Why the Google Anti-Diversity Rant Hurts More Than Just Google
By Paul Griffiths, CEO
A Google engineer posted a 10-page manifesto in early August 2017 entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” The article critiqued diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In case you missed it, you can read it here: http://gizmodo.com/exclusive-heres-the-full-10-page-anti-diversity-screed-1797564320.
Now, I’m not normally one to wade into these types of conversations, but as a CEO of a tech-focused company whose team has crested the 50/50 male/female line over the years (plus NB folks), I reject the idea that achieving an organization near parity is impossible. The notion that technology must be male-dominated because “men are better at technology” is antiquated and boring, like any grainy filmstrip from history class about colonizing the moon: quaint, if it weren’t so dangerous.
The anti-diversity manifesto’s slippery slope
The manifesto begins noting that there are differences between left and right political views. I can appreciate the author wanting to ensure that they’re not being read as just a reaction to one side or another. The intent is to say, “Look, both sides can be reduced to a list of preferences, and we should examine those preferences.”
But then the author makes the most fatal error. He extrudes his own preferences in a rather unreflective way – he pretends he has none and is enlightened enough to be above it all.
Take this line: “Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.”
On the face of it, the first and last parts of the sentence sound sensible, yet the middle tries to sneak across his point: Men and woman experience equivalent problems in the workplace, so we should reject the idea that women have it tougher. I think reality is that men do not experience bias differently as much as they don’t experience it at all.
The next paragraph reinforces this point: “On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed …”
This stylistic tic – state something that sounds obvious (men and women are biologically different) and then slide in the real sentiment – indicates a deeper problem of thoughtlessness. The remainder of the piece, which has a stated goal to engage Google to be more honest, does not honestly analyze the author’s own arguments or prejudices.
The article devolves into a pseudoscience to back up its points, such as vague “research suggests” references to reinforce a point. I think the author might worry that the objective, technical requirements for roles at Google are slipping as the company works to change the type of people who are hired based on other nontechnical metrics.
There may be plenty of sound reasons to dialogue about programs in the workplace and question if they promote the results the efforts were intended to achieve. My concern is that there is an unearned arrogance pervading the article. I think it’s irritating to so many because this attitude is pervasive in technology.
Why are there not more females in tech?
Women are singled out on in this Google manifesto as having inherent, biological traits that negatively impact their ability to excel in certain roles. I reject the idea that there is a difference between the intellectual capacity of anyone based on biology.
What I have observed is that there is a bias of mentors’ biology on how they will invest their time to develop others. The reason there are not more females in tech? A lack of investment from male engineers like the very one who wrote this manifesto.
I’d like to suggest an honest conversation to have in the tech community and beyond. Over the last 13 years, I’ve been fortunate to have strong leaders of all types within the organization. And we don’t get it perfect, but I believe we have learned that diversity is not intentional blindness, nor it is about intentional blandness. Diversity is vibrant when it pushes organizations to find and support leaders who have the talent, period.
The reason that this anti-diversity rants hurts the whole technology industry is that it lowers the bar rather than raising it. Let’s focus more on what we can do to lift each other up and give each other more opportunities. If the tech space became known for its incredible ability to bring people along, to mentor new hires, and to work together across numerous boundaries, we would end up with a rich canvas of people lining up to contribute their time and talents to our companies.
UPDATED: Since posting, the author of the manifesto has been fired. I suspect the firing was more about the incredible amount of gossip and disruption his memo caused, rather than the actual content of the memo. (We can't see inside the hubbub internally, but it sounds like it was incredibly divisive.) I hope this change results in more dialog and not just a sweeping under the rug of these ideas as limited to a single individual. They're not.
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