In a pointed op-ed in the New York Times today, Anita Hill, who these days is working as a plaintiffs' attorney at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, suggests that "It’s time women in tech consider taking advantage of the law to disrupt the industry once and for all." She uses the revelation of that anti-diversity, sexist manifesto by a Google engineer identified today as James Damore, and fired from the company as of yesterday as an inciting incident to call for women to start filing class-action lawsuits against Silicon Valley companies if they want to see real change occur when it comes to equality in the workforce.
"While [Damore's memo] may be unusual in its explicit embrace of this kind of backward thinking, the attitudes that underlie it are nothing new in Silicon Valley," Hill writes. "Google’s decision to fire the employee responsible for the memo neither dispels the notion that a systemic problem exists nor solves it."
Further, she brings up Susan Fowler's barn-burning open letter about sexism at Uber as well as lawsuits and Labor Department inquiries into similar situations at Tesla, Microsoft, Oracle and elsewhere as evidence that the problems are systemic, and won't be addressed quickly or easily.
"The tech industry is stuck in the past, more closely resembling Mad Men-era Madison Avenue or 1980s Wall Street than a modern egalitarian society," Hill writes, bringing up as an example the "slew of class action discrimination lawsuits" brought against Wall Street firms in the 1990s, like the "Boom Boom Room" case of 1996 in which 2,000 women ended up joining the class action winning a $150 million settlement from Smith Barney over the sexist culture there.
Also, she suggests, sharing the tech wealth with women could mean everybody wins. "The economic benefits could be remarkable. Advancing women’s equality, which includes minimizing the gender gap in labor force participation, holds the potential to add $12 trillion to global G.D.P. by 2025."
Of course, individuals like Fowler tend to have their own careers in mind when they stay angrily silent, and it's going to take a courageous few to decide to take on tech titans the way some women took on Wall Street firms two decades ago.
But, Hill says, Damore's memo should serve as "an alert about how deeply and passionately anti-equality attitudes are held."