select all

Don’t Make a Woman Explain to You Why That Anti-Diversity Google Memo Is Garbage

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Men in the tech industry are not hurting. Specifically, men at Google are not hurting. By the company’s most recent numbers, men make up 69 percent of the company, and occupy 80 percent of tech positions and 75 percent of leadership roles. (Google’s annual diversity report operates on gender-binary metrics and does not offer data on anybody who might identify as anything other than male or female.) They make millions of dollars, they’re placed in key decision-making roles, and they have clear paths to success.

Men in tech, however, are hurting women. They’re hurting women by posing as sexual-assault victims as a twisted method of getting even with a competitor. By calling the industry’s known harassment issue “perceived reality.” By only apologizing for piggish behavior when they know they’re about the be publicly busted for it. Specifically, men at Google are hurting women by writing, publishing, circulating, and endorsing a multipage document full of reductive and pseudoscientific reasons why women — and essentially anybody who isn’t a white man — are biologically different from men, and how taking extra steps to ensure a gender-diverse workplace actually isn’t helpful for anybody at the company. “Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”

The memo, written by an unnamed Google employee, circulated among the company for some time prior to being exposed by Motherboard, and later published in full by Gizmodo. There’s a lot wrong with it. It attributes a lot of what subjugates women to men to biology; it refers to the gender pay gap as a “myth”; it claims that programs designed to help women advocate for themselves leave “swaths of men without support.” I could go on: All in all, this thing is ten pages long. You could spend hours, if not days, debunking it point by point — explaining how the gender pay gap is still absolutely real, if narrowing a bit for select groups. Talking about how four in ten mothers have taken “significant” time away from work because they have to care for children and family members.

Okay, actually, I will go on. The document argues that status is the primary metric by which men are judged, so this leads them to take “higher paying, less satisfying jobs” so that they can puff their chests a little bigger and stand a little taller, even at the expense of living an enjoyable life. (A footnote clarifies — if you could call it clarification — that this “has biological origins and is culturally universal” and only applies to “heterosexual romantic relationships.” Who knew queer people had it so easy!) On the flip side, women are supposedly more interested in “a balanced and fulfilling life.” Google is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor for “extreme” wage disparities between male and female employees. The notion here — that women elect to work lower-paying and less-powerful jobs because they’re cool with earning less money if it means a better work/life balance — is manifestly insane. To say four in ten mothers “choose” to take time away from the office in the name of family is true only under a very narrow definition of “choice.” The conception that women and men are afforded the same kinds of choices in life is the kind of idea that could only be produced by someone who’s never spoken with women about their jobs, or their lives, or encountered real-world structural and social inequalities that enforce narrow career and job choices for people depending on their backgrounds.

Ask just about any woman you know and she’d tell you all of this. And then she’d sigh. Because she shouldn’t have to. “Open discussion” of the memo’s ideas seems like a reasonable enough idea in the abstract until you understand what it would mean: An endless, Sisyphean task of re-explaining, over and over, to every new engineer who doesn’t get it, why diversity and equality is important to Google. This is not the first time these ideas have been put forward, and it won’t be the last. Women in tech are already busy enough with their, you know, jobs, so stop adding to their to-do lists by making them explain, ad nauseam, why they deserve to have — and be paid fairly for — those jobs in the first place.

Employees at Google know which of their colleagues wrote the anti-diversity memo, but his name has not been attached to any of the bad press it has received since it was leaked. If the author had been a woman, I’d be willing to bet you $0.79 — there’s that pesky wage gap myth, again — we’d already know everything about her. What does her résumé look like? What does her face look like? What does her significant other’s face look like? Because, historically, that’s what happens when women in Silicon Valley speak out. Susan Fowler at Uber, Ellen Pao at Kleiner Perkins, Julie Ann Horvath at GitHub, and Adria Richards at SendGrid were all publicly raked over the coals for speaking out against discrimination, the real kind, in the industry.

The memo author, for his part, is still publicly anonymous, but he isn’t alone. Several Google employees told Motherboard that a concerning number of their co-workers were in agreement with him. “Honestly, more people have been agreeing with it than I would like,” one employee said. “From what I’ve seen, it’s been a mix of women saying, ‘This is terrible and it’s been distracting me from my work and it shouldn’t be allowed’; men and women saying, ‘This is horrible but we need to let him have a voice’; and men saying, ‘This is so brave, I agree.’” To go through the emotional, and physical, labor of explaining the misguided memo would only be to validate it, and opens the door further for somebody else to raise the same “arguments” later. Women have more important work to do.

Don’t Make a Woman Explain Why That Google Memo Is Garbage