Workplace Diversity After the Google Memo — The Positive and the Negative
The question of workplace diversity hit the news again on August 8, 2017, when Google fired software engineer James Damore after he wrote a 10-page internal memo criticizing Google diversity initiatives.
(If you haven’t read about this firing, see Jack Nicas’ August 8, 2017, Wall Street Journal article.
Before looking at some of the reactions to this Google event, let’s look at the positives first of why we should care about increasing diversity in the workplace (and by extension in our larger communities).
What is workplace diversity?
Andrea Cook says in her Insperity article:
Before you can manage diversity in the workplace, you have to know what it is. And the definition may surprise you.
Diversity is anything that makes people different from one another. I’m sure you know you shouldn’t discriminate based on race, gender, national origin or disability. But there’s more.
Religion, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, political affiliation or opinions, military service, mental and physical conditions, personality, education, favorite sports team – all of these fall under the umbrella of diversity, which, if not managed correctly, can open the door to charges of discrimination or employee relations matters.
Chidike Samuelson says in his Entrepreneur article:
Diversity has many categories, and not all are readily noticeable. To notice them you have to peer a little deeper. One key reason many people feel comfortable in one workplace, but unfulfilled in another, may be because they are diverse in those subtle little ways.
That all your staff hail from the same state doesn’t mean they are not diverse. For instance, you have to take note of the obvious diversities like race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, but you also need to find out about the small guy who always slinks away from birthday celebrations; you need to notice the diversity of thought among your staff members.
The meaning of diversity has changed. Factors can be as simple as height. That unusually small guy? He may be plagued by a confidence complex and think he sees discrimination where it doesn’t exist. The office’s extremely tall guy, meanwhile, may feel the exact same way.
Workplace diversity can result in helping the bottom line
Peter Dizikes says in his MIT News article:
Gender diversity in the workplace helps firms be more productive, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT researcher — but it may also reduce satisfaction among employees.
“Having a more diverse set of employees means you have a more diverse set of skills,” says Sara Ellison, an MIT economist, which “could result in an office that functions better.”
At the same time, individual employees may prefer less diverse settings. The study, analyzing a large white-collar U.S. firm, examined how much “social capital” offices build up in the form of things like cooperation, trust, and enjoyment of the workplace.
“The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital,” Ellison observes. “But the interesting twist is that … higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better. The employees might be happier, they might be more comfortable, and these might be cooperative places, but they seem to perform less well.”
Christopher Mims says in his August 13, 2017, Wall Street Journal article:
Research has established the business case for diversity. This isn’t an argument about redressing historical inequities or even present-day fairness. More diverse companies have better financial returns, are more innovative and are just plain smarter than their more homogenous competitors.
One reason diversity is good is that it’s hard, says research done by Katherine W. Phillips and others while at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Diverse teams tend to have more disagreement but better outcomes, while homogenous ones are more confident in their abilities but perform worse. In a 2009 Kellogg study involving members of fraternities and sororities, a team was more likely to correctly solve a murder mystery if it mixed in (same gender) people from other houses. Tellingly, those same teams were less sure they were right and often felt their interactions were less effective.
Tips for leaders to support workplace diversity
Paolo Gaudiano and Ellen Hunt wrote a two-part Forbes article entitled “10 Tips for Leaders To Support Workplace Diversity.”
They wrote in Part 1: Things to Do at Work:
Even without someone voicing a complaint, if you witness someone say or do something inappropriate, don’t let it slide. Everyone in a room may laugh at a sexist joke, but that does not make it appropriate workplace behavior, and ignoring it can send the wrong signal. The slight awkwardness of dealing with it promptly will be more than made up by the improvement in workplace atmosphere.
And later in the same part Gaudiano and Hunt wrote:
If you just hired your first team member from an underrepresented minority, chances are that he or she is quite used to being surrounded by people who look different. It’s the members of the majority that need help understanding how to make their new colleague feel welcome.
They wrote in Part 2: Outside Work:
It is becoming easier to find good literature by authors who are members of underrepresented minorities. From Octavia Butler’s and Walter Mosley’s SciFi, to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ and Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction masterpieces, you can find books that will educate you, entertain you, make you cry, or simply blow you away. Check out online lists from Goodreads or from PBS, or walk into any library and look for dedicated sections. Aside from the entertainment value, you will learn to see the world from the point of view of those who are underrepresented.
The #OscarsSoWhite movement was not an isolated incident: Hollywood has been dominated by white men. However, thanks to the Internet it is now possible to expose yourself to an astounding variety of movies that have a more diverse representation of actors, writers, directors and producers. And if you haven’t yet seen Hidden Figures, you should watch it because of the great lessons about leadership it offers.
Recruiting more women
Jack Zenger says in his June 22, 2017, Forbes article:
In the U.S., since 1970, 26% of the growth in GDP has been directly attributable to having more women in the workforce. Hiring women has clearly been beneficial, but the benefits don’t stop with a mere headcount. Companies are in need of strong individuals in key leadership positions. Women are a huge and largely untapped resource that is often not recognized. Vik Malhotra, a senior partner at McKinsey and Co., has said, “For women, the corporate talent pipeline is leaky and blocked.”
Zenger cites these three reasons to recruit and select more female leaders (and his article backs up these statements with data):
- Women leaders are highly qualified.
- Women are more likely to seek out opportunities to learn and improve throughout their career.
- Organizations benefit more from a mixed gender workplace.
Judith Humphrey says in the Fast Company article:
Those in leadership positions should reach out and actively support women. Look for opportunities where women in your organization can really shine. If you’re putting together a conference, ask women to play visible roles. If you’re hiring a new team member, make sure you’re considering female candidates. Find mentorship opportunities for talented women on your team, either by offering your own time and expertise to help her develop her talents or by putting her in touch with colleagues who can. The bottom line: Play an active role in women’s success.
Since the ranks of upper management in the business world remain disproportionately held by men, male leaders in particular have a major role to play in creating diversity. The fact is that more inclusive work environments help everyone get ahead. What’s good for women is good for business.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote the book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which spawned the Lean In movement.
As Sandberg says, women in business roles meet numerous obstacles.
Shannon Paulus says in her Quartz Daily Brief article:
I’ve been into science for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I star-gazed with my dad and hung out in the math class my mom taught at a local college. I told everyone that I was going to be a paleontologist, or an astronaut, or a physicist.
So I’m confused by campaigns that assume girls and women have to be lured into science with gender-specific appeals…
To me, these campaigns are going about solving science’s diversity problem all wrong. The issue isn’t that women and other underrepresented minorities are uninterested in science. It’s that science pushes them away.
UPDATE: On August 22, 2017, the organization GIRLS WHO CODE released the first two of several books aimed at girls ages 8 to 12 to inspire coding. Click here to check out the books now.
Perception of women in various fields
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has the motto “If she can see it, she can be it.” And therein may lie the root of this issue.
Georgia Wells and Yoree Koh say in their August 10, 2017, Wall Street Journal article:
Champions of Silicon Valley’s efforts to make the technology industry more inclusive of women and minorities are facing an unwelcome reality: not all employees have bought into the diversity push.
Later in the article Wells and Koh say:
The tech industry continues to be a mostly white or Asian male workforce. Google, part of Alpabet Inc., said in June that 69% of its staff is male, only 1 percentage point less than in 2014, the first year it began reporting its diversity numbers. At Intel, 85% of U.S. employees are either white or Asian, the company said in December, also down just 1 percentage point from three years ago.
Google parent Alphabet has over 75,000 employees and Intel has more than 100,000, making it harder for those companies to move the percentages.
The people with the most to lose may also resist change to how the system works. “Diversity efforts can be a tough sell to some employees—primarily those from majority groups,” said Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a consultancy that advises many Silicon Valley companies on diversity. “It’s not uncommon for people to worry about the implications these efforts will have for them.”
(Note: Here at Enplug we have a diverse mix of genders and nationalities including in key leadership and tech positions.)
Now on to the current Google controversy
Before we do, though, let’s first read a refutation of one of Damore’s most outrageous statements in his 10-page memo:
Wharton professor Adam Grant, co-author with Facebook COO Sheryl Sanderberg of the book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” wrote in the August 7, 2017 LinkedIn essay:
There are sex differences in interests, but they’re not biologically determined.
The data on occupational interests do reveal strong male preferences for working with things and strong female preferences for working with people. But they also reveal that men and women are equally interested in working with data.
So why are there so many more male than female engineers? Because women have systematically been discouraged from working with computers. Look at trends in college majors: since the 1980s, the proportion of female majors has gone up in science and medicine and law, but down in computer science.
Below is an interview with fired Google engineer James Damore conducted by Bloomberg’s Emily Chang.
In this eight-minute video Damore uses biology as a reason why there are less females working with computers. (Damore also talks about biological differences between men and women in his 10-page memo, to which Grant’s quote above is referencing.)
(Click here for the pdf of the 10-page memo by Damore.)
Dana Varinsky says in her August 8, 2017, Business Insider article:
One of the main biological differences between men and women, according to Damore, is that women are more open to feelings and “have a stronger interest in people rather than things.”
He went on to suggest: “These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing.”
Throughout his memo, Damore linked to many Wikipedia pages as justification for his claims — but neither news media organizations nor scientists accept Wikipedia as a credible source of information, especially when used in policy recommendations.
To back up the “people over things” hypothesis, Damore cited a study published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass in 2010; however, that work never says the gender differences it lists have a proven biological mechanism — only that there’s a possibility one might exist.
In fact, the study acknowledges: “Although most biologic scientists accept that sexual selection has led to sex differences in physical traits such as height, musculature, and fat distributions, many social scientists are skeptical about the role of sexual selection in generating psychological gender differences.”
Another insightful response to the external release of the memo comes from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in the August 8, 2017, Fortune article:
Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question. “Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?”
That question, whether it’s been asked outright, whispered quietly, or simply lingered in the back of someone’s mind, has weighed heavily on me throughout my career in technology. Though I’ve been lucky to work at a company where I’ve received a lot of support—from leaders like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg to mentors like Bill Campbell—my experience in the tech industry has shown me just how pervasive that question is.
Time and again, I’ve faced the slights that come with that question. I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt.
Use digital signage software to promote diversity
Companies can use digital signage software for internal and external communications to promote diversity in their own businesses and in general.
For example, use digital signage on company TV screens to highlight engineers in different areas in the company. Showcase females and minorities as often as white males. (This is effective for external-facing digital signage as well as internal-facing digital signage.)