Commentary & Perspective

What if the Women Who Work at Google… Didn’t?

by Elizabeth Ames, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Alliances, and Programs

As it makes headline news around the world, the anti-diversity essay circulating on Google’s internal networks illustrates the worst of today’s tech culture, and the persistent hostile environment that prejudges women and members of underrepresented minorities before they even walk through the door.

Yes, there’s a reason why women and minorities are underrepresented in tech, and it’s not because they’re biologically unsuited to the task. Time and time again, their peers and leaders make it abundantly clear that they are not welcome. The author of the anti-diversity memo claims that the current level of women’s representation in tech — 18 to 21% — is driven by the differences in gender-based traits. But, in the recent past, that figure was closer to 37%. The data show that women are just as curious, confident, and capable as men, but constant battles for acceptance have driven many of them out of tech careers, and kept many others from joining their ranks.

There’s no shortage of outstanding women technologists on campus at the Googleplex. Diane Greene, the Co-founder of VMware, now leads Google Cloud. Fei-Fei Li works as Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) at Google, along with Jai Li, Head of Research and Development for AI/ML. Search engine pioneer Anna Patterson—who served as Vice President of Engineering for 7 years—now runs Google’s internal Gradient Ventures investment group. And Jen Fitzpatrick, one of Google’s first summer interns while a Stanford student, has risen to Vice President of Product and Engineering.

What if these leaders and other women technologists just decided to step away from Google? What if they choose to not work with people who see women as weak, more neurotic, less ambitious? What if they decided not to collaborate with the author of that essay?

Google women are hearing resounding silence from their leaders. So perhaps the men of Google need to hear resounding silence from the women in their ranks. Women of Google, and those who support them: What would happen if you walked away from the workstation, put down the Pixel phone, logged out of Google+? What would happen if you spent a day far away from the ever-present needs of a system that doesn’t truly support you and those who look like you? Could you spend 24 hours showing Google leadership the depth of your anger, and the strength of your resolve?

It’s time for Google’s leadership — specifically the men at the top of the org chart — to step up and clarify what they value and what they are going to do about this. Words are well and good, but ultimately women technologists will judge them on their actions. Now is the time to act.