Cracking the code on sexism

Tech giant Google is still grappling with the aftermath of a male employee’s sexist manifesto that went viral last week and got him fired on Monday. The brouhaha came only a few months after Google announced the hiring of a new VP of diversity, who was brought in to help the company tackle its widely-criticized diversity problem.

Google, of course, denounced the male engineer’s rant. Many of its lead engineers – fittingly enough – took to the Twittersphere to slam the memo’s anti-diversity message. Others in the tech community, including former female employees of Google, also vocalized their frustration over the exhausted issue of sexism in tech that continues despite the company’s best efforts.

But the article raises a deeper question: Was the manifesto a rogue happening from a male worker who felt threatened by the company’s increased efforts to diversify its environment? Or, was it a peek into a quiet minority of the tech company that still clings on to the belief that women are simply not equal to men? A portion of the 10-page manifesto may point to the latter, as the author shares his discontent at being unable to express his beliefs freely due to Google’s diversifying culture.

Sexism and gender biases in the workplace are hardly exclusive to the tech industry, and Google is certainly not the only company that has struggled with this publicly. Just last week, Uber’s search for a new female CEO – a public move by Uber to divert attention from its history of sexual harassment – reportedly came up empty after several women turned the company down. The list of those uninterested included Susan Wojcicki (chief of YouTube), Mary Barra (chief exec at GM), and Meg Whitman (chief exec at HP). Uber did manage to find three male candidates.

The lack of female interest in the job wasn’t all that surprising, given the backlash most female executives receive when unable to turn-around a company. A 2013 report found that white women, and women and men of color, were more likely than white men to get promoted to CEO at a company struggling to stay afloat.

“As much as I would love to see more women chief executives, too often women get the cleanup jobs, and I’d prefer to not always see women get the cleanup jobs,” said Elizabeth Ames, senior vice president at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

So how can companies come up with genuine solutions instead of showy efforts that do nothing but scratch the surface? Jeff Reid, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, argues it can’t just be a one-off fix, like hiring a female CEO or sending employees off to unconscious-biases retreats.

“When you’re talking about an issue that’s part of your culture, it takes a concerted effort to change culture. It starts with consistent messaging and actions,” Reid said.



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