We already know tech's diversity reports are dismal. Now a black female engineer who works at Google adds a narrative to the corporate numbers that are so easy to dismiss. In eight years at the company, she has cycled through harassment, isolation, being passed over for promotions, and surrendering her identity to fit in.
The first-person expose comes from an engineer writing under the pen name EricaJoy. On Medium, Erica set out to chronicle the "psychological effects of being a minority in a mostly homogeneous workplace for an extended period of time." It's worse than you think.
Erica started out at Google's Atlanta office in 2006, where her white male colleagues were quick to make racially-charged comments. When she finally brought it up to managers, the company shipped her off to New York. Emphasis added:
The negative micro-aggressions from my first coworker continued and I said nothing until I reached my breaking point. He not so subtly hinted that my connecting with the few other black techs in other offices (who happened to be male) was anything other than professional. That was my last straw. I tried to talk to a female teammate in a different office about the situation. She'd been there longer and was something of a leader. She didn't want to get involved. I went to my manager about the problems, told him that I planned to speak with HR. It was decided that the best way to deal with the "tension" between that coworker and I was for me to transfer to New York, despite my not wanting to move there. I don't believe my manager ever engaged HR about the problems and neither did I. I didn't want to make waves and isolate myself further from the team. I didn't want to be that stereotype, the black woman with a chip on her shoulder. I didn't want to make the rest of my team uncomfortable.
A year after arriving in New York, Erica was moving again—this time to Google's main headquarters in Mountain View. But life inside the Googleplex hasn't been much better:
I arrived in the Bay Area in August of 2008. Being in Silicon Valley has been simultaneously great for my career but bad for me as a person. I've been able to work on multiple different teams and really interesting projects. Unfortunately, my workplace is homogenous and so are my surroundings. I feel different everywhere. I go to work and I stick out like a sore thumb. I have been mistaken for an administrative assistant more than once. I have been asked if I was physical security (despite security wearing very distinctive uniforms). I've gotten passed over for roles I know I could not only perform in, but that I could excel in. Most recently, one such role was hired out to a contractor who needed to learn the language the project was in (which happened to be my strongest language). I spent some time and energy trying to figure out why that happened, if it was to do with unconscious bias or if it was an honest mistake.
Erica writes that discrimination and pressure to fit in causes constant stress and has even taken a physical toll, including a heart condition and stress-induced acne. For those who have a hard time believing that, she broke down the day-to-day discomfort of being a black female employee at Google.
- I feel alone every day I come to work, despite being surrounded by people, which results in feelings of isolation.
- I feel like I stick out like sore thumb every day.
- I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being "different."
- I feel like my presence makes others uncomfortable so I try to make them feel comfortable.
- I feel like there isn't anyone who can identify with my story, so I don't tell it.
- I feel like I have to walk a tightrope to avoid reinforcing stereotypes while still being heard.
- I have to navigate the expectation of stereotypical behavior and disappointment when it doesn't happen (e.g. my not being the "sassy black woman").
- I frequently wonder how my race and gender are coloring perceptions of me.
- I wonder if and when I've encountered racists (the numbers say it's almost guaranteed that I have) and whether or not they've had an effect on my career.
- I feel a constant low level of stress every day, just by virtue of existing in my environment.
- I feel like I've lost my entire cultural identity in effort to be part of the culture I've spent the majority of the last decade in.
Before anyone trots out the excuse that all corporations are equally as bad, check out Erica's description of working at Home Depot's corporate headquarters, where they "had diversity nailed" and culture fit wasn't an issue. "I didn't have to be anything different than who I was and I flourished there."