When her daughter asked her if it was true that biological differences explain why there are fewer women in tech and leadership positions, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was reminded of her many years in tech — years filled with that question being "asked outright, whispered quietly."
This line of questioning has weighed heavily on her career.
When an internal memo from Google — quite known for its diversity efforts and workplace openness — makes its way into public view, and especially if that memo contains controversial claims, including women having different biological traits that may or may not qualify them for certain roles, what happens? Well, some people have to respond. Wojcicki certainly felt the need to.
YouTube CEO Highlights Silicon Valley Sexism
"Time and again, I've faced the slights that come with that question. I've had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned," she wrote. There are meetings with leaders where they focused more on the male employees, her comments being interrupted, and her ideas ignored until they came straight from a man. "No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt."
Google Employee's Anti-Diversity Memo In A Nutshell
The memo, a 10-page-long essay criticizing Google's efforts to boost workplace diversity, was penned by engineer James Damore, whom CEO Sundar Pichai has since dismissed. It caused two main reactions: many said it perpetuated false gender constructs that bordered on sexism, and others called it an exercise of free speech. However varied the responses, it hurt a lot of people both outside and especially those working inside the company.
Firing him added to the problem too. Some called it Google censoring Damore and policing his thought, causing others to argue that Google just polluted free expression for those inside the company who might have dissenting views. Pichai wrote, however, that Damore made some claims that violated some of Google's policies, so that's why he needed to leave.
Wojcicki said that the memo must have caused others working inside the company to feel unsafe, and she thought about other women in different tech fields dealing with implicit biases that persist in the industry.
"I thought about how tragic it was that this unfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation," she said.
Wojcicki challenged others who defended the memo as being the right to free speech, encouraging them to picture how the situation would play out had "women" been replaced with "Black," "Hispanic," or "LGBTQ" employees.
Wojcicki's response is certainly one that's more deeply felt compared with that of Pichai, who said many points in the memo are fair to debate but also noted it violated Google's code of conduct by advancing harmful gender stereotypes.