Google, Sexism and Freedom of Speech

Do you want to know how many times I’ve heard that as a woman I’m somehow less capable of doing a certain job? That women are generally less intelligent than men, that they’re less hardworking, that they’re not as good at coping with high-stress jobs?

Too many times.

And as an intelligent, hard-working, and stress-resilient woman, I can tell you it’s a load of crap.

So when this latest Google scandal erupted (for those who missed it, an “anti-diversity” manifesto written by an outraged employee who felt his freedom of speech was being taken away has gone viral, and the writer has since reportedly been fired), and I saw people rise to defend a guy who was perpetuating the harmful stereotypes I’ve already spent too long fighting against, it made my blood boil.

I read the manifesto that’s been circulated (read it yourself and form your own opinion – don’t just take my word for it) . In it, the author raised some important issues about freedom of speech and echo chambers, and questioned whether we need different approaches to improve diversity in technology. Told only this side of the story, you’d be forgiven for thinking he might be in the right. But then you read the full manifesto.

The manifesto perpetuates a huge number of harmful steretoypes. It makes largely unsourced claims about how biology makes women less capable and less willing to work in technology and to rise to leadership positions, and says that women are predisposed to having lower IQs, lower resilience to stress, less drive to push themselves to the top jobs, more neuroticism, and that they express their extraversion as “gregariousness” rather than “assertiveness” (which sounds to me like just another take on women being bossy vs. men being assertive). He suggests that the way to get women into management is to make leadership less stressful – as if we’re not as strong, resilient and driven as any man – because then maybe our woman-brains will be able to cope.

Whether the arguments are coated with references to “science”, saying these kind of things is painfully sexist. It’s painting an entire gender with the same brush, and suggesting that they’re less capable of doing their jobs because of it. Which is really ironic, considering that one of the writer’s key points was that we should treat people as individuals, and judge them on their personal merits, rather than treating them as a group.

It’s also incredibly harmful and offensive to suggest that hiring practices mean the “bar is lowered” for “diversity candidates”. As if minorities didn’t have enough impostor syndrome to contend with, now they’re being told that they got their job to fill a quota, rather than by merit.

What’s worse is that people are rallying behind this man, and buying into his claims as proof that maybe the quest for equality and diversity in technology is a lost and pointless cause. People are acting as though these are genuine arguments, rather than evidence of the kind of institutionalised misogyny and prejudice women are constantly fighting against.

It’s so clear to me that this manifesto comes from the limited point of view of one man who can’t see beyond his own experiences.

I don’t know anything about HR. I don’t know what you can and can’t get fired for. And I’m not here to pass judgement on how a company should respond to something like this. But I know that as a woman, I would no longer be comfortable working with a man who so openly expressed a viewpoint that criticizes my ability to do my job because of my gender. The way I see it, it’s a form of bullying and discrimination, and it’s incredibly hurtful to perpetuate these kind of stereotypes in the workplace.

Freedom of speech is incredibly important, and we should absolutely be worried about echo chambers. But let’s never mistake it for the freedom to discriminate.

And to anyone who thinks being a woman makes someone less capable of being a leader? I know plenty of women who can and will prove you wrong.

Featured Image: turtix / Shutterstock.com

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