A Google software engineer recently circulated an opinion piece on the nature of inclusion and diversity efforts within the company, and it’s causing quite a stir.
The document itself sticks to a few core theses that the author finds problematic about the company’s focus on achieving equal representation in the workforce.
Digging a hole
First, the author opines that an attempt to reach a perfect 50/50 gender representation isn’t feasible, due to differences in population distribution and differences in “leadership” traits between men and women. That second part has a lot of folks riled up; the author states his beliefs as follows:
“On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
- They’re universal across human cultures
- They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
- Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
- The underlying traits are highly heritable
- They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” 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.”
Aside from the offense taken to the thesis itself, critics take issue with its implication that a woman’s biological nature is inferior for leadership and for work in the tech sector.
Second, the author states that systems in place at Google strive to achieve diversity for diversity’s sake, which makes it a moral issues instead of a cost/benefits decision. The author believes that the following company practices are evidence of this ideology:
“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”
No way out of this hole
Finally, the author believes that the culture around the diversity initiative creates a complex around protecting the victims. In such a culture, those who disagree become villanized, and contrarian opinions are silenced and shamed. As a result of this mindset, he believe, an honest dialogue of the issue cannot occur because it prioritizes feelings over facts.
Part of the discomfort around this manifesto stems from gender discrimination and harassment issues in Silicon Valley as a whole.
We’ve all seen what Uber is going through in regards to the latter. Google itself is reportedly facing an investigation regarding gender-based compensation discrimination. In that light, it’s easy to see this mindset as emblematic of the problem inside these companies.
The author himself wants to be clear that he believes that racism and sexism exist and should be confronted. However, he believes that a better solution is to “treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).”
In that, he arguably makes his best point.
There are plenty of studies that conclude that blind tests of performance, aptitude and personality fit yield the best decisions because they eliminate inherent biases and assumptions.
At the same time, companies do need to examine how their values may overly incentivize individuals with a certain personality, aptitude or opinion, in order to avoid creating an echo chamber.
However, in focusing on questionable science around the nature of gender and the nature of opinion shaming, his argument becomes clouded and ineffective.
Tribalism not so far fetched
Google’s response seems to play into his thesis. Danielle Brown, Google’s new VP of Diversity, Integrity and Governance, released a statement saying that the opinion piece, “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
She goes on to reiterate that diversity is a core value to Google and that they will continue to work towards that change. However, the tone hints at a tribalism that the author believes exists in the company.