In 1991, attorney Anita Hill made headlines when she accused Clarence Thomas, her former boss and Supreme Court nominee at the time, of sexual harassment. Though Thomas was eventually confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice—by a Senate vote of 52-48, the narrowest margin since the 1800s—sympathy and public opinion for Hill eventually improved. Following the allegations, there were significant moves toward eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace, including a law that allowed victims to file for federal compensation.
Now a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University, Hill recently wrote an article for the New York Times addressing gender inequality in the tech sector. The article came following the public attention and outrage over Google engineer James Demore’s ten-page manifesto “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” Among many problematic claims, Demore’s manifesto defended the existence of the gender gap at Google, and in the industry overall, with supposedly biological reasons such as men’s higher drive and women’s neuroticism. Hill wrote that Demore’s ideas were sadly neither new nor uncommon, and she noted that Google’s firing of the employee “neither dispels the notion that a systemic problem exists nor solves it.”
Hill also mentioned the blog post of Susan J. Fowler, published earlier this year. Fowler, formerly an engineer at Uber, had reported an incident of sexual harassment to HR, who offered no help in her case. Their lack of intervention on behalf of women continued, and Fowler eventually left the company after facing various other examples of gender discrimination.
Since then, Hill said, there has been an outpouring of complaints against sexism experienced by female coders, engineers, and other tech industry roles. Women under 25 in tech earn 29% less than men the same age, while 63% of women of all ages receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company. Women quit tech jobs at a rate of 41%, twice as much as the rate for men.
Hill urged women to consider their legal options against gender discrimination, particularly class-action lawsuits, which have in the past have been significantly effective in rectifying sexual harassment issues on Wall Street. Class action suits are individual lawsuits filed on behalf of a collective group of people who may have faced the same mistreatment; in this case, a class action suit may be filed for women of a tech company who may have experienced the same pay discrimination or sexual harassment.
Expanding on class action suits in business, Hill referred to a recent class action suit filed by hundreds of female employees of a Signet Jewelers conglomerate against the discrimination and harassment against women rampant in the company. Last month, Hill said, the CEO of Signet had already stepped down.
To finally change the treatment of women in tech, who are already rare enough in their own industry, these women must take advantage of their legal possibilities. With regulation, a tricky and currently unfeasible solution, class-action suits are a quick and effective answer. The Google manifesto, Hill noted, was just another reminder of how far there is still to go in terms of gender equality in certain sectors. “It’s time women in tech consider taking advantage of the law to disrupt the industry once and for all,” she said.
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