This weekend my twitter feed was all people discussing the Latest Scandal — the dude who wrote a 10 page screed on why women and black people aren’t cut out for engineering — whilst my mentions were full of men who agree with him and resented my remarks on the topic.
Obviously this guy has no idea what he is talking about on this topic (and no doubt countless others), but that doesn’t matter. To read it, and debate it, is to accept the premise that whether or not women can actually be engineers, whether the other appalling things he said can be up for debate, when we have endless amounts of evidence otherwise. We don’t debate the existence of gravity. We don’t debate evolution (… oh wait, some of us do). We don’t debate the chemical composition of water — even though we can’t see it, we accept that it is two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom and get on with our lives. But this is the nature of Science — it gives us some things that we can accept as true. This is the nature of white supremacist misogyny — they take things that there is only evidence in one direction, and try and put it up for debate again.
We know who this guy is. We know who he is literally, because word gets around. But we know metaphorically. I doubt any woman or person of color who has worked with this dude was shocked to find out what he really thinks in writing. We know when we work with dudes like that. We know when they do our code review. We know when we find their comments on our performance review. We know.
We know in the way they treat us, even when other people say we’re reading too much into it, when they tell us he’s like that with “everyone”. We know in the feeling of discomfort. Maybe we don’t discuss it, but we probably do try to avoid being alone with him. We know he holds us in contempt, even when he has not — yet — shown it openly.
Clearly, Google should be taking a hard look at the internal culture right now. They should recognise that this leak is likely motivated by distrust and frustration about internal non-action — something the mealy mouthed (leaked) internal statement has done nothing to allay. They should be taking a hard look at a culture where a dude could 1) feel empowered and enabled to write something like this, not as a pseudonymous Reddit user but as an internal document with his name attached and 2) receive enough support in response from his colleagues to encourage him. They should ask “how do we fix this situation?” but then, if there’s not a hard look at the question of “how did we create this situation?” it will happen again, and again. It will happen small scale, every day. It will happen at this scale, again.
Culture change is hard. It is hard to take a look at your culture, and recognise that some of the things you championed and valued became corrosive weapons in the hands of people who cannot be trusted with them. Free speech as a value is prevalent in tech. When you hire and enable people for whom free speech means that they can dehumanise and devalue and destruct their colleagues it is a terrible thing. The problem is not necessarily that people can say what they think, the problem is that you hired someone and they worked there for nearly four years, believing that women — half the population — and people of color are somehow less than. Something that no doubt played out in their actions (how many interviews did this guy do, for example), and yet, if anyone with power noticed… they did nothing.
This man was educated at Harvard and MIT. They too are culpable here and should feel a deep sense of shame that they graduated and sent into the world someone with such poor critical thinking skills, who is too lazy to do the most basic of research. They should be concerned about every woman or person of color who came into contact with him in an academic environment.
As a society we should be concerned that we have given men like him cover behind “political view”. His views on women and black people are not “political” — they are dated nonsense that have been debunked by science — and not recently either. No-one cares about his views on the appropriate percentage to run as a deficit, or the appropriate ratio of funding between defence and education. No-one knows or cares whether he prefers government to be federal or local, his views on Korean reunification, or desirable international trading relationships.
His views on his colleagues are not political, they are human, they are demonstrably false, provably ignorant, and they are offensive. Offensive on a human level, and offensive on an organisational level — that someone who is paid well for their critical thinking and problem solving skills could fall so very, very short.
This is not the first time this year I have critiqued tech culture that creates these situations and then describes them as aberrational. I doubt it will be the last. I left Google three years ago because their external focus on diversity and inclusion was so far away from what I saw and experienced that it felt like being socially gaslit.
It seems that nothing has changed; I suspect the system is working as intended.