We’re not ‘holier than thou’

Cana­dian tech sec­tor not im­mune to sex­ism and dis­crim­i­na­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley, says former Twitter ex­ec­u­tive

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY CAS­SAN­DRA SZKLARSKI

The sex­ism dis­played in a con­tro­ver­sial mis­sive writ­ten by a now-fired male Google en­gi­neer is alive and well in Canada’s tech sec­tor, says one of the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent me­dia bosses.

Former Twitter ex­ec­u­tive Kirs­tine Ste­wart says she wasn’t sur­prised by the con­tent of the in­ter­nal let­ter, which went vi­ral over the week­end, and cau­tioned any­one north of the bor­der from be­ing “holier than thou.”

“Some of th­ese opin­ions are bor­der­less and I think that’s why we have to be re­ally dili­gent,” says Ste­wart, also a former CBC ex­ec­u­tive who is now chief strat­egy of­fi­cer with the on­line site Di­ply.

“I would cau­tion any­body who thinks it’s much bet­ter in Canada.”

The widely shared let­ter, ti­tled “Google’s Ide­o­log­i­cal Echo Cham­ber,” as­cribed the tech in­dus­try’s gen­der in­equal­ity to bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences and crit­i­cized Google for push­ing di­ver­sity pro­grams. The en­gi­neer was re­port­edly fired, with Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai de­nounc­ing his screed for “ad­vanc­ing harm­ful gen­der stereo­types.”

“I hope peo­ple don’t look at (this) and go, ‘Well, that’s just the crazy U.S.,”’ says Ste­wart, who joined Di­ply af­ter spend­ing three years at Twitter, first in charge of Cana­dian op­er­a­tions and then as head of North Amer­i­can me­dia part­ner­ships.

“We stand up a bit more and call each other on it be­cause it’s closer, I guess, to the val­ues that we talk about more pub­licly than they do in the States. But I don’t know that we’re per­form­ing any bet­ter.”

The sto­ries com­ing out of Sil­i­con Val­ley in the past few months have been stun­ning: steady claims of sex­ism and dis­crim­i­na­tion sur­round­ing ti­tans like the taxi-hail­ing app Uber and the ven­ture fund 500 Star­tups.

Ste­wart says she’s ex­pe­ri­enced her share of in­ci­dents over a lengthy ca­reer and adds it’s frus­trat­ing that things don’t seem to be mov­ing for­ward enough.

“I had a fe­male man­ager say to me that their man­agers had said, ‘Oh, we’re hop­ing that on the team you would be the nur­tur­ing one.’ There were too many stereo­types and we have to get past stereo­types and into skills,” says Ste­wart.

“Why can’t a woman just be skilled at what she does and ac­tu­ally not play some other role you’re ex­pect­ing her to?”

The as­so­ciate dean of out­reach at the Univer­sity of Water­loo is keen to be part of the so­lu­tion.

Mary Wells, also pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal and mecha­tron­ics, re­cently won an award for en­cour­ag­ing women into sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics fields and says “there’s ab­so­lutely been a cul­ture shift” in re­cent decades.

The school’s en­gi­neer­ing cur­ricu­lum in­cludes dis­cus­sion of such is­sues, but she ad­mits more can be done to pre­pare both men and women for a new mind­set.

“In first-year co-op a woman gets a job maybe be­fore a male col­league, and right away he will say - and he’s not try­ing to be mean - ‘You must be their di­ver­sity hire,”’ says Wells.

“The men can’t be­lieve that she can be just as good as he is or even bet­ter, and she also doesn’t be­lieve that she may be just as good as he is.”

Gen­der con­sul­tant Steph Guthrie of TechGirls Canada says there’s also more work to be done boost­ing racial di­ver­sity, with black, In­dige­nous and Latin peo­ple still sorely un­der­rep­re­sented.

Guthrie co-au­thored a di­ver­sity guide­book for star­tups called Change To­gether based on re­search with a Toronto soft­ware de­vel­oper called The Work­ing Group.

They re­leased the re­port ear­lier this year as an “on-ramp” for other firms un­sure of how to tackle the is­sue, not­ing many Cana­dian star­tups are small and sim­ply don’t have the ex­per­tise to lean on.

Guthrie says the com­pany be­gan to at­tract ap­pli­cants from marginal­ized groups once it was pub­lic they were work­ing on the is­sue.

“Once you start work­ing on it, it’s a domino ef­fect. But you have to ac­tu­ally start tack­ling it and not just point the fin­ger at uni­ver­si­ties and high schools to start giv­ing you a bet­ter pipe­line.”

“I hope peo­ple don’t look at (this) and go, ‘Well, that’s just the crazy U.S.’ We stand up a bit more and call each other on it be­cause it’s closer, I guess, to the val­ues that we talk about more pub­licly than they do in the States. But I don’t know that we’re per­form­ing any bet­ter.” Kirs­tine Ste­wart, former Twitter ex­ec­u­tive

CP PHOTO/AP, MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ

Google’s head­quar­ters are shown in Moun­tain View, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2013. Sex­ism dis­played in a re­cent memo by a male Google en­gi­neer is alive and well in Canada’s tech sec­tor, says former Twitter ex­ec­u­tive Kirs­tine Ste­wart, who wasn’t sur­prised by a memo that went vi­ral over the week­end, and cau­tioned any­one north of the bor­der from be­ing “holier than thou.”

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