Over the weekend, a memo written by a Google engineer suggesting women are less “biologically” fit to work in tech became another reminder of just how far Silicon Valley companies have to go when it comes to eradicating sexism. The memo was the latest in a series of scandals that have made abundantly clear how toxic tech jobs can be for women, and highlighted the immediate need for companies to come up with a concrete plan to counter sex discrimination.
But Anita Hill, whose own claims of sexual harassment made headlines back in the ‘90s, has no faith in the tech industry to self-regulate. In a powerful New York Times op-ed, Hill suggested that the only real way to end sexism in Silicon Valley is for women to take things into their own hands.
“We can’t afford to wait for the tech industry to police itself — and there are few indications that it will ever do so,” she wrote. She also ruled out government intervention based on recent Justice Department decisions, and said that though press and shareholder intervention have proven somewhat effective, it’s not quick enough.
“Instead, women in the industry should collectively consider their legal options,” she wrote. “Top among these would be class-action discrimination cases against employers.” She went on:
Women in tech no doubt have hurdles to bringing class-action lawsuits, including the requisite preponderance of statistical evidence and the prevalence of confidentiality clauses and arbitration agreements, which are, in effect, designed to pre-empt class actions. But this challenge doesn’t mean the suits cannot be brought, or won. This is a route that the women of Silicon Valley should consider, especially if regulation is not an immediate and viable solution.
Hill used the 1996 “boom-boom room” case, in which women employees at a stock-brokerage firm sued for sexual harassment and gender discrimination, as an example of the type of case women in tech could bring. “The lesson of these cases is clear: Class-action lawsuits can force industrywide change, even in the most entrenched, male-dominated industries,” she wrote. And in a world in which the author of the Google memo (who’s since been fired) said he received “many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these issues,” legal intervention might be the best resort.