Published on 31 May 2014

Google: good for tech, but bad for women?

So, it turns out only 17 per cent of Google’s tech staff in the US are women.

A tiny 1 per cent is African American, 2 per cent Latino, and a more respectable 23 per cent is Asian.

For all its funky brand making, Google does modernity, but not diversity. The tech giant came out this week with the bad news, admitting the reason it hadn’t spoken earlier was it knew the figures would make the company look bad.

But there’s been kudos from industry observers who say now it’s done, Google can make things better. The vice president of one Washington DC start-up spoke of others now declaring the ethnic and gender make-up of their companies, in copycat confessionals.

Amid all this “coming clean” is the demand for action. The academic and researcher, Nikki Usher, warns that as the role played by technology grows across all sectors, so does its gender and diversity footprint.

She cites the example of prized programmer-journalist roles in digital newsrooms taken almost exclusively by men. She argues that has a direct impact on how we learn about the world online. And she laments the shortage of venture capital for start-ups helmed by women.

But Shana Glenzer, who is vice president of marketing at the app, Social Radar, is not so troubled. She admits Google’s figures aren’t good, but puts much of the blame on pipeline problems. Shana says an increase in the number of women graduating with good computer science degrees from prestigious universities should alleviate the problem in the next years.

When it comes to workplace culture, she describes a camaraderie among women who do work in the industry, and a sense of passion for their craft which unites them with their male colleagues.

As if to underscore the forces pushing against the advancement of women, the website Gawker has treated us to some historic emails from Silicon Valley. Brash boy-executive, Evan Spiegel, who runs Snapchat, sent them in his frat days at university. He’s apologised for their content. I won’t go into them here – they’re widely viewable.

There can be little doubt of the cultural and academic barriers to anyone who’s not white, and who’s not male, working at the top of the tech tree.

Now the problems are clear, the industry needs to do what it does well, and come up with a fix.

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14 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Kylie,

    The funniest thing about the reactionary male thieves who run companies is that they don’t realise women can be as evil as they. Some of them are even worse, just to prove it.

    In this country you only have to view archive video of that mad old harridan Thatcher to see how bad they can be. In the contemporary era put a peg on your nose and view Esther McVey, the Brit answer to Foghorn Leghorn.

    In the USA do we really need to go further than appalling Sarah Palin……the woman who managed to make Dan Quayle look like Bertrand Russell. Do we really need to go further than that?

    Of course we must have fairness in employment. It will have the full support of every reasonably intelligent citizen. But let’s not kid ourselves it guarantees anything more than equality of opportunity. It cannot and does not guarantee the character of “successful” women.

    1. Polly says:

      Philip,

      I like how in your comment you point to the ‘reactionary male thieves’. Who are these males reacting to I wonder? The surprising threat of an ‘evil’ woman who may be good, if not better, at their own job than they? Especially in the tech industry it may come as a surprise to these men – who have studied at university that this industry is overwhelmingly inhabited by people such as they and in a female equivalent they should feel no threat. Are they reacting to a woman who – if the company has correctly followed the EHRC guidelines for recruiting a diverse and inclusive workforce – has off her own merit been offered a role rather than the fact that she fills a quota?

      In my view it is a step forward, not only for the equal rights of women but for other protected groups in business, that the benefits of having a more diverse workforce are being recognised. Or would you disagree that the business case for diversity management is not cautionary enough of these sly women such as the aspiring Thatchers, Palins and McVeys who are hunting to steal these men’s jobs. Your comment paints women more than a little like a coven of plotting witches it seems…and I’m afraid rather downplays the efforts of the ever developing case of acknowledging diversity and equality together as a bonded business strategy (see the Department for Business and Innovation Skills Report, January 2013)

      A personal request: as you have sought to give examples of three women who you feel are not authentic in the business stratosphere, although quite a narrow exemplary field seeing as they are all politicans who in general seem to be a rather isolated and untrustworthy bunch, could you provide an example of a woman in a role of leadership and high authority who, like Evan Spiegal amongst other cases, has circulated derogatory sexual communications around their company about males? I think you may have trouble…

      Thanks,

      Polly King

      1. Philip Edwards says:

        Polly,

        I normally don’t respond to “responders,” for the good reason it can go on forever and gets nowhere.

        I will on this occasion, though. So:

        I think you miss my point. Please reread my final paragraph posted above.

        Best wishes.

      2. Polly says:

        If the last paragraph was the point you were trying to make, then were the first three paragraphs needed?

        Not really. In general, I don’t think women are as evil as men. In terms of what I determine as evil: 71 out of the 72 mass murderers in the history of the USA are male, there has never been a female ‘dictator’ and 96% of reported sexual assaults in the US are perpetrated by males. Obviously a statistic can’t determine a personality. Of course there are evil women and trully virtuous men. But these statistics are certainly worrying to me and the pattern is undeniable.

        My point here is, the introduction of term ‘evil’ wasn’t needed.

        Polly

      3. Philip Edwards says:

        Polly,

        This useless exchange reminds me of graffiti I saw years ago.

        Someone painted on a wall in metre high letters FREE WOMEN NOW!

        Underneath in letters a few centimetres high someone else painted Yes Dear.

        You win. The floor is yours. Good luck.
        :-)

  2. Alan says:

    Google et al can manufacture stats to increase diversity all they like. The abuse of privacy will continue unabated.

  3. sol says:

    Any woman that is good enough and interested in working in tech can do so already. There is no need for tokenism masquerading as equal opportunity, what next, quotas?

    1. adil says:

      I think you’re right. However, some good women tend to get ‘forced out’ either from relentless chauvinism, sexism etc (for example: http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/15/julie-ann-horvath-describes-sexism-and-intimidation-behind-her-github-exit/) or from lack of prospects. From my own experience in Science women have to be better than men in order to just stay at the same level. They also have to be calmer and more level-headed than men.

      This just isn’t right. It’s not a level playing field. If you’re in business it also doesn’t make good business sense (if you’re looking for a good C or Javascript programmer and the best candidate happens to be a woman you’d be foolish not to take her).

      There is an issue with some women whose ambition exceeds their ability and they try to play the sexism card (but, equally there’s many men in similar situations that use whatever means they can) to get ahead. This is bad as it reflects on all people with genuine ability.

      There may be a case, during interviews, for simply getting rid of the name and sex of the person and just put a number on the top. That way the skills of the candidate are judged before who they are is known.

      There are a lot of good women with excellent skills in computing and a real passion for it. It would be nice to see those given the opportunity to put their skills to use.

  4. Craig says:

    I think it’s a pity this report is short-circuiting from observing an unrepresentative demographic in this sector/company and concluding sexism. What about family lawyers, nurses, HR, journalism and teaching; where women make up the majority? Would you similarly conclude that these professions are sexist against men?

    Your report also highlighted the disproportionately high number of Asians in the Google tech jobs. By your logic then, is Google discriminating against caucasians as well as African Americans?

    There are many reasons why demographics in one sector may not represent society as a whole, and sexism & racism may or may not be two of them. But I think some justification that these are the apparent causes to the demographics cited is needed rather than making assumptions based on the bare statistics.

  5. James Alton says:

    This journalism report may be good for Kylie’s kudos amongst her right thinking, feminist, ethnic (i.e. non-white male), diversity seeking colleagues and friends, but it is a dishonest report, and I hope she knows it – though, of course, she could never reveal such a thing.
    In order to believe any of what she says you would have to believe that one of the most successful, forward thinking, innovative, global organisations does not want to employ people who could keep them at the forefront of innovation but would instead let such people be employed elsewhere, possibly with rivals. You might retort that you’d agree that Google would want such people but their recruitment process must be at fault – really? A sophisticated, innovative organisation like Google has incorrect recruitment procedures that discards vast numbers of potentially valuable employees? Probably not – it is more likely that Channel4 has incorrect recruitment procedures.
    Your report first castigates Google by implying that they are discriminatory in their employee makeup, then in the later part imply that there may be good reasons for such a makeup. And you ignore the statistic that you initially give that 26% of the employees are non-white when, if you want to bandy with numbers, according to the 2010 census, 72% of the population of the USA is white hence 28% is non-white.
    People cry discrimination when it suits their objectives regardless of justification – I do not cry discrimination when I see that men are barred from giving birth.

  6. Phil says:

    If we need more women chief executives, do we also need more white sprinters in the Olympic 100m?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_REMnrG2J4

  7. Joni Farthing says:

    The importance of the stats is to alert teachers, girls in school and college etc that there’s a shift ready to take place. Let’s ensure girls see tech as a great career because companies WANT to hire them now they realise how poor these stats look.

  8. H Henderson says:

    Would be good if all Companies & Organisations published the differences in pay between all groups of employees? I’ve always marvelled at the alphas sense of entitlement.

  9. M Hart says:

    Why is these this immediate presumption that because female employees are less common than the males at Google, that there is a problem. Surely we should be looking to the cause before jumping to such conclusions.

    If there is a lack of opportunity within Google for females, then clearly that is a problem that needs to be fixed quickly. however, if there are no such lack of opportunities, and the lower numbers is simply a reflection of the free life choices that women are exercising, then we have to – at least to some degree – respect that.

    I have severe reservations about casually employing social engineering to a ‘problem’ such as this. Forcing women to work for Google when they freely choose not to is only mildly distasteful until you realise that a commensurate effect is that you are preventing them from pursuing their current preference, and you are probably considering using so-called ‘positive’ discrimination to do so. Nasty!

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