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By Kitty Testa
By now you’ve heard of James Damore, the Google software engineer who penned an internal memo for discussion entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, How bias clouds are thinking about diversity and inclusion. Once unleashed on the Internet, the memo was immediately damned as a sexist, anti-diversity manifesto and sparked outrage.
I’ve read through the memo several times, and as a woman, I would have to go out of my way on purpose to be offended by it.
It seems that the passage that has provoked the ire of many is this section:
Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech
At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. 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 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 all 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. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
Damore goes on to describe some of the differences between men and women on average, with a variety of hyperlinks as references to support his conclusions. Nothing he states is in any way new, and only recently considered controversial enough to evoke hysteria. Damore was addressing Google’s difficulties in reaching its diversity goals, and was critical of the company’s programs and policies that were clearly not working. He stated upfront that he was supportive of the diversity goals, and wanted to suggest alternative tactics to achieve those goals, and to consider—God forbid!—the costs and benefits of diversity initiatives.
And for this he was fired.
Well, I don’t work for Google and Google can’t fire me, so I’ve given a little thought to how Google can solve its diversity problem. Here are my top five suggestions.
1. Encourage more male employees at Google to identify as women
It’s my understanding that Google would like to have a workplace that is more equally male and female. I don’t know how members of the other 49 genders fit into that plan, but I’m pretty sure that Google won’t insist that the females that work there actually be female in a biological sense. Google could offer incentives to males who are willing to identify as females—bonuses, perks, Starbucks gift cards, that sort of thing.
If 10% of the men working at Google were willing to do this, it would drastically change the ratio of men to women, and they wouldn’t even have to suffer employee turnover!
You may think this is sort of a cheat, but is it? On the one hand, the dominant culture insists that there is such a thing as being a man trapped in a female body and vice versa, but on the other hand also rebuffs the idea that there are inherent differences between the sexes. So what actually makes a man or a woman is just whatever anyone wants to say it is.
2. Start their own tech university, and don’t offer Women’s Studies
Google rejects 99% of applicants who apply to work at the company. Google employees report 84% satisfaction with their jobs, and it’s rated one of the best companies to work for year after year. But Google is evidently not a pleased with its workforce and believes it needs a little fine tuning.
Google could easily afford to create its own university to train future employees to the standards they require. They could also populate their university with the mix of people they want to carry forward into the corporate culture. Google U would have the ability to nix majors that women are often drawn to, such as English, Psychology, Social Work and Education, and only offer majors in business and technical fields.
And they could give scholarships to women and others they wish to recruit to engineer their student population to exactly the balance they wish. This would be a tremendous stream of properly trained and selected employees into Alphabet, Inc. It would also give them the opportunity to format their future employees’ minds in ways that will ensure there will never be another divisive opinion bandied about at Google ever again.
3. Fire a lot of men
Oddly enough, the firing of James Damore was a tiny step toward reaching Google’s diversity goals as Damore is a white male. But it’s not enough. To reach the harmonic balance of diversity, Google should just fire a slew of men and replace them with women. They can’t get rid of Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, because he’s Indian. But they could start with Alphabet’s CEO, Larry Page. He’s a white guy! So what if he was a founder of Google. He’s the personification of the patriarchy. Give him his golden parachute and replace him with a woman.
And then they could have a raffle at Google to see which lucky guys get to keep their jobs. The rest? Happy trails. Go make Facebook or Apple look bad.
4. Redefine diversity
What is diversity in practice? Is it accepting and treating those around you with respect or is it a kind of social engineering? At Google, it appears to be the latter.
On Google’s diversity webpage, it highlights its special Employee Research groups to “connect with a network of people who share their values of supporting diversity.”
Here are the groups showcased:
- Asian Google Network
- Black Google Network
- Filipino Google Network
- American Indian Google Network
- Google Veterans Network
- Greyglers (50+ crowd, I’m guessing)
- Hispanic Googlers Network (HOLA)
- Indus Googlers Network
- Disability Alliance
Why does diversity have to revolve around ethnicity and age? Why encourage people to “stick with their own kind” and avoid others? How about a diversity policy that brings people together instead of building walls between them? How about these groups?
- D&D Googlers
- Google Fantasy Footballers
- Libertarian Googlers
- Google Scrapbookers
- Musical Googlers
You get the idea. People like to network with others who like the same things that they do. Ethnic and age diversity will occur naturally within these groups and people will form connections with others they otherwise would not. If what Google is going for is a harmonious community in which people value one another, perhaps allowing them to discover those things they have in common will do more to promote diversity than creating echo chambers.
5. Treat people as individuals
This is something Damore suggested, and it seems that the company was none too pleased with the suggestion.
Google has more than 57,000 employees, and trying to engineer outcomes for large populations is an impossible task. Yes, Google should be cognizant of hiring biases and paying all individuals fairly. But there are too many variables out in the world that are beyond Google’s control. They cannot create a diversity ratio and expect to achieve it out of sheer will.
There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that women don’t get a fair shake in tech. (If there is an authoritative study on this subject, I haven’t found it.) The complaints of women being dismissed and discouraged in technical fields seem to be mostly against educators, start-up ventures and smaller players in the tech world, and not so much against the big tech powerhouses. The chances of working for a Google or a Facebook or an Apple are very low for anyone, and whatever Google does with its diversity goals, it is unlikely to affect most women in tech.
Perhaps some of James Damore’s ideas might gain some traction after all of this attention. Some of his ideas focused on making tech careers more attractive to more women, and also using women’s inherent strengths to improve the tech industry overall. His missive was not anti-diversity; it was simply a different approach, one more focused on individuals and less dependent on the progressive ideology of victimhood.
And that’s what triggered the Internet.