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Google VP denounces worker's views on women: 'Diversity and inclusion are critical to our success'

When it comes to why there are so few women in tech, Silicon Valley is in the midst of an ideological battle.

The latest conflict is at Google, where a male engineer suggested that women don't get ahead in tech jobs because of biological differences.

His widely shared memo — titled “Google's Ideological Echo Chamber” and published in full on tech news site Recode — also criticizes Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for “alienating conservatives.”

Google's just-hired head of diversity, Danielle Brown, responded with her own memo, saying that Google is “unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success.” She said change is hard and “often uncomfortable.”

The dueling memos come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google — a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. — is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men. And Uber's chief executive recently lost his job amid accusations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination.

Leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women. But diversity numbers are barely changing.

The Google employee’s memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women “prefer jobs in social and artistic areas” while more men “may like coding because it requires systemizing.”

The memo says biological differences between men and women are why “we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.”

The employee has been described in news reports as a software engineer.

Ari Balogh, Google’s vice president of engineering, also pushed back against the ideas in the memo. “Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture,” he said in a message to employees, but “we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part.”

Although the memo’s views were broadly and publicly criticized, they echo the 2005 statements by then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who said there are fewer female scientists at top universities because, in part, of “innate” gender differences.

Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services for Catalyst, a nonprofit advocacy group for women in the workplace, said the engineer's viewpoints show “how ingrained, entrenched and harmful gender-based stereotypes truly are.”

“It's much easier for some to point to 'innate biological differences' than to confront the unconscious biases and obstacles that get in the way of a level playing field,” Stellings said in an email.

Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Of its workers, 56% are white and 35% are Asian; Latino and black employees make up 4% and 2% of its workforce, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report.

Tech companies say they are trying, by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory “unconscious bias” training sessions for existing employees.

But, as the employee’s memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

Here are the full responses from Brown and Balogh.

Memo from Danielle Brown, Google’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance

Affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion—and healthy debate

Googlers,

I’m Danielle, Google’s brand new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. I started just a couple of weeks ago, and I had hoped to take another week or so to get the lay of the land before introducing myself to you all. But given the heated debate we’ve seen over the past few days, I feel compelled to say a few words.

Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.

Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, “Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said.”

Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a company wide OKR on diversity and inclusion. Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it’s often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that’s why I took this job.

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and I can tell you that I’ve never worked at a company that has so many platforms for employees to express themselves — TGIF, Memegen, internal G+, thousands of discussion groups. I know this conversation doesn’t end with my email today. I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts as I settle in and meet with Googlers across the company.

Thanks, Danielle

Memo from Ari Balogh, Google’s vice president of engineering

I’d like to respond to the “pc-considered-harmful” post. Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way. But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.

Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said.

Times staff writer Paresh Dave contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

11:25 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional context and background information.

8:25 a.m.: This article was updated with the full text of the memos from Danielle Brown and Ari Balogh.

This article was originally published at 5:20 a.m.

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