At Fox News, sexism is an anchor allegedly texting photos of his genitalia to female co-workers.
At Google, it’s a software engineer who believes that women are biologically suited for jobs other than coding.
If sexism at Fox is crude and in your face, at Google it’s more insidious and harder to identify and fight. For that reason, women everywhere should thank fired Google engineer James Damore for putting his thoughts about workplace diversity in writing and hitting “send.” He did them a favor telling them exactly what they are still up against — the unchained male ego, which spans the generations and allows belief in male superiority to flourish and be rewarded, no matter how cool the corporate vibe. Some men have evolved beyond it. But enough still believe what the 28-year-old Damore was preaching: that women are emotional, sensitive creatures, whose higher anxiety levels and lower stress tolerance make them a bad fit for tech jobs specifically and leadership positions generally.
At Fox, the latest example of the network’s toxic locker room culture involves allegations that anchor Eric Bolling sent unsolicited lewd text messages to at least two colleagues at Fox Business and one colleague at Fox News. Talk about ego. Imagine thinking his crotch selfies are what women want to see. Bolling, who denies the charges, has been suspended pending investigation. He’s the latest in a string of Fox executives and anchors accused of sexual harassment by female colleagues who finally decided their deal with the devil (being paid to look hot while delivering the news) wasn’t worth the price (being coarsely hit upon and sexually harassed). Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson led the charge a year ago when she filed a lawsuit against the Fox News chairman, Roger E. Ailes, which led to his ouster. Bill O’Reilly, the network’s biggest star, was also forced out and Charles Payne, the host of a Fox Business Network program, was also recently suspended. Ailes, who died last May, denied the charges, as did the other men.
Pat Robertson, the conservative televangelist who once ran for president, is charging that the sexual harassment claims against the Fox men are part of a conspiracy “to destroy” the network. Not coincidentally, conservatives are also complaining that Google’s decision to fire Damore is an effort to stifle thinking that doesn’t conform with progressive politics and liberal values. While Damore’s memo pretends to make a case for “ideological diversity,” he wanted something more than freedom to express a point of view. What he envisioned was a Google where boys can be boys — by taking command of the serious, technical guy stuff — and girls can be channeled to softer, “people-oriented” tasks.
How depressing for all those bright, young female engineers out there who encounter such medieval thinking in their hip, open-concept workplaces. Because Damore is not an outlier. The stories out of places like Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, and Oracle are ominously familiar. Just as in other industries and professions, the Silicon Valley playing field for men and women is not even. As Anita Hill, who knows something about workplace gender issues, writes in The New York Times, “Women of all ages receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time. They hold only 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies and own only 5 percent of tech startups.”
That’s not the same as getting crude texts of the Fox News ilk. But Damore’s memo gone viral is another kind of wake-up call. His firing doesn’t put an end to sexism in Silicon Valley. It must be fought the same way the women at Fox are fighting it: through litigation and public pressure.Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.