A counter-manifesto

A few days ago, a Google Engineer released a hailstorm of outdated and twisted psychological and biological myths to mask his personal prejudice against women, and less overtly, against minorities as well.

I want to suggest a counter-manifesto. I want to suggest that women and minorities both begin to roar. Our silence is what allows the resounding echo-chamber of misogyny and prejudice to exist. Especially within the startup, tech, and small business communities.

I consider it a personal duty to spearhead this manifesto, as I will be leading the #IAmRemarkable event at Google with the Women Supporting Women community of over 1,700+ members in Silicon Valley.

This is a crowning achievement for me because I never thought that one day I would have the opportunity to be speaking and leading a group of women on being remarkable, diverse, and part of an inclusion movement, at the Google campus.

And it couldn’t be more timely.

The fact that Google is hosting events and workshops for minorities and women in tech shows their dedication to change the tide to favor inclusion in tech and business.

However, the loud and “authoritative” few who are brave enough to voice their ignorant opinions regarding women and minorities in STEM, need to be addressed at this time. And the only way to do that is for women and minorities to roar back.

The numbers are in: Women (especially minorities) in tech are getting the short end of the stick

The 2015 US Employment Statistics showed that women made up less than 25% of the workforce in the category of computer and mathematical operations, and about 15% of the workforce in the category of architecture and engineering.

Over the last several months, companies in Silicon Valley have been called to task by the US Government, due to the recent studies showing that the average woman programmer makes nearly 30% less than male programmers in the tech industry.

Another study showed women in tech make anywhere between 5% and 50% less than their male counterparts, for the same job, same responsibilities, and same skill-set. This was prevalent in more than 60% of hiring cases. Black and Latina women faced worse discrimination overall.

Part of the reason fewer and fewer young women are getting degrees in computer science is how the tech jobs and products are marketed and the bullying women face by males pursuing computer science degrees. NPR ran a study in 2014 that showed the decline of women coders started as far back as the 1980s, as personal computers were almost exclusively marketed to appeal to men. In 2013 the tech sector was noted as further marginalizing women by use of convenient vocabulary in hiring decisions (among other factors), which disproportionately discriminated against women.

The #IAmRemarkable movement is near and dear to my heart, because I have been like many women — afraid to speak up about my experience, afraid to draw attention to the hard (and often invisible) work that I do in a company, many times passed over for much-deserved promotions.

This is about more than a tech-space problem. Women are conditioned from a young age to downplay their intelligence, be silent about their hard work, shoulder considerable burdens alone, and accept less appreciation and recognition.

The “manifesto” written by the Google engineer only underlines the myths that continue to propagate this behavior in women. This is social conditioning, not biological imperative, and it’s only finally coming to the forefront of our attention because it’s affecting businesses.

Why ambitious business women like me need #IAmRemarkable

In 1975, my Vietnamese parents came to America as refugees. My parents had nothing to their name, did not know how to speak the new language, and had a baby to feed. Despite the daunting reality regarding their livelihood, my parents never told me how poor we were. I keenly remember that my parents worked 2 jobs in order to keep our family afloat. As much as they kept the Asian face of effortless austerity, it was clear they hustled hard for a reason.

Growing up, there was an immense amount of pressure on me to perform at a high level and collect prestigious accomplishments. After all, my parents made countless sacrifices for me. If I couldn’t get the best grades and become a doctor, was I honoring their sacrifice?

The benefit of growing up like this, is that I developed a strong sense of dedication, resilience, and grit. My upbringing helped to foster my growth-hacking mindset from a very young age. Just as my parents did as I was growing up, I learned to work harder than my peers while making it look effortless.

The negative part of growing up like this was that I didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I always made choices that benefited or honored the majority of other people in my life (bosses, parents, spouse), and it caused me to remain unfulfilled on a large scale.

This is the story many women are living right now.

Despite being a very hard worker, I often got passed up for raises and promotions because I made my work look effortless, and didn’t speak up about what I did. If a deadline was looming, I was the girl who jumped on the project to make it happen — and you never heard a complaint pass my lips, nor did you hear me boast about the long hours I worked.

I started two successful companies, but sold them so that I could move and take care of my mom whose health had been deteriorating rapidly. I guess, in this sense, I made a choice to take care of family over the “status” of being a business owner.

Duty has prevailed for much of my life, usually at the cost of my own happiness and reward.

After over 30+ years of doing this in my life, I realized I couldn’t continue living like this. I had a deep sense of unfulfilled potential. I felt like I constantly wore a false mask of identity (especially at work), and it was affecting my emotional health and family life.

I was very lucky in having established a reputation for myself as a dedicated growth marketer. When I quit my last position in a large billion-dollar tech company, I quickly gained consulting clients. Shortly after, I started an incredible opportunity at InVision App, a company that values female and minority inclusion. InVision App took my career desires seriously, wanting to elevate my work as a woman in their company, even empowering me to speak on stages at conferences. Not many women will be as lucky.

When you’re seen as a “superwoman” who “effortlessly” does everything, your story is often overlooked.

It can leave you feeling like you need to live up to this statuesque version of yourself that’s impossible to sustain. (And if you come from an Asian family, this is doubly asserted in your life. Asian family culture teaches everyone to silently bear their burdens, and look as “perfect” and effortless as possible. It’s extremely unhealthy on an emotional level, creating a closet that further amplifies daily stress.)

This is one of many reasons why women in the tech and startup space are silent contributors — especially minority women. Being a silent contributor is what keeps us from getting the accolades, recognition, monetary raises and bonuses, as well as promotions. At the same time, for many women and minorities, speaking up could mean we lose the security of our jobs. And yes, that means our families will be affected. So we silently toil on, hoping one day our hard work will be recognized by someone else, for fear that speaking up will leave us jobless.

This is what Google’s #IAmRemarkable campaign is working to change.

This is NOT a biological difference. It’s a difference of social conditioning.

My story is the blueprint of ambitious women everywhere, who were told from a young age that they were “bossy” instead of potential leaders, “bragging” instead of expressing our hard work and asserting our worth, taught that we needed to look, act, and talk a certain way rather than develop our skills if we wanted to be successful, and accused of “whining” (especially in school and the workplace) if we openly talked about how we were treated differently than the boys based on false and arbitrary gender paradigms.

Sheryl Sandberg explains on www.banbossy.com that when a boy asserts himself, society calls him a leader. When a girl does it, she is called bossy. “Words like bossy send a message: don’t speak up or take the lead. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys, a trend that continues into adulthood,” the website explains.

Again, this social conditioning is highlighted by the recent “manifesto” written by the Google engineer who claims he is in favor of diversity and inclusion.

As a summary, this Google engineer made the claim that women are biologically wired to be less status-oriented, less systems-oriented, and more people-focused. This was his excuse for discontinuing gender inclusion and diversity initiatives at Google. He claimed that gender inequality was not due to company culture, but due to the biological wiring of women that significantly alters their psychology like the hand of fate.

As a woman who studied Biology and Psychology at the graduate level, I want to first point out that this man’s claims were made with “science” that is outdated. You don’t have to be a scientist to figure this out. All it takes is a Google search to see that research and science over the last 10 years have debunked those claims.

Victim blaming is an age-old diversion tactic that has kept societies throughout history from making important steps toward progress, and it has to stop.

Women are wired differently than men, absolutely. But not in the way this Google employee describes, and not in a way that would be a negative asset to a company. Let’s debunk the top three statements made in his “manifesto” and how this is keeping women closeted in their social conditioning.

I’ll speak from a personal perspective, because someone needs to speak up. Women, minorities– we must stop being silent. As a leader of the Women Supporting Women community, I feel it is imperative that I reignite this conversation.

“Women aren’t driven by status.”

I’ve always been accomplishment driven. Granted, for the longest time I did it for the wrong reasons. However, this is more about social conditioning, rather than a biological imperative. All of us are social creatures, and social conditioning is what we use as a marker for safety within our chosen “tribe.”

Men and women alike greatly function from their social conditioning. This is all the more reason why social expectations must shift if we want to effect change for our children.

At any moment, we, as women, can make a choice to balance our decisions so that they meet our values AND our personal needs. It simply requires courage to go against the grain. It will also require the organizations in power to allow this courage to blossom.

A woman’s compulsion to make decisions that please everyone has nothing to do with biology. It has everything to do with a society that has pushed its standards unequivocally onto women in harmful and limiting ways.

If we want to talk about a resounding echo chamber, we should look at the standards pushed on women from popular media, publications, governing bodies that take women’s issues and health as less important and less valid, and company cultures that shoehorn women into positions that they assume were “made” for women based on this ludicrous idea of biological imperative.

My own, new terms

My ambitions were long silenced, but not forgotten, when I made decisions to please everyone else in my life. I know who I am, and this feeling is so liberating! I value and judge myself based on my own skill level, my relative position in life, and what I’m able to create. Now it happens to be on my terms, rather than somebody else’s idea of success. I don’t think this makes me any less womanly or more manly. In fact, I think it makes me a healthier person who respects and finds worth in herself, a difficult thing for women to do under current social conditioning.

Allow me to debunk: women and status

On a less anecdotal note, statistically, the idea that women aren’t driven by status is easily debunked.

As just one example of many, women statistically have higher grade point averages.

This has nothing to do with cooperation, pleasing other people, etc. This has everything to do with the fact that women have a higher compulsion to accomplish and gain status in a society that tries to pin them down with harmful stereotypes based on outdated science.

To add insult to injury, a collegiate study showed that a female with a high school grade point average of 4.0 is paid less than a male student with a 2.5 grade point average in their careers.

Is this because women aren’t status oriented? That they aren’t competitive? That they somehow just don’t perform better than men? That they are less intelligent than men?

If any of those statements were true, women should be performing worse in school as an average. In fact, the stats should be reversed if women are indeed less status oriented, non-competitive, can’t perform better than men, and are less intelligent than men.

Women and systems

“Women are less systems-oriented.”

I’ve always been systems driven. At a young age I was fascinated with reading the Choose Your Own Adventure book series and learned QBasic on my own so that I could code and create my own logic based computer games. This same eye for systems is what allowed me to study both science and psychology at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. It is also what led me to bootstrap and rapidly growth hack two successful businesses in three years, which I then sold. And my eye for systems is what earned me several high-management positions as a growth marketer in the Silicon Valley.

On a more personal note, my eye for systems is what has allowed me to have two children with a military husband, take care of my ailing parents, continue working my high tech marketing job, continue homeschooling my kids, hold an active social life, advise and consult with countless businesses, and much more. Without systems, none of this would be possible.

Being systems-minded is what has allowed me to gain a reputation as a professional growth-hacker, as well as a “superwoman” in my everyday life. At the time of writing this, I don’t have an assistant or secretary. My husband helps as much as he can, but he’s got a business of his own, as well as his military responsibilities. My family helps with watching the children when they can. However, much of my laundry list of responsibilities rest on my shoulders alone, and I do everything well enough so that people often call me “superwoman” and believe it’s effortless.

Time to speak up!

The biggest downfall as women who lead these system-rich lives, is that we DON’T speak up about our many tasks, skills, talents, and accomplishments. Because of this, some men (like this Google engineer) can write “manifestos” about how we aren’t as system oriented as they are, so that makes them “better” at STEM jobs.

Maybe women would feel more safe to talk about our endless list of tasks, skills, and accomplishments if we were taught it was okay to do so from an early age. Women are socially molded to speak up less, especially around men, and at this point it’s a well noted fact.

Again, this comes down to social conditioning.

Women — it’s our job to speak up, be an example, and actively shift this conditioning for the sake of our daughters. We have to change the dialogue around this topic, so they are empowered to pursue STEM jobs without fear of being bullied and ostracized out of existence, or worse.

Men — like my husband who fully support the ambitions of me and my two daughters — please teach your sons about the quality and value of women in this world. They are tomorrow’s Google engineers. Without male allies, this is an uphill battle for your wives, sisters, and daughters.

Together, we can create a better world where small-minded, antiquated battles cease to exist, and we instead can focus on improving the quality of life around the globe with big-idea solutions.

Quick sample list of women tech pioneers, if you need it

If you’re at a loss regarding how to talk to your children about the value of women in STEM careers, here’s a quick list to help you get started:

  • Ada Lovelace worked with inventor Charles Babbage to create what is credited today as the first ever computer program.
  • Grace Hopper was another pioneer of computer programming. She invented COBOL, an early high-level programming that is still used today (she was also a US Navy rear admiral).
  • Margaret Hamilton created the first ever software, which was responsible for landing humans on the moon.
  • Three black female mathematicians (Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn) were responsible for John Glenn accurately making his trajectory to the moon, as well as the success of the Redstone, Mercury, and Apollo space programs. They were only recently unburied from historical obscurity for the first time with the movie Hidden Figures.
  • Marie Curie died for her scientific passion, bringing to the world affordable and mobile X-Rays and radiation therapy.
  • Without women, we would have taken years longer to understand the biomolecular structure of both penicillin (widely regarded as the turning point in fighting common illnesses) and insulin.
  • Without women, we would have taken longer to understand and measure nuclear fission.

Each of these pursuits are undeniably systems-oriented, and each benefited from a woman who took a stand, especially during times where gender discrimination was the norm, and made achievements in what were proclaimed to be “men’s jobs.”

Without these bold scientific and systematic women, we would be missing out on countless innovations, leaps in health and quality of life, and even forms of entertainment. All of these boil down to systems.

Systems do not exist independent of human interaction. We create systems so that our everyday human lives can be improvedWhich leads me to the last point I want to address from this “manifesto”.

On people and empathy

“Women are more people-oriented and cooperative.”

Of course I’m people-oriented. To be “highly objective and unemotional” is to become blind to a very important facet of life: the people in it.

Coding isn’t a vacuum void of human interaction. In fact, coding is driven by human needs. Creating code for the sake of creating code is not only unheard of in a company like Google, but it’s pointless. Even coding experiments are created for the sake of benefiting humans in some way in the future.

Emotional IQ is what makes having women on the team of a startup so valuable. It’s not just about the interpersonal-relationships on the team itself, but women also give a perspective to user experience that goes deeper than the aesthetics of a program. Because we are more tuned to the social needs of the people around us, women are often more aware of what humans want and need from experiences and tools. That goes far beyond color and button choices.

Organizations are starting to recognize and measure the impact of this innate quality women bring to STEM. For example, organizations like MotherCoders, a Google grantee from the 2015 Bay Area Impact Challenge, exist specifically to help mothers break into tech. This allows women to openly bring our unique perspectives to drive the creation of new products and services, and to shape the world in which our children will live in.

As a woman, I consider my people-orientation to be a strength I bring to tech startups, not a weakness. And every woman who reads this manifesto should wear their empathy, emotional IQ, and people-orientation as a badge. This is why we create software, apps, and code: to solve human problems and improve quality of life for society at large. Can a mission be any more empathetic and emotional, than to improve life as a whole?

Perhaps the most disturbing quote of the entire “manifesto” by the anonymous Google engineer, (who is no longer anonymous and no longer employed at Google, having been fired yesterday), was when he called upon Google to “de-emphasize empathy” as a solution to the gender and minority discrimination. He implied that to do otherwise, would harm the success of a companies like Google.

Again, this is based on the false assumption that coding and systems exist in a vacuum void of human interaction.

I believe that recent ex-Googler Yonatan Zunger put it most eloquently:

“Engineering is not the art of building devices; it’s the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system. (This is so key that we have a bunch of entire job ladders — PM’s and UX’ers and so on — who have done nothing but specialize in those problems. But the presence of specialists doesn’t mean engineers are off the hook; far from it. Engineering leaders absolutely need to understand product deeply; it’s a core job requirement.)

And once you’ve understood the system, and worked out what has to be built, do you retreat to a cave and start writing code? If you’re a hobbyist, yes. If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups. It’s about making sure you’re all building one system, instead of twenty different ones […]

“Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

“All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique. The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.”

Hear Us Roar: A Manifesto for Women and Minorities in Startup, Tech, and Business Communities

I have two Asian-American daughters who are brilliant, spunky, and ambitious. There is nothing I wish for more fervently than for them to have every choice available for pursuing the career of their dreams. I want them to avoid living 30+ years for other people according to restrictive social standards, putting off their own dreams.

Speaking up now is imperative. If I don’t change the social conditions my daughters live within and empower them to speak up, act as leaders, and boldly build their skills with passion, I will allow the same glass ceiling that I have experienced time and again to continue to exist.

It has to start with loudly and actively debunking ignorant “authoritative” voices that try to shove women back into the dark ages. It has to start with gathering women together and changing the dialogue around our value in business as a whole, but especially in STEM.

Women and men alike, from every culture and color, have to come together and do better for our children. We need to come together and do better for ourselves.

Women and minorities must roar at this time. We must gather and support one another. We must show our children that anything is possible, and that there is a supportive social net for accomplishing your unconventional dreams.

Join and support communities such as the Women Supporting Women and the #IAmRemarkable mission. Share your stories on social media and roar so we can drown out the doubters who want to hold us back. Attend events put on by organizations such as Google that support minorities and female inclusion.

Writing this took all of the courage within me. Please, if you’re a woman and/or minority, have the courage to also share your experience. Your voice matters, and it’s time to roar.

If I can help you, please reach out.

This piece was originally posted on Medium by Sophia Eng,Senior Manager, Online Marketing at InVision App. 

Sophia Eng is a tactical and intuitive growth advisor and consultant to women in startups and small businesses. She also holds the position of Senior Manager, Online Marketing at InVision App. Views are her own.

Sophia has a passion for closing the minority and gender gap in business leadership and ownership. Recently, she founded a community group called Women in Growth, open to a women in startup, tech, and business communities for support.