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YouTube CEO Addresses Controversial Google Gender Memo

Susan Wojcicki, the Chief Executive of YouTube, was recently faced with a weighty question regarding the lack of women in tech leadership positions from her daughter.

In an essay published by Fortune, Wojcicki addressed the question and how it has lingered in the shadows of her career for some time.

“Mom,” her daughter asked her. “Is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?”

“That question,” Wojcicki wrote, “whether it’s been asked outright, whispered quietly, or simply lingered in the back of someone’s mind, has weighed heavily on me throughout my career in technology.”

The Washington Post reports that Wojcicki reveals “she’s had her abilities and job commitment questioned, been left out of industry events and social gatherings, watched as outside leaders addressed her more junior colleagues in meetings and been interrupted and ignored. ‘No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt,’ she wrote.”

The question was brought about when women working at Google recently had their abilities questioned in a memo written by a company engineer which was made public, and incidentally led to the engineer being fired. YouTube happens to be owned by Google.

The Washington Post reports that “the author of the memo, which was first circulated on an internal network and then went viral online, wrote that ‘differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50 percent representation of women in tech and leadership.’” The Google engineer wrote that “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are ‘just.’”

The engineer wrote that women, on average, have more extraversion “expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness [and] higher agreeableness,” which “leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up and leading.”

He also wrote that women have “higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance, [and] look for more work-life balance.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

Wojcicki made sure to address these women in her essay. “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,” she wrote. “And as my child asked me the question I’d long sought to overcome in my own life, I thought about how tragic it was that this unfounded bias was now being exposed to a new generation.”

The Washington Post noted that Wojcicki also addressed the engineer’s dismissal. “As a company that has long supported free expression, Google obviously stands by the right that employees have to voice, publish or tweet their opinions,” she wrote. “But while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender.”

In writing this highly publicized essay, Susan Wojcicki has become the highest-ranking woman at Google to talk about this matter, which finally adds “a key female executive’s voice” to Google’s response. Her personal, substantial, and meaningful essay is one that is the first of its kind.

With all this in mind, Wojcicki wanted to make it clear to her daughter that the stereotypes her mother has faced in her life should never be allowed to impede her, or influence her daughter’s mindset on her own abilities. Wojcicki wrote, “I looked at my daughter and answered simply. ‘No, it’s not true.’”

Featured Image by WOCinTech Chat on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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