Mr. Damore’s Folly

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.

Argh!  Stereotypes

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.

Everybody

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!

 

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

More DC Lessons: Leadership Edition

Two months ago, I posted some lessons from DC.  Because DC (and more accurately, the current occupant of the White House) continues to be the gift of organizational lessons that just keeps giving, this post provides some more lessons for every organization.  We’ll call this the leadership edition.

There’s good leadership.  There’s bad leadership.  There’s truly atrocious leadership.  There’s a failure of leadership.  In all cases, leadership has a role in creating healthy workplaces. Healthy workplaces, regardless of waist-line sizes and the existence of lots of fruits and veggies, are places where employees thrive, feel valued, and are built on a system of fairness.  They are also compliant workplaces.

Over the past few weeks, there have been some truly spectacular examples of atrocious leadership.  A few examples are below.  These examples demonstrate how a workplace can go off the rails and foster environments that are not compliant with the law.

Loyalty as blind devotion is badTrue loyalty to a leader and/or an organization means sharing opinions and taking action in the best interest of the organization – especially when the organization has made or is about to make a mistake.  Loyalty has costs, and those costs can sink an organization.  Take for example, Uber.  When employees signed a petition to return former CEO Travis Kalanick, it was a signal that the culture at the center of Uber’s six-month catastrophe was an even bigger problem than a single individual.  Potential fix:  Define loyalty as raising voices to share problems and solutions.

Threats are bad.  Leadership by threat is perhaps the worst kind of leadership.  Employees in fear perform poorly.  Potential fix:  Build trust with employees.  Let them try something and fail in a safe environment.  You’ll be better for it.

Not recognizing and celebrating differences means there won’t be any.  The value of inclusion has been rightfully gaining traction, not only because it has real benefits, but it is also where we’re going as a world.  When we don’t recognize differences or choose to be “colorblind,” we automatically discount groups in the workplace.  This drives employees out and makes it harder for us to find new employees. This will bring a workplace out of compliance with diversity under an affirmative action plan.  Potential fix:  Embrace (please, not literally) the diversity already exists in your organization and work towards building a more inclusive workplace.

Narcissism has more cons than pros.  Narcissistic leaders, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bonaparte, and both Roosevelts, accomplish some great and not-so-great things.  They have loyal (see above) followers, but their blind spots are huge and often spell their downfall unless checked by internal leaders, shareholders, employees, the press, and consumers. In fact, at least one study found that narcissism is a bad leadership trait.  Potential fix:  Encourage leadership to seek out different opinions and understand that the best ideas may not come from the leader.

Criticism in public is a mistake.  The adage that leaders “praise in public, criticize in private” remains solid advice.  When leaders publicly criticize their teams, they undermine the organization’s own progress.  It may inspire the targets of that criticism to leave, but other leaders could look to leave too.  Plus, it is not a good look.  We don’t celebrate parents who eat their young, so why would we celebrate leaders who do the same?  When an employee believes she has been criticized unfairly, she is more likely to bring a lawsuit.  Potential fix:  Handle differences and performance criticism behind closed doors.  (Isn’t this HR 101?)

Get & keep your facts straight.  This one should go without saying, but don’t lie.  Employees are smart.  They figure out your lies and will leave because of them.  Fix:  Don’t lie.

While I would really love to use DC as an example of a great organization doing right by its employees and customers (i.e. us), it looks like we’re in for more lesson learning.

 

Photo by srikanta H. U on Unsplash