National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

Sexual harassment is an endemic problem in the US academic science community and a major barrier to progress toward including more women in the field, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes. While physical abuse and unwanted sexual advances are common, the most pervasive form of misconduct is what the report terms “gender harassment,” referring to hostile work environments in which women are routinely subject to sexist comments and crude behavior from their male colleagues, sending the message that they are not welcome there, as contributors to the report tell the Associated Press:

“Even when the sexual harassment entails nothing but sexist insult without any unwanted sexual pursuit, it takes a toll,” said University of Michigan psychology professor Lilia Cortina, a member of the committee that spent two years studying the problem. “It’s about pushing women out.”

The report complies data from multiple large surveys to get a sense of how pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination are in the academy. One survey from the University of Texas found that 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of engineering students, and over 40 percent of medical students reported being sexually harassed by faculty or staff. Another survey from the Pennsylvania State University system found that half of all female medical students had been harassed. Women working in university science departments experience harassment as well as students: 58 percent of academic employees report having been sexually harassed at work.

Sexual harassment “has long been an open secret” in the sciences, MIT professor and report co-chair Sheila Widnall told the AP on Tuesday. In its coverage of the report, the New York Times highlights the panel’s recommendation that universities and research institutions start focusing on prevention and fixing the work environment, rather than just “symbolic compliance with current law and avoiding liability”:

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Survey: 40% of Japan’s Foreign Workers Experience Discrimination

Survey: 40% of Japan’s Foreign Workers Experience Discrimination

Roughly 40 percent of expatriate professionals working in Japan say they feel discriminated against at work on account of their nationality or gender, Chisato Tanaka writes for the Japan Times, citing a recent survey by Adecco Ltd.:

Responding to a multiple-answer question on what they do not like about working in Japan, 43 percent cited gender inequality. Around 40 percent said they have trouble with indirect or nonverbal communication with colleagues.

Asked how they see their Japanese colleagues’ performance, 80 percent said their Japanese peers are precise in their work. But 72 percent complained that there were too many pointless meetings. … According to the survey, 47 percent of respondents also felt they are not given equal opportunities compared with their Japanese colleagues.

Nonetheless, the survey found that 77 percent of respondents were satisfied with their current work conditions and 88 percent wanted to keep working in Japan.

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Google Fires Author of ‘Anti-Diversity’ Memo

Google Fires Author of ‘Anti-Diversity’ Memo

A Google engineer who set off a firestorm of controversy over the weekend with a ten-page internal memo, in which he denounced the company’s diversity initiatives as discriminatory and claimed that women’s underrepresentation in tech was partially a product of biology, has been fired, Bloomberg reports:

James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the note, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” He said he’s “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.” … Earlier on Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees that said portions of the memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” But he didn’t say if the company was taking action against the employee. A Google representative, asked about the dismissal, referred to Pichai’s memo. …

Still, some right-wing [political] websites had already lionized the memo’s author, and firing him could be seen as confirming some of the claims in the memo itself – that the company’s culture makes no room for dissenting political opinions. That outcome could galvanize any backlash against Alphabet’s efforts to make its workforce more diverse.

(Damore has also said he is exploring his legal options for challenging his termination, and we take a look at how that might play out here.)

The bombshell memo was a code-red emergency for Google’s leadership, particularly its HR department and its new diversity chief Danielle Brown, who responded to it on Saturday. Pichai noted in his memo, which Recode’s Kara Swisher passes along in full, that he was cutting short a family vacation to return to Mountain View and hold a town hall meeting with other leaders on Thursday. He also emphasized that Damore’s memo was out of bounds not for expressing unwelcome political views, but rather for disrespecting his female colleagues and creating a hostile work environment for them:

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Googler’s Viral Memo Reveals Backlash to Diversity in Tech

Googler’s Viral Memo Reveals Backlash to Diversity in Tech

A senior software engineer at Google set off a firestorm last week with a ten-page letter circulated on an internal mailing list that quickly went viral within the company. In a memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” which Gizmodo has published in full, the employee argues that men predominate in software engineering because of biological differences between men and women; that Google’s diversity and inclusion efforts reflect an “extreme,” “authoritarian,” and “leftist” ideology; and that employees who express conservative political beliefs or different viewpoints on the merits of diversity are shamed into silence. Motherboard’s Louise Matsakis, who broke the story on Saturday, reported that the letter was widely condemned within the Google community, but has also raised questions over how many men at Google—particularly in leadership positions—share the author’s views on gender:

The 10-page Google Doc document was met with derision from a large majority of employees who saw and denounced its contents, according to the employee. But Jaana Dogan, a software engineer at Google, tweeted that some people at the company at least partially agreed with the author; one of our sources said the same. … “The broader context of this is that this person is perhaps bolder than most of the people at Google who share his viewpoint—of thinking women are less qualified than men—to the point he was willing to publicly argue for it. But there are sadly more people like him,” the employee who described the document’s contents to me said. …

Motherboard has independently confirmed with multiple Google employees that the document is being widely shared among many of the company’s software engineering teams: “If I had to guess, almost every single woman in engineering has seen it,” the current employee told Motherboard; a separate current employee told me it was being actively read by many employees.

The explosive emergence of this letter presents the first major challenge for Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown, who was only just hired at the end of June. In a statement sent to all Google employees, Brown reasserted the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, gently criticized the letter for advancing “incorrect assumptions about gender,” and disputed the assertion that Google is intolerant of minority political viewpoints:

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Uber Says It’s Overhauling Culture After Scandals

Uber Says It’s Overhauling Culture After Scandals

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Uber director Arianna Huffington joined newly appointed chief HR officer Liane Hornsey and Rachel Holt, who heads its North American operations, to discuss how the ride-sharing startup has responded to allegations of sexual harassment and widespread sexist behavior at the company that came to light a month ago, which prompted calls from investors and current and former employees to address what they described as a toxic workplace culture.

According to the Verge, there were no major announcements on Tuesday’s conference call, as the Uber leaders “acknowledged that there were serious problems with the company, but sought to convey the message that things were well in-hand”:

Huffington repeated her promise to hold [CEO Travis] Kalanick’s “feet to the fire,” as well as her declaration that there would be “no room for brilliant jerks” at Uber in the future. Hornsey discussed efforts to improve Uber’s hiring processes and training programs to improve diversity and ensure that efforts to report harassment and sexism aren’t sabotaged or ignored[.] …

“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers,” Holt said, before ticking off all the things Uber was doing to accomplish that. This includes easier-to-read earnings statements and a new app feature that allows riders to correct pick-up locations without canceling a trip in-progress. Uber will also take into account the number of trips completed by a driver when weighing deactivation as a result of rider complaints, Holt said, so a driver who completes 10,000 trips receives more deference than a driver who completes just 10 trips.

Hornsey also confirmed that the company’s first diversity report was on its way; that report is currently expected to come out early next month.

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Sexual Harassment Scandals at Tech Giants Bring Silicon Valley’s HR Problems to Light

Sexual Harassment Scandals at Tech Giants Bring Silicon Valley’s HR Problems to Light

Sexual harassment and sexism are well known problems in the US tech sector, as a survey of Silicon Valley women found last year, but a series of recent allegations involving three major companies has thrust those problems into the spotlight and is forcing the industry and the public to confront what last year’s survey called “the elephant in the Valley.”

After former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post last Sunday about her experience at the company, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment, HR misconduct, and management retaliation, the ridesharing startup launched an internal investigation and is hearing strong criticism from investors and employees. Uber’s critics are urging an overhaul of what they describe as a toxic and self-destructive culture that enables sexual harassment and misconduct toward women.

In a development that could compound the scandal, Recode’s Kara Swisher broke the news on Monday that Uber’s SVP of engineering, Amit Singhal, had been asked to resign after she reported that he had not disclosed to Uber that he had left Google last year amidst “credible” allegations of sexual harassment from an employee. Sources at Uber told Swisher that they had done extensive background checks on Singhal but uncovered nothing related to the allegations at Google (which Singhal still denies). Swisher also couldn’t find any outward indication that anything was amiss for Singhal at Google at the time, even though the company was, according to her sources, “prepared to fire Singhal over the allegations after looking into the incident,” but such action was preempted by Singhal’s decision to resign:

Sources said the female employee who filed the formal complaint against Singhal did not work for him directly, but worked closely with the search team. She also did not want to go public with the charges, which is apparently why Google decided to allow Singhal to leave quietly. He was also a well-regarded executive there, who was well liked by many I have spoken to at Google. He rose to a top job as SVP of search and has had a distinguished career as a technologist in Silicon Valley. …

You could not tell that there were any problems, though, from the outward behavior of both sides [at the time of Singhal’s departure]. When Singhal left, said sources, Google settled major outstanding grants he had, and his own goodbye letter read more like a retirement missive. More to the point, it gave no hint of acrimony between himself and his longtime employer.

Both Uber and Google are facing a backlash over these revelations: the former for hiring Singhal without uncovering what led to his departure from his last job, and the latter for allowing him to leave the company inconspicuously. On Twitter, ex-Googler Kelly Ellis, who allegedly witnessed and experienced sexual harassment while working there several years ago, took to Twitter to highlight how the “boy’s club” of tech executives hurts leadership diversity and makes it easier for male tech execs to get away with serial sexual harassment. Among her complaints related to this latest example: that tech executives often hire their friends outside of the usual hiring process, and after already lacking the necessary diversity to pick up on risks of misconduct.

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How Uber Is Responding to Allegations of Sexism and Toxic Culture

How Uber Is Responding to Allegations of Sexism and Toxic Culture

On Sunday, ex-Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler published a troubling account of what it was like to work for the company, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment, a toxic work environment, deceptive HR enforcement, and both management inaction and also retaliation against her for reporting incidents. The account has quickly gone viral and sent shockwaves across the tech sector, and it has even led at least some of the company’s customers to quit using the service. CEO Travis Kalanick responded very quickly to the scandal, immediately releasing a statement declaring that the work experiences Fowler detailed were “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in,” and that he had instructed the company’s chief HR officer “to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations.” The company then went even further and hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to run that investigation, and Uber board member Arianna Huffington is participating as well.

In the wake of Fowler’s letter, some of the ridesharing company’s investors have begun to voice concerns about the company having a culture problem. Venture capitalists Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, some of Uber’s earliest backers, published an open letter to the board and other investors on Thursday, saying they were “disappointed and frustrated” at Uber’s pattern of “responding to public exposure of bad behavior by holding an all-hands meeting, apologizing and vowing to change, only to quickly return to aggressive business as usual”:

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