Unbecoming of Google and unfair Mr. Sundar Pichai

By | Ramesh Ranjan | Founder & Editor www.humanengineers.com

Diversity is not just about Gender but should be all inclusive

The recent episode at Google, where an employee was fired for raising his voice against Diversity is rather unfortunate.

Google has been at the forefront of Data Democracy (as Nandan Nilekeni would like to call it) and has grown to what it is today because it believed in freedom to express, free speech and access to information to anyone, from anywhere and across the world.

Some of Google’s core values states :

  • We challenge each other’s ideas openly
  • We value diversity in people and ideas

So when Sundar Pichai fired James Damore for raising his voice against the Diversity Policy of the company, its ironical that the very company that preaches about challenging each other’s ideas openly and valuing diversity in people and ideas, fires its own employee for having demonstrated those very own values that Google so espouses.

If the web’s gatekeeper of information doesn’t believe in its own employees’ right to free speech, how can we trust it with ours?

James Damore, who graduated from Harvard, had claimed that women could not get ahead at Google because of biological differences. His 3,300 word manifesto has divided opinion since it went viral on social media.

The employee has said that

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.”

Exclusive: Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google

Many of us may not agree in full but some of the issues raised by him are pertinent

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 claimed that women were more social and artistic and could not take the stress of high-pressure jobs. Hence, “neuroticism,” or higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance, which he claimed was backed up by studies.

However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, he points out that Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination

He warns that these practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions.

So he raises a very pertinent question –  “Why the focus on sex instead of race?”

James Damore further argued that organisations inherently want to protect women, which in turn creates a hostile environment for men:

As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and agreeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labeled as a misogynist and whiner.

Look at the suggestions James Damore has made in his memo to make the workplace more inclusive:

  • Demoralise diversity: To stop making disagreement ‘immoral’, harshly punishing those we see as villains to protect ‘victims’.
  • Stop alienating conservatives: to the point conservatives need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility
  • Be open about the science of human nature. Not all differences are due to discrimination.
  • Stop restricting programs to certain genders or race. These discriminatory practises are unfair and divisive.
  • Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.
  • Stop calling for empathy on diversity issues. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.
  • Stop making people so sensitive. Microaggression Training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Corporate leaders could take a cue from this while framing their Diversity policy & strategy. It reads like a manifesto for a truly inclusive and diverse workforce where it promotes equitable opportunities for all, that is based on facts and outcomes, not bias and feelings. I am afraid that these suggestions are in danger of getting lost in the furore.

To be fair to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, he argued that “much of what was in that memo is fair to debate,” Pichai notes that part of the employees internal note crossed the line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Specifically, Pichai says “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Pichai faces the difficult task of balancing what he calls strong support of “the right of Googlers to express themselves,” against those who violate the company’s code of conduct in the process. While a large majority of Google employees reportedly expressed disgust at Damore’s internal document, not all employees disagreed with it. “Clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group,” says Pichai, “including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

Click here to Sundar Pichai’s full memo to his employees

Off late we are seeing a fanatical quest for Diversity in large Corporate Organizations. In the name of Diversity, organisations and the society are going frenzy without realizing the consequences of it.

Organisations are going overboard promoting Diversity like never before. Promoting it for the sake of it or to catch up with others.

It’s becoming a butt of ridicule and a joke in many organizations. Diversity is being reduced to a farce in many organizations. Unfortunately male members can’t express in public because of fear of retribution including termination and hence remain a silent spectator.

What it has led to is, large scale disgruntlement & demoralization of the male workforce in organizations. It threatens the unity of the organization and drives a deep divide across the organization. There is a simmering animosity developing in organizations. It promotes & creates hatred towards the other gender and can threaten harmony within organizations. It defeats the very purpose of addressing the issue of gender in-equality that organizations are trying to address.

Yes, the call for diversity is increasingly strong, but what is it we’re calling for?

No doubt diversity is important to promote an inclusive culture but not at the cost of merit. Look at how Google is in danger of lowering standards for favoring one gender. One should be conscious of the need to promote diversity but final decision should be based on merit and not influenced by the need to just promote diversity. It’s about promoting a healthy corporate culture with diversity of thought, views, ideas,skills, experience and skill sets and not just gender.

This seems to have become more of an image-oriented goal than open mindedness towards offering opportunities to qualified women. Companies compromise on talent and hold back potential resumes of talented men for the sake of posting equal number of women on board and workforce. I have seen how mediocre Talents have been hired/promoted based on Gender, just because of the need for diversity.

The issue of Diversity is a deep malaise, deep rooted in the society at large and reflects the culture of the society and is a culmination of centuries of practices & tradition. It cannot be undone overnight or by denouncing the other gender.

It has to be tackled at the grass root level and not scratching at the surface. It needs to be addressed at the society, at homes, in schools & colleges before being enforced at in organisations. Look at the way woman are portrayed in movies, stand up comedy, tele-serials, advertisements, newspapers etc. Unless we strike at the root of the problem no amount of actions at the surface level will rid the society of this gender in-equality. It cannot be achieved at the cost of the other and requires an approach which is inclusive.

Isn’t feminism about breaking even with both the genders rather than pulling one down? Isn’t it about meting out equal treatments to both the sexes than being anti-men? Yes, a certain section of men who are intolerant to women or behaving in a perverted way need to be shamed, but does feminism endorse inflicting pain on men in general to drive home the point of neutrality. Because women felt that they were oppressed / suppressed in the past, does it justify suppressing men in the present. Isn’t it tantamount to intolerant behavior – which men were accused off in the past? Isn’t it turning out into becoming a pseudo pleasure?

The term feminism is as much for men as it is for women because men too struggle with gender stereotypes.

It is high time to put our notions of gender roles in the workplace to rest. Women excel when given the opportunity. And so do men, particularly when they, too, feel the need to prove themselves in nontraditional roles. It’s that both men and women can develop their leadership skills and abilities, and no area need be reserved for one or the other. What it takes to develop great leaders, whether male or female, is their own willingness to develop, being given opportunities to grow through challenging job assignments, and support through mentoring and coaching from senior leaders.

The bottom line is that Organisations have no business constructing a Talent Management strategy based on who should be part of the organization or who should grow in the organization based on their gender. The very suggestion is offensive to all self respecting individuals, as well as carrying the unfortunate implication that women are incapable of success without the paternalistic hand of the organization helping them along. The condescension with which an Organisation treats its employees knows no limits and is well known. It is for us to assert our autonomy as adults, or forever be condemned to the cradle of entitlement and dependency.

We should all strive towards ensuring that the best qualified person should get the job and that gender, race, color, creed, nationality, language etc. should not be the deciding factor.

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