Last week, Google fired engineer James Damore for penning an internal 10-page memo. In the offending document, Damore had argued that men and women were fundamentally different, and the larger proportion of men in engineering and leadership positions wasn’t necessarily because of discrimination. After the document sparked furious debate within Google, CEO Sundar Pichai stepped in. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he wrote shortly after giving Damore his marching orders.
But it turns out that Google itself seems to believe that women are somehow more biologically inclined towards fashion, accessories, and the colour pink.
Made With Code is a Google initiative — launched far before Damore’s firing — that claims to want encourage girls to develop a passion for programming. “In the United States, 74% of girls and teen girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in middle school, but by high school, only 0.4% plan to major in Computer Science,” it rues. Since tech jobs to pay significantly more than average gig, Google wants more girls to learn how to code.
But its attempt to get girls more interested in programming is so chock-full of stereotypes one could almost be led to believe it’s a parody. Made With Code’s website has a bright pink background with little white bubbles flowing through it. There’s a section devoted to Wonder Woman. And the coding projects sound like the hurriedly captured elements of a teenage chick flick — there’s a project called Accessorizer (“Take your selfies to the next level with this project”), and another called Dance Visualiser (“Merge dance with code to generate some next level visuals.”). If that weren’t enough, a project lets girls light up a prom dress with code, and finally, one that them program a heart for Valentine’s Day.
Google’s clumsy attempt to appeal to women while trying to impart coding lessons is problematic on several levels. For one, it pushes lazy stereotypes about women, and tries to dictate activities that women are supposed to enjoy. In doing so, it also alienates the millions women who want nothing to do with dancing or pink clothes. And perhaps most worryingly, it paints women in the same exact broad strokes as the very engineer it fired.
Indeed, there are unnerving parallels between what Damore said and what Google had already done with its Made with Code project. “Women, on average, have more openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas,” his memo said; Google’s Made With Code site has sections devoted to Valentine’s Day and accessories. “Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men,” Damore had argued; Google tells girls that one of things they can do with code is “help save lives”. “Women on average are more cooperative,” Damore had claimed; “Why code alone when you can code with friends?” says the community section on Made With Code. But while the creators of Made With Code presumably won plaudits and promotions, James Damore was fired.
And the very existence of the Made With Code website shows Google acknowledges Damore’s central point of women being different from men — computer science textbooks don’t usually come with pink backgrounds.
[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of OfficeChai. The author wished to remain anonymous.]