A severe earthquake just shook Google and the Silicon Valley. The tremors didn’t come from the San Andreas Fault. The epicenter was a software engineer’s manifesto questioning women’s biology and ability to compete in the tech sector. It is truly sensational and unbelievable. The truth is that women have made significant contributions to the world as we know it. Is it time to create a “Gender Impact Index”?
Last week 28 year old Harvard alum and senior Google software engineer James Damore posted a 10 page anti-diversity internal memo arguing that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions and accusing Google of silencing conservative political opinions. Among his unsupported assertions in the memo:
- Seminars to teach young girls coding skills are ‘highly politicized’
- Higher rates of anxiety disorders in women explains underrepresentation in ‘high stress jobs’
- Men have a higher drive for status
Of course, James has been fired and he is already suing Google for multiple reasons.
Wait a Minute
Thoughtful commentary on the diversity issues in tech and Damores’ manifesto are posted elsewhere. Perhaps no one sums up the exasperation of many professionals at this whole ordeal as well as Sarah Allen, senior technical leader at Google when she said “It’s really frustrating to have to respond to an ill-thought out series of arguments.” She further elaborates “There is no evidence that we even understand what makes someone a good software developer.”
While we may not know what makes someone really good at software development, we do know that women were pioneers in the field, back when it was still considered ‘menial.’ Among the women who deserve to have their work highlighted today:
- Ada Lovelace: Expanded on Charles Babbage’s vision for his machine beyond number calculations to include to words, pictures, and music. She essentially predicted modern computers. Her notes were read 100 years later by people building the first computer.
- Jean Jennings Bartik: One of six female mathematicians who created programs for one of the world’s first fully electronic general purpose computers.
- Grace Hopper: The first to program computers using words rather than numbers, the program language COBOL.
While modern day tech is dominated by men, it was not always the case. Women were pioneers in tech. In fact, for decades the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than men. This trend reversed in the 1980s for reasons unrelated to female biology or psychology.
What do we Really Need?
As we face this high-stakes headlong dash to a dramatically different future, should we really spend our valuable time and energy debating the relative merits of women in tech? They’ve already demonstrated their merit.
Moreover, the reasons for increasing diversity in tech have everything to do with innovation. Executives cite studies showing diversity is positively correlated with innovation and profits. The more diverse, the better according to author and Aspen Institute CEO, Walter Isaacson. Known for his profiles of innovators Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, Isaacson studied the people who created the digital revolution and concluded that innovation in tech is a team sport.
What we need, according to Jacobson, are collaborators. We need people who think big, take risks, and work together. We need to build upon and improve upon existing accomplishments.
We need to move beyond a war of the sexes. Adam Kahane, key facilitator to the dissolution of apartheid and author of Solving Tough Problems, proved that the single best path forward is having people with diverse backgrounds and opinions at the table working together. If we are going to continue to innovate, we need to engage the best, regardless of their gender, race, religion, political persuasion, or sexual orientation. We need to raise up our colleagues, not tear them down.
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