James Damore’s anti-diversity screed has surprisingly triggered an outpouring of commentary from former and current female employees who are speaking out about the company’s purportedly repressive culture, despite the mega tech company's 'holier-than-thou' view of its work environment.
Enter Guardian reporter Sam Levin, who last night published a story recounting several Googlers’ encounters with sex and race-based discrimination.
Google’s director of global diversity and inclusion was ready when Levin called for comment, saying all the right things to try and mitigate the outrage of her virtue-signaling Silicon Valley peers.
“Asked about the slow pace of progress, Yolanda Mangolini, Google’s director of global diversity and inclusion, said in an interview that “change takes time”, adding: “We know that it’s not just about recruiting a diverse workforce. It’s about creating an environment where they want to stay.”
After reviewing the Guardian’s summary of the women’s claims, Mangolini said: “I’m always disappointed when I hear these stories.” She pointed to Google’s “employee resource groups”, such as the “black Googler network”, which she said can go a long way in helping minorities who feel isolated find support and make connections.
"It saddened me personally when I read it, because I knew the impact of those words on the technical women … [whose] skills are always questioned,” Mangolini said. ‘My heart sort of broke for them.’”
Former female employees have continued to speak out despite the company’s notoriously stringent policy of forcing incoming employees to sign NDAs about their time inside the Googleplex. According to Google data, which the company supplied to the Guardian, men occupy 80% of tech jobs and 75% of leadership roles at the company. Overall, only 2% of employees are black, 4% are Hispanic, 35% Asian and 56% white. The company has touted its recent 1% increases in a number of underrepresented groups.
But as Damore argued in his memo, enforcing mandatory diversity policies could weaken the company by forcing it to choose inferior engineers over more-qualified peers because of gender or skin color. As Damore explains, differences in the distribution of certain characteristics across male and female population accounts for the bulk of the discrepancy, not some monolithic patriarchy, which is a myth propagated by academics with a focus on gender studies.
One former employee, an Asian woman named Quichen Zhang, said she nearly “shut down” after being teased about her race by a male colleague.
“Qichen Zhang couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The technical specialist was in the middle of the office at Google when a white male colleague began joking with her about her hiring.
"He said, ‘It must’ve been really easy for you to get your job because you’re an Asian woman and people assume you’re good at math,’” Zhang recalled in a recent interview. “It was absolutely stunning. I remember me just emotionally shutting down.”
“Zhang, who quit in 2014, said she felt that raising concerns to human resources about the racist joke she faced would be pointless, especially since the colleague was an engineer and she was not. (Reached for comment, the former co-worker said he did not recall making the remark).
‘I don’t want to be labeled as the girl who cries ‘race card’ or plays the ‘woman card,’’ she added. ‘I was just trying to get over it.’”
A black female former employee told The Guardian that she overheard racist jokes in the office, and felt like the company’s HR department didn’t take her complaints about being singled out because of her race seriously.
“She said she also overheard racist jokes on multiple occasions and that she immediately felt left out at the workplace – excluded from emails and social events and working alongside colleagues who didn’t bother to learn her name.
The woman said that her efforts to advocate for diversity further took a toll on her. The company seemed primarily interested in PR and positive branding when it came to diversity initiatives, which made it difficult to push for more substantive reforms.
She felt she was negatively judged for her advocacy for people of color: ‘They didn’t like the way you’re prioritizing diversity, because that’s not your role.’”
In a Wall Street Journal editorial published last week, Damore said he was fired from Google because the discussion of differences between men and women in tech couldn’t be tolerated by the company’s "ideological echo chamber.” But as more current and former employees come forward, Google might be forced to take dramatic action to signal that it is taking these complaints seriously. That could include firing a top executive. After all, scandals are easier for shareholders to swallow if there’s a scapegoat ready and waiting.