Yesterday, Google terminated a Googler who wrote a “manifesto” against “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” This is not surprising. That said, the belief that Google only did so because of its “politically correct monoculture,” either fails to see the significant problems in the memo or intentionally glosses over them because of the hatred of political correctness. Either way, we have some things to talk about.
James Damore’s memo has some jaw-dropping gender stereotypes about women (and a few about minorities). They are more agreeable, women gravitate towards people-issues rather than coding, women don’t measure success the same way men do, women are not as ambitious, among others. These stereotypes are woefully exaggerated. Adam Grant, a Wharton Professor of Management and Psychology, wrote a great piece on the studies showing many of the stereotypes Mr. Damore cited and relied upon are not true.
We’ve known for a long time that stereotyping is bad. It leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to lawsuits and bad (sometimes really bad) PR. Retaining Mr. Damore would have meant that Google could be on the hook for any discrimination he could have a hand in whether that discrimination occurred in the past or future. Since Google (like many other employers) interviews in teams, this is a liability and not a small one. (Not to mention the significant gender discrimination action Google is currently fighting with the OFCCP… but I digress.)
Argh! Political Correctness
It is totally okay to dislike political correctness. It is totally okay to define political correctness as someone telling a half truth or failing to speak plainly. Political correctness is not using shortcuts – like inappropriate and untrue stereotypes – to make a point. It is not okay to say that stereotypes are simply true and we should all just “get over it” in the name of ending political correctness. How Mr. Damore couched his message told his co-workers that they are less than, that they will never be as good as him, that they have a place but it isn’t here. That is never a message anyone (employee, employer, human) should send.
Mr. Damore is right about one thing – an effective workplace has everybody. The individuals and organizations that buy products and services incorporate everybody, so we should reflect the world around us. That is what diversity and inclusion initiatives are designed to do, bring and keep everyone into the workplace. Sometimes, we focus efforts on a particular group that is underrepresented because they are underrepresented. Sometimes, we mind our own business as to what bathroom people are using. Sometimes, we make an effort to hear the voices of others. (Insert “rising tide floats all boats” quote.) We try to include everybody not only because it is the right thing to do, but it is the best business decision to make.
Mr. Damore’s naiveté (and arguably something else) has gotten in the way of this. He’s right, we have to make room for conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, and every other point on the political spectrum. But we do this because it’s good for business. Google’s own research shows that teams of different people – different thought processes, different personality types, different genders – make better teams when they work to make sure everyone feels psychologically safe. We know that having diverse perspectives mean we make better decisions, we develop better products, we do better.
It’s what every employer should be trying to do.
Mr. Damore told Bloomberg that he was fired for advancing gender stereotypes, which he unmistakably did in his memo by stating them as truths. The correct response was to terminate him. Mr. Damore told a New York Times reporter that he will likely take legal action over his termination. Nevermind the fact that there is no such thing as “free speech” in the workplace.
P.S. I am raising two white men. I understand the feeling that they might not get to participate in certain activities because they are white boys. But that is nothing – nothing – compared to the decades, centuries, that women and minorities have been locked or pushed out. My guys just have more competition. Competition is truly a capitalist principle. So, bring it on!