In response to anti-diversity memo, YouTube CEO says sexism in tech is ‘pervasive’

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has responded to the Google anti-diversity memo, writing in a column for Fortune that the questioning of women’s abilities is "pervasive" in tech and that the memo is...

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has responded to the Google anti-diversity memo, writing in a column for Fortune that the questioning of women’s abilities is “pervasive” in tech and that the memo is “yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science.” Wojcicki opens by saying her daughter asked her, “is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?” Wojcicki says no, it’s not true, but the question has still plagued her throughout her career.

“I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt,” she wrote.

Wojcicki has had a celebrated career in Silicon Valley, and was Google’s 16th employee, working as the company’s marketing manager with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. She rose to become YouTube’s CEO in February 2014, after handling Google’s acquisition of the video hosting site for $1.65 billion in 2006. While the memo didn’t mention YouTube, Wojcicki was a longtime Google employee and remains part of the company through YouTube.

The manifesto that spurred Wojcicki’s piece caused a media storm over the weekend. The memo was written by Google software engineer James Damore, who argued that biological differences between men and women are the cause of the gender gap at Google and the broader tech industry.

The memo must have caused pain for others, Wojcicki said, including the women at Google whose abilities have been thrust into the spotlight. “I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields ... 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,” she wrote.

Wojcicki also addressed the defense of the memo as a form of free speech saying people have “a right to express their beliefs in public, [but] that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender.” Wojcicki questioned how different the reaction would be if the word “women” in the memo was replaced by another group such as “Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ 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? I don’t ask this to compare one group to another, but rather to point out that the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”

Wojcicki’s response is notably stronger than Google CEO Sundar Pichaij’s. Pichaij in an internal email said that “much of what was in that memo is fair to debate,” but noted it crossed the line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”