Last summer, Google fired an engineer named James Damore, who wrote an internal memo arguing that the pay and opportunity gap between men and women in tech is largely a consequence of women’s biology.
“We want to have an open dialogue at Google, but any type of promotion of stereotypes is a problem,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said about the memo in an on-stage interview with Forbes Media executive vice president Moira Forbes last month.
Google’s handling of Damore’s case and Wojcicki’s comments are examples of what Wojcicki described as the first step in improving tech’s gender diversity issues for the long term: Leaders committing to address discrimination and diversity from the C-Suite.
“It has to come from the top,” Wojcicki said in an interview with Forbes at the first “BoardForward Awards” event co-hosted by Forbes Media and theBoardlist, an online marketplace for connecting female leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public company boards.
“You have to have the leader say this is important, and it’s the right thing for the company — and really mean it,” Wojcicki continued. “Mean it and be consistent in terms of that being a priority.”
The second step in bolstering diversity efforts, according to Wojcicki, is fostering employee-led groups within the organization, such as women’s, pride and ethnic-based groups, and making sure they have support.
“Make sure different, diverse groups have the resources and ability to organize,” Wojcicki said. “Understand what they want, how you can help them and follow up.”
Third, Wojcicki said, is every employee, whether an executive, a manager or a recruiter, should be cognisant of who they empower when they’re hiring, giving a promotion or selecting who will work on new opportunities.
“It’s the people in power who pass power on to other people,” Wojcicki said. “Everyone has some of that power and needs to pass it on in a way that in the end, will benefit everybody.”
Wojcicki and Forbes’ interview also explored reasons tech companies haven’t done more to address diversity issues sooner. Wojcicki pointed to the fast-moving nature of the industry, where high-growth companies often don’t pause to invest more energy in recruiting and hiring to ensure they are building inclusive teams. A lack of diversity is also “self-reinforcing,” Wojcicki noted. Once a norm is established, and managers can fall into a pattern of hiring candidates who they come to view as “people that look like they might be good.”
It is of “utmost importance” to bring more women into tech companies, Wojcicki said, not only to ensure that women can be included in opportunities offered by the industry, but also so that innovations can be invented and shaped by a more diverse group of people.
To achieve this, first, computer science should be a mandatory part of every person’s education, Wojcicki said. Second, when companies scout candidates, they need to do more to ensure that knowledge about their openings is made available to more people, particularly women and minorities, so firms can expand their applicant pools and make broader outreach a built-in, systematic part of their hiring process. And third, “every responsible company” should be probing harassment issues within their company to ensure cases are surfaced and that appropriate action is taken.
“Tech is as an incredible force that will change our world in ways we can’t anticipate,” Wojcicki said. “If that force is only 20 to 30% women, that is a problem.”
“Women are a really important part of the dynamic of tech,” Wojcicki added. “We just need more of them.”