Biology Isn't Why Tech Is a Boys' Club

CNN/ Newswire | 8/8/2017, 10:16 a.m.
It was an unoriginal argument: Women aren't biologically fit to succeed in tech.

Sara Ashley O'Brien

(CNN Money) -- It was an unoriginal argument: Women aren't biologically fit to succeed in tech.

Over the weekend, a 3,300-word manifesto written by one of Google's male engineers was leaked to the press. In the memo, the rank-and-file engineer mused that women aren't suited for tech jobs for "biological" reasons. Men have "higher drive for status," and women have higher rates of anxiety disorders -- making for "lower numbers of women in high stress jobs."

Google quickly condemned the document's assertions. And on Monday, CEO Sundar Pichai emailed the company's staff blasted portions of the memo for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" in the workplace. "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK," Pichai wrote.

The memo has generated widespread outrage.

In fact, in terms of abilities, attitudes and actions, the differences between the sexes are scarce and minimal, Wharton professor of management and psychology Adam Grant pointed out on Monday.

Sarah Allen, a senior technical leader at Google, told CNN Tech that the memo "distracts everybody from the real issues. It's really frustrating to have to respond to an ill-thought out series of arguments."

Allen said she was speaking in an individual capacity, not as a representative of the company. She joined Google more than a year ago and is a member of one of its diversity teams, but she's been working as an engineer and manager in the industry for more than two decades.

Allen, who publicly commented on the memo on her blog, said it illustrated conscious bias.

It "undermines the people who you are saying are different. There is no evidence that we even understand what makes someone a good software developer. It is not linked to math, it's not linked to good education," she told CNN Tech. "I hope he did not mean to imply that his female peers are neurotic. However, that is a message that is underlying it ... It was not thoughtful about the impact it would have on his colleagues."

Lack of women and minority employees continues to be a deep-rooted and painful problem in tech.

Allegations of sexism and harassment at Uber opened a flood of conversations around Silicon Valley's sexist culture. Despite publishing diversity reports and expressing a desire to increase minority hires, companies haven't shown much measurable improvement in workplace demographics over the last few years.

Turnover in the tech industry caused by the mistreatment of employees costs companies $16 billion a year in replacement costs, according to a recent study from the Kapor Center. The study also found that women "experienced and observed" much more unfair treatment than men.

Allen, who said her personal experience working at Google has been a good one, said the industry needs to focus on "addressing actual toxic work environments and ensuring that people treat their colleagues with respect. This work is creative work, you cannot do creative work in a climate of fear."