Google's the latest Silicon Valley tech firm to find itself in a gender storm after engineer's anti-diversity rant surfaces

Lynsey Barber
Follow Lynsey
A rant about diversity was shared by a Google engineer (Source: Getty)

Google has become the latest Silicon Valley giant to find itself embroiled in a sexism storm after a document was leaked in which an engineer at the company railed against the tech firm’s diversity efforts.

The employee had circulated a memo within the company entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” in which he argued the gender gap is down to biological differences between men and women, rather than issues surrounding bias or discrimination.

Current and former members of staff at Google lashed out after the memo was published by tech website Gizmodo.

Google security expert Parisa Tabriz tweeted: "Inclusion is not a zero-sum game. Making your team or organisation a more inclusive place for X does not mean discrimination against 'not X'"

Read more: Start promoting diversity in your workplace – it’s worth it

Yonatan Zunger, an engineer at Google until last week, said the unidentified author appeared not to understand gender, engineering or consequences, writing a response on Medium.

That post was retweeted by Melody Meckfessel, Google's Cloud Platform engineering director.

Google project manager Sam Ramji, also writing on Medium, said the document "advances a view that is antithetical to kindness".

"As many of my fellow leaders at Google have stated clearly, it’s harmful. I have already heard about negative impacts to people inside and outside our organisation based on these pseudo-intellectual messages and their amplification in our minds and conversations," he said.

Another engineer, Jaana Dogan, said she would consider leaving Google if HR failed to act. She tweeted: "The author is now in contact with me explaining why he received *supportive* response + more are going to leave if we don't fix the culture."

Read more: It's official: Google Glass is back and now it means business (literally)

The document was also blasted by others working in technology. Ellen Pao, who fought and lost a high-profile legal battle over gender discrimination at her former venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said it required "immediate action" by Google's leaders.

An email to staff from newly installed vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, in response to the document, said the company believed "diversity and inclusion are critical to our success" also citing an internal G+ post from Ari Balogh a vice president at Google.

But, Brown added this meant "fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions".

Balough said in his post:

Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way. But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful. Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said.

Read more: The 45 top women in TV and radio demanding equal pay from the BBC

A spokesperson told Reuters the statements from Brown and Balogh were official responses from Google.

Silicon Valley has been rocked in recent months by sexism in the tech industry and several relations of sexual harassment. A whistle blower's tell-all account of her experience as a female engineer at Uber ultimately led to the departure of its founder Travis Kalanick. And VCs Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital and Dave McClure of 500 Startups were forced to resign and apologise after harassment allegations surfaced.

Related articles