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Women and minorities have been coming forward to criticize Google for its persistent culture of discrimination on the basis of gender and race. In an interview with The Guardian, Qichen Zhang revealed that she left her job at the Silicon Valley giant as a technical specialist after enduring racist and sexist comments and jokes. She recalled feeling “disposable” and underappreciated by Google engineers, and reported an instance in which she was excluded from a discussion among white men.
“It’s just these little daily aggressions that really add up over time,” she said. “Having a lack of people who look like you in general is demoralizing.”
Zhang also reported a lack of representation in promotions and among the executive ranks, which led her to realize that she did not have a future at the company.
“I didn’t see a lot of women, especially Asian women, black women or other women of color in the executive ranks,” she said. “I didn’t see any opportunities for myself … The culture there is really discouraging, and that’s ultimately why I left.”
Lakshmi Parthasarathy, a former technical solutions engineer at Google, also quit and took a lower paying job due to a lack of female mentors and a persistent “boys’ club” culture that eventually took a toll on her mental health.
“You’re the only girl in the room all the time … Google has resources and I think they make efforts in some ways,” Parthasarathy said. “But there’s only so much they can do when at the end of the day our organization was, at a manager level, mostly male.”
When asked for comment, Google’s director of global diversity and inclusion Yolanda Mangolini told The Guardian that she was “disappointed” by the stories and also noted that “change takes time.” “It saddened me personally when I read it, because I knew the impact of those words on the technical women … [whose] skills are always questioned,” Mangolini said. “My heart sort of broke for them.”
The accusations against Google, whose employees are predominantly white and male, come in the wake of the national uproar sparked by former Google engineer James Damore, who penned an infamous anti-diversity memo that criticized the company’s “politically correct monoculture” and perpetuated gender stereotypes about women in tech.
“The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and … these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” Damore wrote.
The engineer was eventually fired. In an internal note, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained to employees that parts of Damore’s memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” In turn, the firing sparked a massive backlash from the right-wing and conservative media outlets for perceived attacks on free speech.
The controversy has placed Google, whose corporate motto is “don’t be evil”, in an embattled position and undermined its reputation as a bastion of progressivism.
“People had this broad concept of ‘racism doesn’t exist at Google and sexism doesn’t exist at Google’,” Zhang said. “Just because your officemates aren’t saying racial slurs out loud doesn’t mean they’re not racist.”