile, discriminatory workplace cultures. Companies like Google, Tesla, Twitter, Microsoft and Oracle face allegations of sexism in the form of individual lawsuits and Labor Department inquiries.
Sadly, these types of cases represent only one element of the industrywide discrimination against women in tech. There’s also an alarming gap in pay and promotions, which has devastating effects on women’s careers.
The male-dominated leadership of Silicon Valley has proved unwilling or unable to solve systemic gender inequality, and the leaked Google memo should serve as an alert about how deeply and passionately anti-equality attitudes are held. It’s time women in tech consider taking advantage of the law to disrupt the industry once and for all.
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