James Damore is suing Google, alleging the tech giant “systematically discriminates” against conservative white men. While being both conservative (i.e. political affiliation) and male are protected class statuses in California, it’s not clear to me that Mr. Damore’s case has much merit. (For Pete’s sake, he claimed women are not biologically capable of being good software engineers.) Yet, it is a great example of an overreaction and an attempt to halt diversity initiatives nationwide.
Mr. Damore’s lawsuit was predictable. He told us he was going to bring one. It is also typical. Affirmative action programs at colleges were attacked when white applicants were not getting in at the same rate as before. A Christian sued Ford and its affiliates when the car manufacturer came out in support of gay marriage. These kinds of lawsuits attempt to scare organizations into worrying that their diversity initiatives may swing too far, launching them head-first into litigation. They may be effective on occasion, but as a scare tactic, it may be just as effective.
What should HR do? We should follow some of the same advice we’ve been bandying about for decades:
- Dip into all sorts of candidate pools
- Seek out affinity groups at colleges and universities
- Think of churches/temples/mosques as places of worship and potential sources of candidates
- Post job announcements EVERYWHERE
- Offer training (maybe even English) to high-potential employees
- Treat your employees with care
- Draft policies with care to not affect a particular group
- Validate selection programs for disparate impact
- Seek out the opinions of employees of all shapes and sizes, genders, races, religions
- Accommodate employees without putting up theoretical barriers
- Acknowledge differences in the workplace and celebrate them
(Please note, this is not an exhaustive list.) None of these tactics or strategies are discriminatory. Only hiring women can be. Setting specific quotas can be. Only offering benefits for referring minorities or women can be. We have to be careful and mindful that whenever we use a protected class status as a basis for hiring, we get closer to violating the law even when our intentions are good, moral, and just.
In response to the sexual harassment revelations, the Time’s Up Now group, 50/50 by 2020, pledges to get to 50 percent representation of women in Hollywood by 2020. There’s a James Damore in Hollywood too. While I don’t doubt that plenty of women are qualified or over-qualified for positions in Hollywood, the Hollywood version of James Damore is planning his attack.