The 3,000-plus word “manifesto” written by a now ex-Google software engineer set the internet on fire this week. It claimed, among other things, that a plausible explanation for the gender gap in technology is that women are biologically different and too neurotic for high-powered roles.
Headlines have called it “shocking.” Columnists have said it confirmed people’s worst fears about “tech-bro” culture. But women who work in technology ― at different companies, in different roles ― say it’s nothing new.
“I’m a technical project manager for a custom analytics solution team at a major media ratings company,” Caitlin, 28, told HuffPost. “I write code, query databases and design complicated algorithms. I’m also a woman with no reasonable expectation of respect at work.”
Caitlin says she has to fight, daily, for her turn to talk in meetings. Her boss has simultaneously “heaped” praise on her and told her not to expect a promotion for a full year, while at the same time men working underneath her have been bumped up multiple times. For Caitlin, the memo is simply explicit proof of how blind many in the industry are to the experiences of anyone who is non-white and non-male.
“This a** who wrote the manifesto at Google demonstrates one thing and one thing clearly: He has no damn idea,” she said. “He has no idea what it feels like to have to prove yourself every single day, and how strong you have to be just to show up to that environment.”
On social media, many women who work in technology expressed their lack of surprise ― and applauded Google for swiftly firing the employee.
Lack of diversity in tech continues to be a major problem, with no clear indication it is improving. A 2015 study found that the percentage of women who hold computing jobs in the United States has actually fallen since the 1990s. The non-profit Open Mic, which aims to foster diversity in tech, estimates that the workforce at major tech companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Google, is between 56 and 69 percent white. Studies have found that one-third of underrepresented women who work in tech have been passed over for a promotion, more than any other group.
But despite what the manifesto claims, there is clear evidence that diversity can improve companies’ bottom lines. A recent report from Morgan Stanley found, for example, that more gender diverse tech companies return 5.4 percent more annually than their peers with less diverse staffs.
Still, for many women, gender discrimination kicks in even before the job application process.
Chryssy Joski, 34, worked as a waitress, bartender and bank teller before she recently returned to school to get a degree in computer science. She had hoped there would be an even split of men and women in her program. In reality, there were 16 men and only four women. Though she was never subject to any blatant discrimination, she experienced how the kind of biases that led the Google memo’s author to believe that women, by nature, “prefer jobs in social or artistic areas” and tend to be less assertive, play out in subtle ways.
“Our male classmates often pigeonholed into the ‘softer’ aspects of programming ― documentation, design and testing ― during group projects,” she told HuffPost. “My classmates were never, ever overtly misogynistic, and they were always cool with female students programming... but that subconscious misogyny lingers and fosters an environment where overt misogyny can grow.” Indeed, a recent study found that women have to be nice and, to a certain extent, conform to gender roles to succeed at work.
Joski said she’s hopeful things will improve by the time her young daughter enters the work force, though she is preparing for the likelihood that parity is a long way off.
“I hope my daughter, should she choose a STEM career, will not face the discrimination and misogyny I have faced,” Joski said. If she does, it’s my job to raise her to be tough enough to overcome the backwards attitudes of some men ― and women ― she may encounter.”
Others, like Elisabeth Yarrow, see the memo as a sign of progress ― albeit a convoluted one. The 45-year-old writer (Yarrow is her pen name) and channel marketing manager has worked in tech since 2004 and says she has been “texted, touched and pursued by married sleazy [men]” while simply doing her job.
“I feel the reason that the Google ‘caveman’ responded the way he did [is because] men are scared of women being in their space,” Yarrow said. “We are going through a cultural shift.”