Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Google 'manifesto:' Women struggle for respect and equality in Silicon Valley

WHAT IS IT with the fratboy-culture dominating Silicon Valley and the way it demeans women? 
SV is not so different from the rest of the country, really. It attracts a wide swath of people who want to get in on the new frontier and be on the cutting edge of the future. 
(Full disclosure: I am the father of two daughters, who are smart, strong, compassionate and independent women, so any biases that might appear in this post are purely intentional.)
While it might attract the enlightened, the bold, the creative and innovative, it also draws in the mysogynist, the elitist, the sexist and the other elements from the dark side, including the alt-right, white supremacists by any other name.
As I write, two stories published today (July 8) brings this apparent dichotomy to light.
Google announced the firing of one of its male employees who issued a manifesto to employees citing the biological differences between the sexes that prevents women from being as good as men in the high-tech industry.
The 10-page manifesto written by Google engineer James Damore, said in part that women are more talkative than assertive, and have more “neuroticism” that makes them less tolerant of stress than men.
"Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way,” Google vice-president of engineering Ari Balogh said in a statement.
“But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions,” the statement continued.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai had to cut short his vacation to handle the situation. "Portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace," Pichai wrote in a memo to employees. "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

The U.S. Labor Department is investigating Google to see whether the firm has unlawfully paid women less than men. Google denies that it does.

According to Google's diversity report, the company's workforce is 69 percent male, 31 percent female. When it comes to technical positions, the gender breakdown is even more skewed, with just 20 percent of technical jobs being filled by women.

Damore’s letter caught the attention of high-profile women in tech. 
Megan Smith, another former Google vice-president and the chief technology officer for President Barack Obama, said the views expressed by Damore were “rampant” in tech.
“It’s insidious,” Smith told Bloomberg TV. “It causes people to leave the industry and it’s bad for shareholder value.”
“It’s toxic,” Girls in Tech founder Adriana Gascoigne said Monday. “He’s breaking down the biological aspects of being a woman versus a man and categorizing women in a way that makes us seem weak, that makes us seem incompetent, that makes us seem like we’re actually bad for a company’s bottom line.”

Remember Ellen Pao?

Ellen Pao
Ellen Pao, who became a household during her gender bias trial against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, on Monday (July 8) shared the first results of her newest initiative — Project Include.

While her inaugural report shows some small improvements — the companies participating increased their percentage of female, Asian, Hispanic and multi-racial employees — it mostly highlights the fact that diversifying the industry will be a long and complex process.

“There is still a lot of work to do, as the data reflect many of the patterns of underrepresentation in the tech industry,” Pao and her co-founders at Project Include wrote in a blog post. “But the improvement over large companies’ demographics is encouraging, as are the many changes between the baseline and follow up reports, though it is too early to know for sure what caused all the changes.”

They found women, transgender men and non-binary employees reported a decrease in perceived fairness. 

Since her widely publicized 2015 gender bias battle, Pao launched Project Include with a group of female co-founders, including Freada Kapor Klein of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Slack engineer Erica Joy Baker. The idea was to provide concrete steps companies could take to improve diversity and inclusion of women and minorities at their companies, and metrics to measure their progress.

Megyn Kelly, right, interviews six victims of sex harassment in Silicon Valley.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is one of the major battlefronts in Silicon Valley. Women often find themselves getting unwanted attention from male are co-workers, bosses or potential investors.

The frat-boy behavior towards women has been known throughout the male-dominated industry for years. Earlier this year, the issue was once again in the spotlight when an Uber executive was accused of sexual harassment toward a female employee. When the executive was not punished for his actions, the victim made it public. 

Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to resign because of his handling of the woman's complaint. By the time dust settled, over 20 employees, including the woman's manager, were fired for their mishandling of the complaint.

When the Uber incident became public, more women stepped forward with their own stories of unwanted sex advances in other companies. Over a dozen women came forth naming some of the biggest names in the industry.

Venture capitalists, those people who help finance startups, were especially 

TV journalist Megan Kelly dedicated one of her episodes of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly to the issue, inviting six women to tell their stories. Three of the six were Asian/Americans.

“Elephant in the Valley,” a 2015 survey by released some of their findings about harassment in Silicon Valley:

  • 90% witnessed sexist behavior at company offsites and/or industry conferences
  • 60% reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior
  • 60% who reported sexual harassment were dissatisfied with the outcome
  • One in three say they felt afraid for their personal safety because of work-related circumstances

There are some limitations to the study. Project Include worked with startups that voluntarily joined Pao's survey and didn't include the big tech companies like Google, Apple or Microsoft so it is not reflect the industry as a whole but it does present a picture of young entrepreneurs trying not to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors.

The startups saw their proportion of women increase from 41 percent to 46 percent during those eight months, Asian workers increase from 12 to 15 percent, Hispanic workers increase from 11 to 12 percent, and multi-racial workers increase from 7 to 11 percent.

And the cohort companies tended to do better than their peers who weren’t part of the study. The percentage of Hispanic workers in Project Include companies was twice as high as the industry average. And nearly half of all roles at Project Include companies were filled by women, compared with an average of 34 percent throughout the industry.

But there were also some losses during the eight months studied — the proportion of African-American workers dropped from 5 to 3 percent, and transgender or non-binary workers dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent.

Clearly, the tech industry, centered in Silicon Valley, which likes to promote itself as the industry for the 21st century and known for breaking new ground in creating less rigid work environments than traditional offices or factories, still has a significant number of men with 19th century attitudes towards women.

Facebook chief operating officer and former Google vice-president Sheryl Sandberg said Monday on Facebook that inequality in technology didn’t arise out of gender differences.
“It’s due to cultural stereotypes that persist,” she wrote. “We all need to do more.”