A former Google employee has taken to twitter to highlight the sexual discrimination that she faced while at the company. Kelly Ellis, who worked with the tech giant in its headquarters in Mountain View, tweeted a series of allegations about how her superiors had behaved inappropriately with her while their team was on an offsite at Maui.
Ellis, who quit Google in August last year, says that when she tried reporting the matter to HR, Google did not pay heed but reprimanded her instead. Google has not responded to these allegations.
The Silicon Valley is home some of the world’s top tech companies. They hire the brightest minds from around the world who work on cutting edge research and solve business problems. Women, however, are a disproportionately small fraction of the workforce. A recent report suggested that women hold only 11% of executive positions at tech companies, and another said that 12% of engineers in tech are women.
While experts agree that this disparity has a lot to do with fewer women opting to enroll in STEM courses, allegations of differential treatment of women have been simmering under the surface. This has come to light in very real terms with the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins case which has Silicon Valley watching with rapt attention. Pao, who is the interim CEO of internet powerhouse Reddit, is suing her former company Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination. She claims that she was passed over for promotions and was ultimately pushed out of the company because of a workplace atmosphere that was toxic for women. She says that an affair with a colleague that began as consensual but eventually turned sour also hastened her departure.
Large tech firms in the valley are no strangers to sexual harassment scandals. In 2008, then HP CEO Mark Hurd was forced to step down after allegations of sexual harassment were leveled against him by a contractor employed by the company. Hurd had claimed a “deep personal relationship” with the lady in question that he did not disclose to the board of directors. In the same year, Oracle was asked to pay $130,000 to a female employee who had been harassed at the workplace with a range of inappropriate comments, such as “So, Rebecca, how do you think our marriage was? I bet the sex was hot” and “You know you love me.” In 2011, a top IBM sales executive sued the company for $1.1 million for ignoring her allegations of sexual harassment and bullying for two years before investigating her claims. “He groped me. He rubbed himself against my backside when he walked past me. He touched me, put his hands up my dress, asked me to expose my breasts to get more sales,” she alleged. Another Silicon Valley bigwig, Microsoft, has had several cases filed against it, ranging from unwanted advances to office romances.
Closer home, a group of women employees working with Infosys accused a senior manager of sexual harassment.Back in 2002, Phanesh Murthy, who was then heading golbal sales for the company, had been dismissed on sexual harassment charges following a relationship with a subordinate. In the same year, two Wipro employees were fired fired for sexual harassment. In spite of these incidents, prevention measures in India remain lax, with 90% of private firms not having a sexual harassment cell to tackle such issues.
While government and private institutions are making efforts to bring more women into tech, its unlikely that more women will be drawn into this field until they receive a more welcoming atmosphere at the workplace.