On the latest Recode Decode, the CEO reflects on how the diversity debate sparked by James Damore’s memo affected her personally.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was on vacation when Silicon Valley suddenly plunged into a bitter debate over sexism.
The now-infamous “Google memo,” written by engineer James Damore, argued against diversity initiatives at Google and said that female engineers were less capable of leading others.
Wojcicki, who was part of the team at Google that decided to fire Damore, recalled talking about it over dinner with her children, to whom she had always tried to promote diversity and equality.
“The first question they had about it [was], ‘Is that true?’” Wojcicki said on the latest Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “That really, really surprised me, because here I am — I’ve spent so much time, so much of my career, to try to overcome stereotypes, and then here was this letter that was somehow convincing my kids and many other women in the industry, and men in the industry, convincing them that they were less capable. That really upset me.”
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In response to the backlash to Damore’s firing by self-styled “free speech” advocates, Wojcicki said there’s an important difference between free speech on platforms like Google and YouTube, and free speech inside the companies’ offices.
“In fact, James Damore did his first interview with a YouTube creator,” she said. “That’s fine to have on the platform. We have lots of rules, but we tolerate — we enable a broad, broad range of topics to be discussed, from all different points of view.”
“But it’s different if you’re within a company trying to promote more women,” she added. “Think about if you were a woman and James Damore was on your promotion committee, or to just see that the company was enabling this type of harmful stereotype to persist and perpetuate within the company.”
Ultimately, though, Wojcicki described herself as “hopeful” about the future of diversity in tech. First, however, she believes computer science needs to be a mandatory class for all students nationwide.
“If everybody has to take biology and chemistry, they can take computer science,” she said. “Computer science is a more useful skill right now than a lot of other things that people are learning at school. I don’t want to say one is better than the other — they’re all important. But there’s no computer science being taught for many, many students, so that’s really a problem.”
“When we do make it more generally available, then that will solve some of the issues,” she added. “By definition, everyone will be educated in this area. People will understand: yes, women are great at this.”
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