Over the weekend, the world was made aware of a memo circulating Google, written by an employee who wrote of the company’s “ideological echo chamber,” specifically calling out diversity initiatives that take aim at the gender gap in tech and accusing his employer of supporting policies that he believed go against a biological difference in men and women. That is, James Damore, who was fired earlier this week from his position at Google, insinuated that “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” he wrote. “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
In many ways, it confirmed what many know and believe about the tech industry: that Silicon Valley, while it may boast opportunity for everyone, has a serious sexism problem, perpetuated by those like Damore whose outdated thinking about women and their abilities has a tendency to create hostile work environments and hinder the advancement of women within the field.
It was especially auspicious timing, as Google prepared to welcome dozens of teenage girls from around the world to participate in the Technovation Challenge World Pitch summit, the culmination of the free program that every year invites girls around the world to identify a problem in their community and create a mobile app, complete with business plan, to address that problem. 15,000 girls from 100+ countries have participated in Technovation since 2009 when it was started by the nonprofit Iridescent which aims to “empower the world’s underrepresented young people, especially girls, through engineering and technology to become innovators and leaders.” In 2016, Made With Code partnered with Iridescent and UN Women to support the launch of the Technovation Challenge, which asks participants to create apps that revolve around the themes of peace, poverty, environment, education, equality, and health. Since 2009, the young women participants have made 2,300 apps to address social issues. And this week Technovation 2017’s top teams from around the world traveled to Google’s main campus in Mountain View, California, to pitch their apps for a chance at the grand prize scholarships.