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Facebook and Twitter and Google, Oh My!

By Charles O. Thompson and Stan Hill

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”  – Mark Twain

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other tech companies have acknowledged the gender gap in their industry and have demonstrated efforts to close it.   Much work remains, particularly at the university pipeline, where only 19% of computer science majors are female, and yet, female programmers comprise 20% of the workforce

Rather than commend tech companies for their candor and commitment to equality, media outlets have been quick to indict tech companies based upon their own voluntary demographic disclosures and have spotlighted the recent filing of a few gender discrimination lawsuits by former employees.  No commentary—by this blog or any media outlet—should presume as fact (or fiction) allegations in lawsuits, especially to march in step with stereotypes and political agendas.  No matter how many reports seek to vilify an entire industry on the basis of a handful of unproven claims (perhaps just to collect hits and sell advertising), the truth seeking process will always belong to our judicial system. 

A recent lawsuit filed by Tina Huang, a former Twitter software engineer, alleges not only discrimination and retaliation against Huang individually, but also company-wide gender discrimination against women seeking promotions to a number of senior technical positions.  Judgment must be reserved on such a sweeping indictment.

According to Huang, promotions at Twitter are by “managerial fiat” within a “black box.”  Huang alleges that promotions are subjective decisions made “predominantly” (i.e., not exclusively) by men and are “tainted with conscious or unconscious prejudices and gender-based stereotypes.”  Huang claims that she was not promoted due to her gender and was subject to retaliation for voicing a complaint. 

Huang also alleges that “Twitter promotes women to upper rungs of the technical ladder in fewer numbers and at a significantly slower rate than would be expected based on the number of women in the pool of lower positions from which promotions to those rungs are made.”  However, what is “expected” is unclear (particularly given existing gender demographics), and whether such “expectation” constitutes credible evidence of class-wide discrimination remains to be adjudicated. 

It remains to be seen whether Huang can prove facts to support her claims of individual and company-wide gender discrimination, and whether Twitter can support its defenses.   We will follow these developments and immediately report the factual developments in the Silicon Valley.