Virtually every company today must have a technology department in order to remain competitive. Some would argue that this qualifies these companies as “tech companies.” That being the case, many leaders look to Google as the definition of what it means to be a technology company and what it means to foster an inclusive culture in a tech workplace environment.
Google’s decision to fire James Damore is a turning point in the narrative surrounding diversity—not only in the tech industry, but in the STEM field as a whole. The internally published manifesto written by Damore was a ten-page plight to end a number of diversity practices at Google, stating biological reasoning for why women are not cut out for work in STEM fields. The manifesto itself comes off as dispassionate and data-driven, but while the author cites studies to back up his claims, he takes the findings of those studies out of context and forms conclusions that are misaligned with the intentions of the studies’ authors.
The way that Damore reached his conclusions is important to note, as Google’s decision to fire him is being decried by those who favor freedom of speech. Google Executive Eric Schmidt has shared that the company was founded on “freedom of expression” and “science-based thinking”—that last part is significant. James Damore’s manifesto gives the impression of being science-based, but it is not. He chose to cherry-pick pieces of studies that support his existing bias but do not support his ideas when examined as a whole.
As for freedom of expression, Google’s new VP of Diversity Danielle Brown released a statement saying, “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
And this is why it is a defining moment. Google can no longer simply show us a mission statement or a list of things they value as a company, but must now put their money where their mouth is and act on what they truly deem important. Freedom of speech takes a back seat when it is antithetical to current labor laws. Creating a workplace environment where people of all gender identities feel welcomed and nurtured has come out on top as a core value.
Although this is a turning point for Google’s culture, and by proxy the example other tech companies may follow, it is not without its fair share of politics. Google is currently under investigation by the federal government for severe wage gap disparities. Letting go of an employee who would further undermine the company’s efforts to distance themselves from issues of gender discrimination may be seen by cynics as a legal strategy more than a commitment to social good. It is likely a combination of the two, but the result is the same.
HR and Diversity Recruitment experts are speaking about these events and taking stock of diversity in technology around the country. Joelle Emerson, Founder and CEO of Paradigm, a diversity-consulting firm, recently spoke in an interview in response to the anti-diversity manifesto about why technology has not seen a rise in minority workers where other STEM fields have. She stated, “What research shows is that it’s culture…It leads to the high attrition rates we see, where women are leaving the tech industry at twice the rate of men.” When asked how the current culture surrounding minorities in STEM affects the workplace she added, “It sends a message to people of backgrounds that are under-represented in tech… that this isn’t going to be a place where they can be successful or where they’ll belong. It’s that culture that is limiting from building a more diverse tech sector.”
Damore suggested an evolutionary model for why women are under-represented in the tech field and did not point out any social reasoning, which experts suggest is the largest contributor. It’s also why so many experts recommend social programs to bridge the diversity gap. But Damore argued that the diversity and outreach programs at Google caused resentment from their male workers and contributes to a hostile environment. That is not the case, however. Certainly, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Damore—how could anyone in a leadership position assign him to work with others, especially female coworkers? He created a textbook example of a hostile work environment, which should be grounds for termination all on its own.
HR experts say that it is important not to approach diversity in a patronizing or lecturing way, because that can indeed cause resistance. Having a nuanced approach to diversity awareness, using a well-researched stance, is critical to avoid friction in an emotionally charged aspect of culture. However, there will always be a small percentage of detractors, and it’s important not to focus on creating a strategy for the naysayers and to instead work on strategies that benefit the larger majority of your workforce.
What is your company’s technology team diversity and inclusion strategy? Got ideas, questions? Leave a comment or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.