“Google is seen as the pinnacle … a cultural beacon for a lot of people in the tech industry. People really try to emulate Google,” said Zhang, 27, who now works at Spotify. “The fact that the bar is so low really sets an example for the rest of the industry.”
At Google, men occupy 80% of tech jobs and 75% of leadership roles, according to the company’s own figures. Overall, only 2% of employees are black, 4% are Hispanic, 35% Asian and 56% white. The company has touted its recent 1% increases in a number of underrepresented groups.
One black woman who worked as a specialist at Google for several years told the Guardian that discrimination and prejudice impacted her job on a daily basis.
“I felt like I didn’t belong nor did anybody want me to belong,” said the woman, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation by Google.
The former employee, who said she was the only black woman on her team, noted that employees would frequently ask to see her identification throughout the Google campus while non-black workers were rarely questioned.
She said she also overheard racist jokes on multiple occasions and that she immediately felt left out at the workplace – excluded from emails and social events and working alongside colleagues who didn’t bother to learn her name.
The woman said that her efforts to advocate for diversity further took a toll on her. The company seemed primarily interested in PR and positive branding when it came to diversity initiatives, which made it difficult to push for more substantive reforms.
The culture at Google promoted the idea of the “meritocracy”, meaning discrimination is no longer a problem and that women struggling to get promotions should simply work harder and advocate more loudly, said Zhang.
“People had this broad concept of ‘racism doesn’t exist at Google and sexism doesn’t exist at Google’,” she said. “Just because your officemates aren’t saying racial slurs out loud doesn’t mean they’re not racist.”
Zhang added: “They care about getting good press, but they don’t actually want to put in the work to understand racism and sexism.”
She said she rarely met women over the age of 30 in technical positions at the company: “It’s difficult for women to see paths for themselves at Google or in tech.”
Although she felt supported, she said she wished there was more transparency in the promotion process and salaries, and noted that for some women, Google can feel like a “boys’ club” with a “culture of guys promoting guys”.
Google, she said, has also made huge strides in its efforts to move away from subjective measures in hiring, performance reviews and promotions by focusing on rubrics with objective metrics.
The black woman who worked as a specialist at Google said her experiences with discrimination took a severe toll on her mental health.
“There were times I cried at my desk,” she said, adding that she ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to stay at Google and began looking for jobs outside of the company, not caring that she would be earning a lower salary.
At Google, she added, “I was invisible. It was like I didn’t matter. So what was the point of being there?”
This reminded me of something else I recently read, from Jamie McClelland:
Imagine what would happen if the thousands of existing, mostly male, white and Asian engineers, the majority of whom are convinced that they play no part in racism and sexism, were confronted with thousands of smart and ambitious women, African Americans and Latinos who were becoming their bosses, telling them to work in different ways, and taking “their” promotions.
It would be a revolution! I’d love to see it. Google’s bosses definitely do not.
That’s why none of the diversity programs at Google or any other major tech company are having any impact - because they are not designed to have an impact. They are designed to boost morale and make their existing engineers feel good about what they do.
People mostly focus on the public relations value, but they almost never discuss the internal promotional value, as well.