How a woman at the top ad­dressed the Google memo

Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki of­fered a per­sonal view, prompted by her daugh­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

Like many Google lead­ers, Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki prob­a­bly faced dif­fi­cult ques­tions from em­ploy­ees about a con­tro­ver­sial em­ployee memo that ex­ploded on so­cial me­dia. But the most per­sonal ques­tion may have come from her daugh­ter.

In an es­say pub­lished by For­tune on Wed­nes­day, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of YouTube, which is owned by Google, wrote that her daugh­ter asked her about the memo, which raised ques­tions about Google’s di­ver­sity ef­forts and in­cluded state­ments about gen­der dif­fer­ences. The memo was writ­ten by a com­pany engi­neer who was fired in its af­ter­math.

“Mom,” her daugh­ter asked her, “is it true that there are bi­o­log­i­cal rea­sons why there are fewer women in tech and lead­er­ship?”

Be­fore re­veal­ing how she an­swered her daugh­ter, Wo­j­ci­cki said the ques­tion has been “per­va­sive,” based on her ex­pe­ri­ence. “That ques­tion, whether it’s been asked out­right, whis­pered qui­etly, or sim­ply lin­gered in the back of some­one’s mind, has weighed heav­ily on me through­out my ca­reer in tech­nol­ogy.”

She wrote that she’s had her abil­i­ties and job com­mit­ment ques­tioned, been left out of in­dus­try events and so­cial gath­er­ings, watched as out­side lead­ers ad­dressed her more ju­nior col­leagues in meet­ings, and been in­ter­rupted and ig­nored. “No mat­ter how of­ten this all hap­pened, it still hurt,” she wrote.

As a re­sult, “I thought about the women at Google who are now fac­ing a very pub­lic dis­cus­sion about their abil­i­ties, sparked by one of their own co-work­ers,” she wrote. “And as my child asked me the ques­tion I’d long sought to over­come in my own life, I thought about how tragic it was that this un­founded bias was now be­ing ex­posed to a new gen­er­a­tion.”

Wo­j­ci­cki also di­rectly ad­dressed the engi­neer’s dis­missal. “As a com­pany that has long sup­ported free ex­pres­sion, Google ob­vi­ously stands by the right that em­ploy­ees have to voice, pub­lish or tweet their opin­ions,” she wrote. “But while peo­ple may have a right to ex­press their be­liefs in pub­lic, that does not mean com­pa­nies can­not take ac­tion when women are sub­jected to com­ments that per­pet­u­ate neg­a­tive stereo­types about them based on their gen­der.”

She also raised the ques­tion of “what if we re­placed the word ’women’ in the memo with an­other group?” — such as black, His­panic or LGBT em­ploy­ees. “Would some peo­ple still be dis­cussing the merit of the memo’s ar­gu­ments or would there be a uni­ver­sal call for swift ac­tion against its au­thor?”

In writ­ing the es­say, Wo­j­ci­cki be­came the high­est-rank­ing woman at Google to ad­dress the mat­ter pub­licly, adding a key fe­male ex­ec­u­tive’s voice to the com­pany lead­er­ship’s re­sponse. While Danielle Brown, Google’s vice pres­i­dent of di­ver­sity, in­tegrity and gov­er­nance, re­leased a state­ment say­ing that “like many of you, I found that it ad­vanced in­cor­rect as­sump­tions about gen­der,” Wo­j­ci­cki’s was much more per­sonal.

Af­ter think­ing about all th­ese is­sues, she wrote, she “looked at my daugh­ter and an­swered sim­ply. ‘No, it’s not true.’ ”

The au­thor of the memo, which was first cir­cu­lated on an in­ter­nal net­work and then went vi­ral on­line, wrote that “dif­fer­ences in dis­tri­bu­tions of traits be­tween men and women may in part ex­plain why we don’t have 50 per­cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in tech and lead­er­ship.” He wrote that “I value di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion, am not deny­ing that sex­ism ex­ists, and don’t en­dorse us­ing stereo­types” and said that “I’m not say­ing that all men dif­fer from women in the fol­low­ing ways or that th­ese dif­fer­ences are ‘just.’ ”

But he also said that women, on av­er­age, have more ex­tro­ver­sion “ex­pressed as gre­gar­i­ous­ness rather than as­sertive­ness” and “higher agree­able­ness,” which “leads to women gen­er­ally hav­ing a harder time ne­go­ti­at­ing salary, ask­ing for raises, speak­ing up and lead­ing.” He wrote that women on av­er­age have “higher anx­i­ety, lower stress tol­er­ance” and “look for more work­life bal­ance.” In a memo late Mon­day to em­ploy­ees, Google chief ex­ec­u­tive Sun­dar Pichai wrote that “por­tions of the memo vi­o­late our Code of Con­duct and cross the line by ad­vanc­ing harm­ful gen­der stereo­types in our work­place.”

Wo­j­ci­cki’s es­say in For­tune (where she has been ranked No. 16 on its Most Pow­er­ful Women list; Wo­j­ci­cki was also Google’s 16th em­ployee) is not the first time the long­time Googler has writ­ten a highly per­sonal es­say or op-ed to ad­dress is­sues re­lated to women in lead­er­ship or tech­nol­ogy. In 2014, she wrote a com­men­tary in the Wall Street Jour­nal ti­tled “Paid Ma­ter­nity Leave is Good for Busi­ness,” about be­ing the first Google em­ployee to take a ma­ter­nity leave and how she was about to go on her fifth one. While she out­lined how paid leave im­proves pro­duc­tiv­ity and morale, she also shared how “join­ing a startup preg­nant with my first child was risky, but Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] as­sured me I’d have their sup­port.”

Ear­lier this year, she wrote an op-ed for Van­ity Fair ti­tled “How to Break Up the Sil­i­con Val­ley Boys’ Club” in which she can­didly as­sessed what the tech in­dus­try needed to do to ad­vance more women. One key, she wrote, was more men­tor­ship, shar­ing a story about how she felt slighted af­ter not be­ing in­vited to a ma­jor con­fer­ence and was able to call on the leg­endary Sil­i­con Val­ley coach Bill Camp­bell for help.

“I started to ques­tion whether I even be­longed at the con­fer­ence,” she wrote. “But rather than let it go, I turned to Bill, some­one I knew had a lot of in­flu­ence and could help fix the sit­u­a­tion. He im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized I had a right­ful place at the event and within a day he worked his magic.”

BLOOMBERG NEWS VIA GETTY IM­AGES

YouTube CEO Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki said a Google memo prompted her daugh­ter to ask whether there are bi­o­log­i­cal rea­sons fewer women work in tech and lead­er­ship. Wo­j­ci­cki wrote an es­say in re­sponse.

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