Future Tense

Google CEO Reportedly Confused a Black Female Engineer With an Administrative Assistant

Erica Baker, now a Senior Engineering Manager at Patreon, formerly worked at Google. 

Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

A New Yorker article published online on Monday, as part of its Nov. 20 issue, recounts some alleged slights of women of color at Google.

The piece, entitled “The Tech Industry’s Gender-Discrimination Problem” details a number of stories from women who say they’ve been sexually, financially, professionally, and verbally degraded at some of Silicon Valley’s most revered institutions. Reporter Sheelah Kolhatkar documents how unequal pay, inappropriate advances, exclusion from leadership roles, and other both subtle and blatant forms of discrimination can make tech workplaces a cruel environment for women.

Erica Joy Baker, one of woman who spoke with Kolhatkar, described an alleged incident at one of tech’s biggest companies. Baker, a black woman who is now a senior engineer at Patreon, had worked at Google from 2006 to 2015. She recounts an incident with Google C.E.O. Eric Schmidt:

At one point, Baker said, she was working as an engineer in a group that provided technical support to Google’s top executives. She told me about a day, in 2008 or 2009, when her teammate, a man named Frank, was out of the office and she was sitting in the executive-tech-support room on her own. Google’s C.E.O., Eric Schmidt, walked into the room in need of help, and asked where Frank was. “He’s not here, is there something I can help you with?” Baker recalled telling him. She said that Schmidt asked her to leave Frank a message describing his technical issue, which she was more than qualified to address. “I said, ‘Oh, I can take care of that for you.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you’re not his assistant?’ ” Baker recalled. Schmidt then suggested she put a sign on the door explaining her role, even though other offices didn’t have such signs. She added that senior Google employees often confused her with the sole other black woman in a technical job on her team. “We used to jokingly call ourselves the Twins, even though we don’t look anything alike,” Baker said. Her impression was that many of her colleagues couldn’t “distinguish two completely different black women from each other.” (Google did not respond to requests for comment about the incident.)

A self-produced report that Google released in June shows that only 20 percent of technical jobs are occupied by women in the company, and black people make up one percent of Google’s tech workers in the U.S.

Kolhatkar notes that the Department of Labor audited the company this year, finding huge gender imbalances in pay for almost every type of position, which Google disputes. Three women also brought a class action lawsuit against the company in September, accusing the company of placing women in positions with lower wages. The suit further alleges that women in those positions are paid less than men in similar roles.

The full story, which details problems at many large tech companies, can be read here.