The corporate world was recently shaken up out of its oblivion, yet again, with another diversity related controversy. It happened when a Google employee wrote a 10-page memo sharing his views on how women are not genetically suitable for a career or jobs in technology, because, he adds, that women lack the traits such as stress tolerance, for a role like that. It brings us back to the whole debate about women and their role in the typically male-dominated sectors like technology and science.
I believe that There has been a persistent and prevalent bias about women in this space, and that has resulted in a very low percentage of them choosing to be in this area of work. But what has caused the outrage is that first, this is coming from behind the walls of a company like Google which is otherwise known for its future-focused practices and second, that the engineer was confident about sharing this kind of opinion in such an open manner.
It has resulted in swift reprisal, apologetic speeches and the sacking of this employee. But what we must understand is that is that a knee-jerk reaction to a deep-rooted problem, that was voiced by this employee? We must evaluate if serious gender-stereotyping issues are already simmering at the subliminal level within Google and this individual has only communicated them in a more blatant fashion.
There are some who feel that irrespective of the sexist nature of the comments, the violation of code of conduct itself was reason enough to fire him. Such an action sets an example for the rest. It also sets a precedent on what is considered acceptable. Sundar Pichai’s statement emphasizes on the code of conduct part as well as the fact that freedom of speech is valued in Google and hence the engineer can express his disagreement with any company program or policy. However, this statement was followed up by firing the engineer.
There are others who believe this to be an over-reaction and his statements reflected a predominant conditioning that exists and his ideas reflect that. So the issue is larger than just a memo. When you analyze the reaction to the memo, at the surface level it might seem that such drastic action was needed in order to reiterate what Google stands for or believes that it stands for at an external level. It also seems like a way to send a message internally.
But in hindsight, the questions it raises is – is this a reflection of their internal approach to dissent? The issue at Google has been the concern at large with all big Technology firms and getting a sense of how this needs to be addressed has to go beyond just the regular approach of firing anyone with a biased opinion.
Strategic changes that have a broader and far-reaching impact on all women in STEM fields are needed. Companies need to take long-term constructive action rather than short-term reactive measures, since those will not have a high-level change.
By Simran Oberoi
Simran Oberoi is an independent HR Consultant in Bangalore, with HR Advisory, Knowledge Development and Research expertise of over 13 years, in Rewards & Compensation, Diversity & Inclusion, Talent Development, HR & Social Media. She has worked with consulting firms like Hay Group, Aon Hewitt and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the past, in India as well as Asia-Pacific leadership roles. Simran is also a keen baker – you can find her recipes at https://ovenderfulhealthybaking.wordpress.com/