Silicon Valley may win the battle, but it will lose the war.

Google made headlines this week when a court case was filed on behalf of every woman the company has employed in California over the past four years.

It claims highly-qualified women were "segregated" into low-paying jobs, frequently denied promotions, and systemically paid less than men for similar work.

Kelly Ellis, a former employee serving as lead plaintiff, told The Guardian women have been raising concerns over discrimination for a long time - and while there's been lots of talk, nothing has actually changed.

Advertisement

"There's been a lot of PR and lip service, but ... this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women," she said in her first interview about the case.

Over the years, she's seen many male software engineers promoted above her.

She said while men were often given higher-paying "back-end" roles, women usually got less-prestigious "front-end" roles.

However, when her experience of entrenched sexism eventually forced her to quit, Google claimed she "lacked technical ability" despite her extensive qualifications.

The plaintiffs claim the company is violating labour laws, but the company's lawyers said it has "extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly".

It's not the first time Google has been embroiled in a sexism scandal, and it certainly won't be the last.

Last month, a male engineer was fired for writing and posting an anonymous memo slamming what he called the "politically correct monoculture".

James Damore's controversial 10-page document was praised by conservative groups, and slammed by progressive groups.

Former Google software engineer James Damore was fired over a controversial memo
Former Google software engineer James Damore was fired over a controversial memo

"I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership," he wrote.

He went on to suggest "arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women" does not work, and for real change to occur there must be a reason why diversity policy helps the company.

The memo made headlines around the world, before widespread outcry eventually prompted Google to sack him for "perpetuating gender stereotypes" - an outcome many women praised as being a significant step forward.

The scandal came just four months after the United States Department of Labor accused Google of "extreme" pay discrimination and took the company to court to try and force it to hand over salary records for a government audit.

It's not just Google employees who are complaining about the technology industry's lacklustre treatment of women - it's a systemic issue.

A few weeks ago, Ellen Pao penned a powerful essay for The Cut called "This is how sexism works in Silicon Valley. My lawsuit failed. Others won't".

She worked as a junior partner and a chief of staff at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and described an ultimate boys' club.

Ms Pao shared the chief of staff role with another colleague, "but the male one seemed to focus mostly on investing and the female one did more of the grunt work".

Ellen Pao lost her sexism case, but she said other women won't. Photo / Getty Images
Ellen Pao lost her sexism case, but she said other women won't. Photo / Getty Images

When she asked her boss about it, he said matter-of-factly "there are certain things I am just more comfortable asking a woman to do".

She wrote about the time a married colleague hit on her on a work trip, after telling her all about the terrible relationship he had with his wife.

She was forced to lodge a formal complaint after that same colleague was promoted above her and began blocking her work and giving negative reviews.

She also wrote about the times male colleagues went behind her back and orchestrated deals with her clients, about the times she was excluded from all-male company ski trips, about the times they openly discussed their favourite porn stars and sex workers in front of her, and about the times she saw underqualified men promoted over highly-qualified women.

In court, she was asked why the firm bothered keeping women on staff.

Her concise answer powerfully summed up the industry's attitude.

"If you had the opportunity to have workers who were over-educated, underpaid, and highly experienced, whom you could dump all the menial tasks you didn't want to do on, whom you could get to clean up all the problems, and whom you could create a second class out of, wouldn't you want them to stay?"

Before she made the decision to sue, Ms Pao consulted a number of other women who had taken on big and powerful companies over discrimination.

"They all gave me pretty much the same advice: 'Don't do it'. One woman told me, 'It's a complete mismatch of resources. They don't fight fair. Even if you win, it will destroy your reputation'."

Sadly, that prediction turned out to be entirely correct.

Over the course of the five-week trial, the defence lawyer ruthlessly tore her character apart, painting her as "incompetent, greedy, aggressive and cold".

She faced many insulting questions, and she said she battled to keep her snide remarks to herself so she didn't come across as "difficult or aggressive".

However, in doing so, jurors instead perceived her as being "distant, even a bit robotic, as I tried to keep my answers non-combative".

With hindsight, Ms Pao said maybe her case was a matter of "right issues, wrong plaintiff" and that the reason she lost was because she wasn't a "perfect victim".

The only upside to her case was the fact that before the trial was even over, she became aware of dozens of other women taking legal action against the tech companies.

They can silence one, and they can silence two, but they can't silence an army.