Triggered by a troubling question from her daughter, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki issued a public response tothat argued biology prevents women from being as successful as men in the tech industry.
“Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?” Wojcicki’s daughter asked after the memo, written by a worker at YouTube parent Google, became public, according to a column penned by Wojcicki and published Tuesday by Fortune.
Wojcicki went on to explain how her daughter echoed a question that, whether asked outright or whispered quietly, has weighed heavily on Wojcicki in her career in tech.
When the memo brought the question to the fore over the weekend, Wojcicki “once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. I thought about the women at Google who are now facing a very public discussion about their abilities, sparked by one of their own co-workers.
“I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields, how hard we’ve been working as an industry to reverse that trend, and how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science.”
Some are defending the memo on the grounds of free speech, but Wojcicki said companies should take action against employees who “make unlawful statements about co-workers or create hostile work environments.”
The memo controversy comes as Silicon Valley companies grapple with how to increase workforce diversity in an industry dominated by white men and permeated with corporate cultures that seem biased against women and female engineers. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies now regularly release diversity reports, highlighting low percentages of women and minority employees, with few moving up the management chain.
Wojcicki said she’s seen it all firsthand.
“Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question,” she wrote. “I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings … No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.”
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