When an engineer from Google recently decided to share a ten-page explanation on why the company's inclusion policies were flawed, a maelstrom ensued after the so-called Google Manifesto was obtained and published by Gizmodo. It went from being an internal issue to a very public one, with immediate reactions coming in from across the globe.
My own immediate reaction was to take offense at many of the so-called "real reasons" that so few women work in fields like engineering and coding - such as the assertion that women have a genetic propensity towards being neurotic and people-pleasers.
But the longer I consider this, for me, the bigger issue is that this engineer is not alone in feeling displaced and resentful towards these shifts within corporate culture - and this wake-up call for the tech industry is an opportunity to address these issues.
It reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a group of African delegates studying entrepreneurship in the U.S. through a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. After discussing some of the barriers women face globally as entrepreneurs, one of the men in the group spoke up, saying that while he was in full agreement that the culture needed to shift to provide a more even playing field for women, he also wished that society would understand the difficulty of this transition on men, even on those who wanted to see it happen.
He spoke about his own expectations as a younger man, about what his marriage and family would look like, with him being the sole wage earner with a career that would support the couple's mutually agreed-upon lifestyle. He said he knew the rules of that culture and how to succeed. But when his wife wanted to pursue her own professional goals, the rules completely changed. He supported her goals but was left struggling with how to navigate this new paradigm in a way that both supported his wife's and his own professional pursuits.
Through his interpreter, he told the group, "As proud as I am of my wife and her success, and as committed as I am to making sure that she and other women like her have the same opportunities as men do, I wish sometimes that society wasn't so uncaring about the emotional impact this transition has on men like me. I feel like I can't say that sometime I feel sad or that I am feeling a bit lost and unsupported in all of this, even while I am agreeing that it needs to happen."
His words have stayed with me.
I had the the inspiring privilege today of sharing my story with African entrepreneurs and economic leaders. We spent two hours discussing the emotional, mental and societal challenges women face as entrepreneurs and how we can better support their efforts. I am inspired by the stories shared and the efforts these individuals are making to change opportunities in their own countries.
It isn't at all that these cultural shifts towards more inclusion and diversity shouldn't happen; the question is whether we, as a society, are going to provide adequate support and help to those who are impacted and struggling with these shifts.
It's so easy to have the knee-jerk reaction of get over it, but if we are to learn anything from the racial violence that erupted after this last election in the U.S., it should be that silence is not tolerance or acceptance, and that when faced with hostility, these sentiments of resentment and anger go underground but do not go away.
In many ways, the Google Manifesto is a cry for help, a plea that someone in leadership should address the uncertainty and unhappiness being felt by some individuals - even as the company makes this badly needed shift towards a more inclusive culture.
It is a chance for Google to address existing bigotry and sexism within their own staff by establishing appropriate outlets for dialogue as well as activities and programs that provide more opportunities for understanding and acceptance of the changes happening within their corporate culture.
And, after re-reading some of the reasons provided in the Google Manifesto on why women may not be suited for engineering and programming, I'm hoping that any programs implemented will include some education. It is clear that it is badly needed.