Google gender gap debacle: Health IT exec says 'higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance' aren't issues

Contentious memo by a Google engineer comes as industries – including health IT – are trying to improve on salary inequity and other gender inequalities.
Google gender gap

Google fired the software engineer who published a 10-page anti-diversity document.

Update: Google fired James Damore, the software engineer who published a 10-page anti-diversity document. Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees Monday that said portions of Damore’s document “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

An engineer at Google sparked controversy this weekend by posting a 10-page memo ranting against diversity initiatives at the iconic company and suggesting that women are underrepresented in technology not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace but, instead, due to inherent psychological differences between the sexes. 

The author titled his memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” and he listed personality differences between men and women, including higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance among women. 

“The gender pay gap can be explained by a combination of factors. Those factors are not female-based higher anxiety levels coupled with lower stress tolerance than men,” said Carla Smith, executive vice president of HIMSS North America. “Workplace fairness and gender-based pay discrimination are factors; however, they are not necessarily dominant. We must also understand that occupations that are male-dominated pay more than occupations that are female-dominated (think construction workers vs child care workers). This factor alone accounts for much of the gender pay gap.” 

Gender bias and salary inequity are widely considered to be big problems in IT generally, Silicon Valley specifically and, of course, health information technology is no exception. 

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” the engineer wrote in his memo. “Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.” 

Google Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance Danielle Brown responded quickly to distance the company from the man’s ideas.

“Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate,” Brown wrote in a letter to company employees. “We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

The controversy comes in the middle of Google’s fight over a wage discrimination investigation by the US Department of Labor accusing Google of routinely paying women less than men in comparable roles. 

The Google engineer, for instance, pointed to women finding it harder to negotiate salaries and ask for raises while men have a higher drive for status.

“Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.”

Women tend to look for more work-life balance, he claimed.  

Smith countered that the lack of accessible data on compensation is an important factor.  

“If you don’t know what you’re worth, you can more easily be taken advantage of, accepting a compensation package that is below-market. Knowledge is power – and both employee and employer need to be increasingly knowledgeable. For example, employers need to understand the business advantage that can be attained through a diverse, fairly-compensated workforce,” Smith said. “And employees need to learn how to find compensation data, and acquire the negotiation skills so that they can earn what they’re worth.”

While the Google engineer claimed he wrote the document to facilitate open and honest conversation about biases we all have but do not recognize in ourselves, that is likely to be voided by the contentious nature of his memo -- and the fact that so many studies indicate that the gender pay gap is real. 

"Many studies back it up," said Sue Schade, principal at StarBridge Advisors and veteran hospital CIO. "Differences in how men and women approach salary negotiations has also been written about extensively. Companies need to continue their efforts to encourage women. I would echo what Danielle Brown said - diversity and inclusion are critical to the success of any company."

Longitudinal research by HIMSS, in fact, determined that the pay gap actually widened between 2006 and 2015 in health IT. In 2006, women made 81 percent what their males peers did and, then, by 2015, they earned 78 percent of what males did. 

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
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