Diversity Debate Sparked In Texas After Google Engineer’s Memo

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – A now widely circulated manifesto questioning the biological fitness of women for STEM careers has the tech world talking — and many women fuming.

“It did make me angry,” says North Texas-based IT Manager Marissa Horne.  “It made me angry, because I know it’s not the truth. From my own experience, I am confident that there are people like me, women, minorities, who have demonstrated that the talent is there.”

The Google employee who wrote the 10-page memo tells CBS News that he has since been fired.  But, the controversy has provided an opportunity for advocates to push for more inclusion in the still male dominated field.

“It is a very real problem,” says Dena Jackson, PhD, with the Dallas Women’s Foundation, “and I think tech firms are recognizing that a lack of diversity at all levels in their company is not good for business.”

Dr. Jackson urges parents to be mindful of exposing both sons and daughters to STEM-related activities, programs and toys. And she has other recommendations as well.

  • Educators – be aware of your gender biases and make sure all of your students are given the same opportunities to learn and explore STEM
  • Employers – be leaders in advancing diversity at all levels in your company

Horne learned many painful lessons, and the value of diversity, being one of only two women in her college computer sciences department.

“There were times when I was isolated, when I had to prove my aptitude to my male colleagues,” says Horne.  “But, the experience also made me clever, because I had to figure out really complicated problems on my own.”

Now, Horne also works to make sure young women have role models in technology careers.  She’s active in the Dallas Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.  The non-profit developed a STEM Academy to expose middle and high school girls to careers and mentors in technology fields.

Earlier this year, the group sponsored a showing of the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, which tells the stories of three African American women who were integral to NASA’s space program in the 1960s.

“It made clear that the story of African American women in mathematics is not new,” says Horne, “it’s happened for decades.  We just have to do a better job of sharing that story and making sure it’s told in a positive way.”

And Dr. Jackson agrees that the stories shared on the big screen can have a big impact on young women and girls.

“I think ‘Hidden Figures’ was particularly appealing because it dealt with not only the gender issue; but, the race issue,” says Dr. Jackson, “and it wasn’t that long ago. I think it woke a lot of people up to realize that it has not been that long. IT can slide back.  And we need to be vigilant.”

On October 20, the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s 32nd Annual Luncheon will feature the author of “Lab Girl”, Dr. Hope Jahren.  Dr. Jahren will discuss her issues working in the male-dominated science industry, and her efforts to break down stereotypes surrounding girls in science.  Her talk will also be live streamed to high schools around the state.

Horne, now an IT manager with Fort Worth-based American Airlines, says her time spent as an outsider has made her a better leader, making sure everyone on her team feels included, heard and valued. “I appreciate the whole self that they bring to our organization… I recognize the value of diversity.”

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