YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has spoken out about her experience with sexism in Silicon Valley in response to the controversial memo circulated by now-former Google employee James Damore and the broad ideological debate that has ensued.
Wojcicki has been with Google since its humble beginnings — the company’s first office was her garage. She became the CEO of YouTube in 2014, eight years into Google’s ownership of the video-sharing platform and after 15 years of overseeing various aspects of the company’s marketing departments and advertising services.
But Wojcicki, the woman who oversaw the development of Google’s now-ubiquitous AdSense product, spearheaded the implementation of Google Doodles, and suggested that Google purchase YouTube to begin with, has experienced seemingly all of the now well-known stereotypes of women in tech. Now Wojcicki has detailed a few of those experiences in a short essay for Fortune.
“Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question,” she wrote. “‘Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?’”
The topic has been the subject of much debate since Damore’s memo — which argues that women are biologically less capable or willing than men to perform a wide range of engineering and tech industry jobs, and that’s why they are underrepresented in the field — first became public.
“Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question,” she wrote, explaining:
I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. 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.
Wojcicki then offered a succinct and clear bird’s-eye view of how she suspects many women in tech are feeling right now:
When I saw the memo that circulated last week, I once again felt that pain, and empathized with the pain it must have caused others. 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. I thought about the women throughout the tech field who are already dealing with the implicit biases that haunt our industry (which I’ve written about before), now confronting them explicitly. I thought about how the gender gap persists in tech despite declining in other STEM fields, how hard we’ve been working as an industry to reverse that trend, and how this was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science. 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 ultimately echoed Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s message to all Google employees (in which Pichai stressed that parts of the memo violated Google’s code of conduct), noting that “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 ... the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.”
Significantly, Wojcicki did not attempt to offer solutions, or to praise Google effusively for doing the right thing in firing Damore. Her essay primarily seems to be an attempt to show solidarity with her fellow women in tech. And her underlying message is clear: Silicon Valley’s sexist culture impacts women at all levels of the industry — and even their daughters.