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Google brushes off lack of diversity and finds novel way to normalise sexism

Google has explained its lack of female employees as part of an "unconscious bias," but admits that it does need to do more to address the issue.

Like most of the corporate technology industry, the search engine giant is largely male-dominated, but at its Google Ventures Unconscious Bias @ Work seminar, the company set out to explain why this is the case.

Read more: Technology still plagued by sexism: Less than half of workers would report a sexist incident (opens in new tab)

Google claims that unconscious bias is a normal aspect of how humans make decisions, a type of mental shortcut based on our previous experiences and cultural norms. The firm also added that while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to bad decisions for users that fall into minority categories.

For example, the team that built the iOS YouTube app, didn't consider left-handed users when it added the mobile uploads feature, leading to videos recorded in landscape mode appearing upside-down. Google's example demonstrates that, while completely unintentional, unconscious bias can have negative effects.

The Unconscious Bias workshop, which is available to view online (opens in new tab), is aimed at raising awareness of these ingrained prejudices to create a fairer work place. More than 26,000 employees have attended the sessions, which have reportedly had an impact on members of staff already. Last year, employees noticed that many of the rooms in a newly opened building were named after male scientists, leading the firm to rename many of them to honour historically important women.

Google has also begun working with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Ada Initiative to further investigate how it can tackle sexism in the industry.

While the workshops are unlikely to topple workplace sexism on their own, particularly given the amount of conscious, more overt acts of prejudice or harassment that take place, they are a step in the right direction.

Read more: Twitter the latest tech firm to admit gender imbalance (opens in new tab)

In a blog post (opens in new tab), the company confirmed that tackling unconscious bias was just one step towards a more diverse working environment, but an essential one in order to fulfil their promise of building "technology that makes life better for as many people as possible."

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.