As reported by Motherboard (opens in new tab), Girls Who Code, a nonprofit to support women pursuing careers in tech, including the games industry, is taking part in a new student mentorship initiative with Raytheon Technologies. Raytheon is a weapons manufacturer that has sold arms to Saudi Arabia which have been used to kill civilians (opens in new tab) in its invasion of Yemen, and which spent $15,390,000 on lobbying the US government in 2021 according to Open Secrets (opens in new tab).
According to Raytheon’s press release (opens in new tab), the joint effort is a “four-month pilot program” targeting STEM students near graduation. It launched on August 30. Tarika Barett, CEO of Girls Who Code, stated, “We’re overjoyed to partner closely with Raytheon Technologies on this pilot program and are excited by the opportunity to continue to provide students with the tools and confidence they need to make a difference.” Students partaking in the program will be in contact with mentors from Raytheon, and will take part in networking events, interview prep, and community service projects.
As GamesIndustry.biz (opens in new tab) points out, Girls Who Code has accepted donations from Raytheon and companies with questionable ethical underpinnings in the past. You’d hope for a socially conscious organization to hold itself to a higher standard, especially as it exceeded its operating budget by almost $10 million in 2021 according to ProPublica (opens in new tab).
Girls Who Code has a worthwhile mission, helping underserved and underrepresented individuals pursue lucrative, potentially socially impactful careers. But partnering with a company that profits off war and death to do so pollutes that mission. Accepting donations from Raytheon would be one thing; making the active choice to collaborate with the arms dealer to mentor students is a step beyond for me, even if, benefit of the doubt, the students will be working one of Raytheon’s non-military ventures.
The non-profit seems to be aware of how bad this looks: I was unable to find anything related to the initiative on its social media, only the press release from Raytheon’s side. Girls Who Code has not returned requests for comment from GamesIndustry.biz or Motherboard. We have also submitted a request for comment, and will update if we hear back.
The ethics of the tech industry’s relationship with the military-industrial complex have a way of returning to the fore again and again. Unity (opens in new tab) and Microsoft (opens in new tab) both received pushback from employees over the companies’ lucrative contracts to develop technology for the US military. US Defense spending like this has roots in the origins of Silicon Valley; it was integral to early investment in the California tech sector, and the internet as we know it developed out of the Department of Defense’s ARPANET.
Last year, Girls Who Code terminated its partnership with Activision Blizzard (opens in new tab) in response to the multiple lawsuits against it over workplace harassment and discrimination. I would have hoped for a similar ethical consistency here, maybe politely declining an offer to burnish the image of a company that exports death abroad. Albert Einstein once said something lame and nerdy about the weapons of World War 3, but there’s no way he could have predicted they’d be produced by girl power.