Silicon Valley’s relationship with its diversity issues is strange. On the one hand, it is entirely aware that the problems exist and persist - one look at the demographic can tell you this - while on the other it seems prepared to take meaningful action only when those problems manifest themselves explicitly. It’s vocal about the need for positive change, while evidently not doing enough to bring that change about.
Take Google, for example. By its own admission, the workforce at its Menlo Park campus is 69% male, and only 2% African American. Women hold just 20% of technical jobs and men hold three out of every four leadership roles. The company is vocal about its ‘belief’ that diversity is a pressing matter in tech, but the numbers suggest that it is still not doing enough to end the white male tech homogeneity. After all, the ‘progress’ at Google is seemingly nothing more than a 1% year-on-year change in some key areas. So, when an unnamed engineer at the tech giant shares a 10-page polemic against diversity initiatives among his peers, it is curious that all hell breaks loose.
The ‘manifesto’, which reportedly went ‘viral’ internally at Google before being leaked online, argued that innate, biological differences between men and women were responsible for the lack of women in tech and leadership. It then went on to bemoan diversity initiatives which it claimed instilled something of an ideological hegemony that naturally sidelined more conservative perspectives. ‘When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,’ the author writes. ‘Conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is required for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.’
The manifesto has been rightfully rejected, whilst leaving female staff members ‘shaking in anger’ (according to the Guardian) and bringing the topic of gender in Silicon Valley back to the forefront of conversation. The staff member in question has been fired, then subsequently offered a Wikileaks job by Julian Assange. The industry at large is outraged by what is a transparent, explicit representation of how many feel Silicon Valley views diversity as a whole - that it in some way ‘lowers the bar’ by inclusion. And, perhaps just as damning as the manifesto itself are the positive responses it supposedly received from some of Google’s male engineers.
On top of the sacking, Google has been quick to condemn the viewpoint expressed in the 10-page diatribe. CEO Sundar Pichai wrote: ‘To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,’ while the company’s vice-president of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, added: ‘We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company.’
Against the official company line, the beliefs expressed are dissonant. Against the wider backdrop of Silicon Valley, though, they’re not actually that surprising. ‘It's not worth thinking about this as an isolated incident and instead a manifestation of what ails all of Silicon Valley,’ one Google employee told Motherboard. The problem of gender imbalance is not just a Google problem; it’s a tech problem. Apple, for example, had just 23% of its technical jobs filled by women in mid-2016 (the latest count) and a lack of representation is apparent across the world’s most famous tech hub, despite companies self-applying the accolade of ‘diverse’.
Representation is just part of the problem, too. Seemingly not a month goes by in which another sexual harassment scandal doesn’t surface, or an investment fund CEO steps down after admitting ‘creepy’ behavior towards women, for example. The ‘boys club’ of Silicon Valley is well documented, and examples of underrepresentation or gender pay disparity can be found at even the most otherwise forward-thinking companies. Even Google itself is already embroiled in a dispute with the Department of Labor over a ’systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.’
It’s only natural that there will be furore over stories like the Google engineer’s ‘manifesto,’ and rejecting these kinds of beliefs is certainly part of the battle. But Silicon Valley, along with the wider tech industry, must be sure that it doesn’t view these incidents in isolation, and instead take them as an incentive to review and step up its diversity initiatives.