Sil­i­con Val­ley-style sex­ism lives here, too

Don’t be ‘holier than thou,’ me­dia boss Kirs­tine Ste­wart tells Canada’s tech sec­tor

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - CAS­SAN­DRA SZKLARSKI

TORONTO — 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 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,” said 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.,’” said 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 said she’s ex­pe­ri­enced her share of in­ci­dents over a lengthy ca­reer and added it’s frus­trat­ing that things don’t seem to be mov­ing for­ward enough.

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 said “there’s ab­so­lutely been a cul­ture shift” in re­cent decades.

The school’s en­gi­neer­ing cur­ricu­lum in­cludes dis­cus­sion of such is­sues, but she ad­mit­ted 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,’” said 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.”

On­tario cab­i­net min­is­ter Deb Matthews made a veiled ref­er­ence to the Google en­gi­neer’s let­ter dur­ing a visit to Kitch­ener on Wed­nes­day.

Matthews pointed out that all eight peo­ple work­ing in the On­tario Dig­i­tal Ser­vice Lab at Com­mu­nitech are women. “So if any­body tries to tell you that women are not built for tech, just re­mem­ber that. We’ll show them.”

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

“We’re be­hind the U.S. in a lot of ways be­cause we don’t even have the data most of the time,” said Guthrie. “You need to have those num­bers in hand if you’re go­ing to tackle the prob­lem.”

Former Twitter ex­ec­u­tive Kirs­tine Ste­wart says the Cana­dian tech sec­tor needs to be dili­gent about is­sues re­lated to sex­ism and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

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