Tuesday night I attended a 10-course dinner with chinese reporters who flew in from Beijing on Google's dime to interview the company. There were around 15 reporters, and 7 Googlers accompanying them for dinner.
Over a meal of lobster, peking duck, and jellyfish, the reporter to my left turns to me. He looks a little like this Hong Kong action film star.
"So you've been an engineer for so many years?" he asks. "Do you think you'll keep at it forever?"
I pause. One day I'd like to found my own startup, and if takes off, my main focus would no longer be writing code. "Maybe not," I say.
"Okay, because women aren't very suitable for engineering."
I sigh inwardly. "You should read my Google China blog article on this topic."
"Women are .. not logical enough. If they're debugging code with a lot of bugs, they'll get frustrated, whereas a man will be more calm."
I resist the urge to say, "Is that because it was the man who created the bugs in the first place???"
Instead I say sweetly, "I haven't found that to be the case."
"Let me tell you, I used to work as an engineer," he declares in a this-will-explain-it voice. "We had a few female engineers come into the company, and they quickly found a bunch of men to do all of their programming for them. Then they would get married to one of the best programmers, and quit their job to stay home as a housewife."
I double-sigh inwardly. "That may have been your experience, but if you worked at Google, I think the reality would change your mind."
That having failed, he tries a new tactic. "I'm sure you must do presentations for execs. And they're usually men. If they do something overstepping professional boundaries, then the women will get uncomfortable."
"Uh... That's illegal in the US," I answer.
"It is?" He seems disconcerted. "Well, women just aren't analytical enough to be engineers."
In the ensuing silence floats an unspoken "QED."
Kai-fu said to me last October that the first step to combating discrimination is making it socially unacceptable to voice it openly. People will still think it, but they will no longer be comfortable saying it. After enough time passes in this manner, the discrimination will be eliminated gradually from the minds as well.
China has a lot further to go on this first step than the US.
Or he could've just been baiting me, hoping to write an article headlined "GOOGLER EXPLODES WITH RAGE, HITS REPORTER IN FACE WITH CURRIED JELLYFISH."