August 10, 2017

A Memo on #GoogleManifesto

As a woman with a career in both tech and leadership, I’ve been asked a dozen times what my opinion is on the Google manifesto that’s been circulating the internet this week.

If you haven’t seen it or even heard about it, you can read the full memo here, and you should. It’s interesting, to say the least.

In a nutshell, a male Google engineer wrote and shared a 10-page memo questioning Google’s diversity policies. In doing so, he attempted to explain the gender gap for the shortage of women working in technology and leadership. Unfortunately, his explanation angered a lot of people as it conveyed an idea that women are biologically unsuited for those types of roles.

Here’s my personal response…

To readers of the Google manifesto,

I’ve heard/read a lot of negative responses to the memo today. My reaction while reading it was up and down. The writer made a lot of good points: No topic should be too sacred to talk about; People are very quick to label things as derogatory, racist, bigoted, etc. and it’s not always the case; One reason women are underrepresented in tech is due to a lack of interest, not necessarily a lack of respect or opportunity. I’ve said all that myself before and couldn’t agree more.

What I struggled with is his over-confidence in blaming biological differences combined with a lack of credible sources to back up the many “stats” he included in his memo. I am certainly open to the idea that some of his acclaimed facts could theoretically be true, but he shouldn’t have made such bold and offensive claims without offering references. Even his footnotes were merely extensions of his opinion.

Much of his argument implied that women are emotionally unstable and biologically handicap to handle the programmatic nature of the tech world and stresses of leadership. If scientific data supports this stance and despite it contradicting my personal experiences has found it to be an average truth, then I’m the last person who will argue data just because I don’t want to believe it. However, the author – who chose to write his memo with the tone and formality of a research paper – didn’t actually offer any evidence or credibility. Rather, he attempted to make his opinions appear factual and for that reason, I can’t help but roll my eyes at his analysis of female DNA. Until proven otherwise, I believe society is largely to blame for why so few women are obtaining careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Girls are given toy makeup kits and princess dresses as early as toddlers while boys are given building blocks and remote control cars. Considering early childhood is a critical brain development period, is it that hard to see why the beauty industry is flooded with females while STEM fields remain male-dominated? Even girls who are interested in STEM fields get questioned for being so. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at tech conferences and was asked if I was a recruiter or an event planner. The assumption is never that I’m there to learn alongside the boys. I won a code challenge at a conference I attended, and when I went to collect my prize, the sponsors apologized to me as the options were entirely geared towards men. Luckily I have a brother I could give my winnings to. 🙂

A large cultural shift has to happen, worldwide, to increase women’s interest and confidence in contributing to STEM fields, and it has to start early on. Not to mention, we are still making up for recent history where women weren’t even allowed to study or take on positions in STEM or leadership, which had a generational impact as well. The battles women fought, some of which we’re still fighting, are absolutely absurd. These are key points missed by the writer, which is very disappointing. Instead of acknowledging obvious societal contributors, he put the emphasis on a women’s lack of ability, pointing the finger at genetics.

I don’t hold it against the guy for expressing his thoughts. Actually, kudos to him for his willingness to speak openly about such a sensitive subject. The world would never evolve without people brave enough to share less than popular ideas. That said, it’s sad he hasn’t yet come to know what we, as women, are capable of. I mildly pity him for all the hate he’s going to receive because of his ignorance, as I don’t believe he wrote the manifesto with ill intentions. After all, he argued that nothing will ever get better until we face the reality of the problem. In a backward way, I suspect he really was trying to help. I’m not saying that makes him right, to be clear, but the way he approached communicating his thoughts largely contributed to the shock value. He dug his own grave by writing the memo as if it were a legit study rather than a casual opinion article, unnamed coworkers were his only references, and he heavily involved one of the highest-profile tech companies in the world, that is Google. The stupidity and lack of thoughtful consideration in his execution made it difficult to take the content seriously, even if at least some of it was valid.

So, let the dude have his opinion. He’s one guy, who cares? More importantly, is that the reaction to what he wrote was overwhelmingly negative by the general public. THAT is what matters. He brought a spike of awareness to an issue that deserves attention, and at the end of the day, that’s a positive thing.

In conclusion, am I OUTRAGED like so many are? No. Should I be more so than I am? Perhaps.

Maybe I’m not superheated as I’m lucky to have plenty of great men in my life who don’t question my abilities because I’m female. Men who see my passion as a strength rather than emotional weakness. And for the not-so-great men, their egos are never a big surprise. Ego aside, it’s hard to be upset with someone you feel is attempting to solve a problem, even if they got the solution very wrong.

Molly Deutmeyer
Sr. Front-End Developer, UX Team Lead