About That Memo

The last two weeks have been hard. White supremacists in Charlottesville, nuclear posturing between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, and a bit earlier the publishing and subsequent leaking of a document about whether Google’s efforts to encourage diversity in tech were worthwhile. I wrote most of the post below in the middle of the diversity in tech news storm. I shared it internally because that’s how we do things at Google. I’m sharing it externally because I hope it helps other people better understand what the last two weeks have been like for me. I want to be clear that I’m writing only about my experience.

A handful of folks have asked, “Are you okay?”. That’s a surprisingly hard question. I’m going to be more honest and less generous than I usually am and hope it doesn’t have significant negative repercussions.

I first saw the memo a few days before it leaked to the press. Commentary on it was filling up my work inbox thanks to a couple of women in tech lists I’m on. The memo leaked on a Saturday (I woke up to a friend in Australia asking about it) and I lost a good chunk of my weekend to keeping tabs on what was being published and fielding the occasional call or email from family and friends.

The actual content of the document is frankly quite boring. I’ve heard these arguments since I was five. The science is sketchy at best: correlation is not causation, you can’t apply population statistics to a non-representative subsample, etc. It also wasn’t surprising that there are people in tech, and at Google, that agree with what was presented or take the memo’s conclusions even further.

Here’s the thing. I know I work with folks who are sexist. Most folks aren’t as blatant as the folks on Hacker News, Reddit, and news site comment sections. But I know that I work with folks with unconscious biases. And I likely work with folks who have some actual biases that they don’t share publicly.

What surprised me was how much this hurt those around me and how wide it spread even before it leaked. It is like someone dropped an anvil into a puddle and water just went everywhere. And it surprised me that I felt like I needed to help out with the damage control as one of the more senior women in tech I know.

I was in the office the entire week after the memo, even when other co-workers were out because I felt like someone who is an underrepresented minority with some tenure at Google needed to be physically present. An intern that I’m mentoring was starting. There are several underrepresented minorities on my team and our sister team. I frantically voted on every one of the questions that people proposed for the town hall. I wrote emails of hope and support to interns and recent grads who had assumed that once they graduated the “you don’t belong here” bullshit would be over. I wrote suggestions to leadership and let them know what folks were worried about. I checked in with colleagues. I defended Google and STEM on Facebook (and I still am). I tried to both stay abreast of Twitter and not poke the bear that is 4chan. I told folks in the local meetup I run that I was available to listen. I tried to explain how to help to co-workers who want to help but don’t know what to do other than saying, “I support my female colleagues” and working on the pipeline. I listened to male co-workers vent and tried to help them feel better about the situation.

This work is incredibly taxing, and it is invisible. At previous jobs, I learned that talking about my diversity work can make people think I’m not doing my “real” job. It makes people think I’m more suited to “people work” than technical work. True or not there’s a perceived career risk to providing emotional support to your co-workers and talking about diversity if you are a woman.

So no, I’m not okay. But I’ve already dealt with folks thinking I’m not technical because of my title or because of my gender. Even folks I’ve worked with for months. So I can’t say “I’m not okay.” I can’t cry about how frustrating it is to have co-workers care about the paper cuts for seemingly the first time. I can’t take time off for self-care because I can’t show weakness. You can’t afford to be vulnerable when you are already struggling to be taken seriously on a good day. My partner suggested I take a day off but I have meetings that it took me a long time to get included in and I’m not letting go of them easily. So I’ve been at work. I’ve been underslept. I’ve forgotten to eat. I’m reading the comments so that I can know what people are saying and be ready if co-workers who need me and if my communities need me.

So when you ask if someone is okay, understand that for many of us saying anything other than “yes” or “mostly” isn’t an option. If we want to be taken seriously and to be part of the club we have to be stronger than we feel. We have to, for lack of a better phrase, “man up.”

If you want to help, please be there for folks next week or next month. Remind people that if a man and a woman do the same work, it is sometimes seen differently. Ensure folks get credit for their ideas and a chance to speak. Tell folks who blow off developer relations work that our work is valuable and (at least at Google) we are all technical. The memo isn’t a just thing written by one person on a team in a long lost corner of Mountain View. I’ll bet a shiny quarter that I’ve had a meeting in the last two weeks with someone who doesn’t believe I’m technically competent and treats me differently because of it. If you want to help, remind those people that they are wrong.