Google might have fired James Damore for saying that the higher proportion of men in engineering positions wasn’t because of explicit discrimination, but its own non-discriminatory coding competition has thrown up some embarrassing results for the search giant.
All 25 finalists in Google’s Code Jam — its annual coding competition that attracts the best programmers on the planet — were men. In fact, a report had claimed that no woman has ever made it to the finals of the competition in the 14 years of its existence. This was later proven wrong when a picture from the 2011 Code Jam appeared to show a solitary woman contestant.
If only one woman made it through Google’s rigorous coding competition over 14 long years, it would lend credence to James Damore’s viral memo in which he’d said that men end up occupying higher positions in engineering and technology through a combination of innate ability and interest in the subject. Damore had argued that Google’s preferential hiring programs, which prioritize hiring women and people of colour, were bad for business. He was later fired.
Google appears to believe that more men end up occupying higher positions in tech because of systemic discrimination and subconscious biases against women. Since more men are currently in positions of power in tech companies, Google says they favour other men like them during interviews and promotions.
But the results of Google’s own coding competition prove otherwise. Google’s Code Jam doesn’t take into account the contestants’ race, gender, political affiliation, or social status — contestants are judged by automated machines which check if their code works or not. Google’s code jam is a truly global event, with over 25,000 contestants participating in the competition in 2017.
And it’s not as though women lack basic skills in science and math to succeed in a coding environment — over the last 25 years, girls have been scoring better than boys across US high schools. While the average GPA for women in science and math was 2.76 in 2005, it was just 2.56 for men. Why this advantage doesn’t translate into more women taking an active interest in coding is something that could be due to a lot of factors, which might be cultural, sociological, or biological.
But like Damore argued, it’s unlikely it’s because of discrimination. Since his firing, Damore has received support from several quarters. As many as 56% of Googlers are opposed to his firing, and a leaked internal survey showed that 38% were in agreement with the memo. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has also come under fire, with street art criticizing him appearing near Google’s offices in California.