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Amid Google Manifesto Firestorm, The Argument for Diversity in Tech

As a female in the IT industry, there is nothing that can get me as worked up as discussing diversity within the tech industry. Over my career, I have definitely felt discrimination from males who think that just because I don’t have a Y chromosome that I am somehow unable to do my job well.

Early in my IT career, I was replaced in a job I had been doing for over a year by a man whom I had hired, and had been reporting to me during that year. On paper we were the same, the only difference was that I had been doing the job for the last year, and he had not — oh and I’m a woman.

After I moved into working for IT consulting firms, I have dealt with clients asking if they could speak to someone different at my company (translation: They wanted to speak to a male). I’ve shown up at clientele only to have them ask if there is anyone else the company could send (before they even bothered to learn about my qualifications). Fortunately for me, the IT companies for whom I worked always 100% back me up.

The Google Manifesto Firestorm

So, when Google employee James Damore and his 10-page manifesto triggered headlines this week, my blood started to boil right away. Damore’s memo pushed back against diversity hiring and suggested that men are biologically better equipped than women to work in the tech industry. Google fired him for the comments.

Ironically, the firestorm comes only one week after CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux made the case for diversity hiring and inclusive workforces during the ChannelCon conference in Austin, Texas. The IT industry as a whole could learn quite a bit from Thibodeaux’s comments. ChannelE2E plans to post a video of Thibodeaux’s keynote as soon as CompTIA makes it available.

Despite my lack of a Y chromosome, I have excelled in my career. I truly believe that what makes a person good in tech careers is not whether or not they are male or female, but how their mind works. There are certain qualities a person can have that make them a great fit for careers in Tech, such as being highly analytical and having problem-solving skills.

The fact that there are a lot fewer women in tech careers is more to do with the encouragement, or lack thereof, they receive throughout grade-school, junior high and high school.

Great programs like GirlStart help girls get excited about STEM. But there is still a long way to go. A 2012 report showed that there has been a 79% decline in the number of first-year undergraduate women interested in a Computer Science major between 2000 and 2011.

Set Proper Examples

Women must lead by example if we are going to make any significant changes to those numbers. I get so angry when I hear moms say, in front of their daughters, “Oh, I just don’t understand technology, I’ll have my husband do that.” The message you are sending to your children when you say that is that women can’t or even shouldn’t understand technology. I was lucky enough to be raised by my father, who is also in the tech industry. It didn’t matter if I was a girl, he taught me how to use and fix technology. He didn’t just take over and do it for me. He wanted me to figure it out on my own, and had confidence to do exactly that.

But the case for a diverse workforce goes beyond X and Y chromosomes. It helps to have a variety of backgrounds and experiences when working as a team at a company or on a service desk. There are so many variables that go into why something isn’t working — one solution that worked perfectly for one system, may not work at all in another environment. When you have several people from different backgrounds working together to tackle the problem, you can solve issues in ways you never thought of previously.

Diversity within any team of people is a good thing. Different perspectives from men, women, conservatives, liberals, different ethnicities and more, working together can get more things done. It is so important, especially within the tech industry to be able to come together to look at a problem. Celebrate our differences; they can help us reach outside of our own understanding to come to a solution that will work best, and everyone will benefit.

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6 Comments

Comments

    Pete:

    I don’t agree with your characterization of the memo. I think he was FOR diversity and actual diversity would require diversity of thought. I think he was also try to suggest ways to attract more diversity by changing the current practices at Google.
    Google is obviously a company that doesn’t believe in diverse opinions or points of view. Maybe they shouldn’t have asked for opinions on the topic.
    While they have the right to fire employees for any reason, doing so for a diversity of thought may cripple the company in the future.

    Jeff Hanson:

    I think your comment “my blood started to boil right away” is extremely telling. I’ve read the memo AND the related research data he bases many of his statements on. Though I may not agree with 100% of what he says, I find his statements well thought out and reasoned. They could be a great launching point to have an important and meaningful discussion about this issue. If your blood is boiling, a reasonable discussion can’t take place.

    Damore’s memo opens with “I value diversity and inclusion, and am not denying sexism exists and don’t endorse using stereotypes.” As I mentioned, he also points to vast research to support many of his points and makes reasonable suggestions on additional ways (that Google is not using) to potentially fix this issue.

    You simply state “The fact that there are a lot fewer women in tech careers is more to do with the encouragement, or lack thereof, they receive throughout grade-school, junior high and high school.” You provide no reference to research data to base your assumption on – It appears your statement is feeling, not fact. Though what you state has some merit, it is clearly not the only cause.

    There are many reasons there are fewer women in tech and in higher level positions within tech. Each cause has a varying degree of impact and there are varying ways we can impact these causes for the better.

    Without calm and reasonable discussions on this issue, it isn’t going away. Unfortunately, many reactions to Mr. Damore’s document prevent this.

    Steve Adams:

    If you truly value diversity in the workplace, and that article made your blood boil, then I have to conclude one of two possibilities exists. One, you simply did not understand what you read. Two, you are guilty of at least a couple of the issues that were pointed out in the article. Your letter would tend to indicate the latter.
    If you are trying to achieve a diverse workforce, then you need to adopt a welcoming stance.
    Recounting your past unpleasant experience and telling us that reminders of it “make your blood boil”
    is counterproductive to encouraging girls and women in STEM pursuits. It also does nothing to be welcoming.
    With many choices open for about the same pay, I have sometimes chosen the job that offered the least stress. I think it is pretty reasonable that a talented woman would do the same.

    Do you really think shouting to the world that you have had unpleasant experiences as a woman in IT is a source of encouragement to those participating in the GirlStart program you mentioned?
    Or is it closer to being an example that belongs in your set proper examples paragraph?

    Joe Panettieri:

    Hi Folks: Here’s an update/interview directly from the memo’s author: Former Google employee James Damore.
    -jp

    Jessica Davis:

    Sticking up for Sarah here. I have seen anti-woman bias throughout my career in tech. I have been covering tech for 25 years, and I have met many many brilliant women who have risen to the top of their fields IN SPITE of the bias. I appreciate that this gentleman at Google was trying to explain his theories behind lack of diversity and back it up with some hand-picked information to support his case. But he is wrong.
    When I see arguments like this it doesn’t make my blood boil. It makes me laugh, just like I do every time I leave Best Buy after a 25-year-old guy tries to explain technology to me. Dude, I was writing about technology before you were born.
    I’d encourage women out there to pursue careers in data science, specifically, which is a tech field where bias is called out, not embraced (because that’s the very nature of data science, after all). I have met so many brilliant women in this field, and this field is poised for growth.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Jess: Always good to hear from you. I see valid points on both sides of the aisle…

      1. Biases: I’ve certainly seen my share of bias and discrimination against women, minorities and ethnicities (“no, I’m not in the mob”) in the workplace over my career.
      2. Sharing Views: I do sense that my conservative friends are tired of getting “beaten down” when they share conservative views. Though I certainly understand that words and actions should never be used to create a hostile work environment.

      The Challenge: Finding a way to eliminate the biases (yup, they’re prevalent) without regulating and PC’ing ourselves to death. Frankly, I want government and HR out of my life. I just want to do my job, take care of my family and enjoy the journey. But unfortunately, we’ve got government and HR involved in everything because those in power haven’t done enough to eliminate the biases out there.

      May the best person (regardless of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, military service, or disability) earn the job. And may those in power — the people doing the hiring — finally wake up to the value of finding, hiring and paying the best talent (regardless of background) a fair wage.

      -jp

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