Next steps for Google and the rest of the tech industry.
The equally disturbing fallout from the ex-Google employee’s memo offering biological differences as reasons why women are less represented in tech than men is the support he says he received from other Googlers. If this is true, an unknown number of people who support his misguided and discriminatory views remain in the firm. And probably in lots of other tech companies, too. It wasn’t long ago that some Facebook employees erased Black Lives Matter in favor of All Lives Matter – missing the point entirely. Sexism and racism are alive and well in the place that purports to value difference, be different, and think different.
Google famously hires less than 1% of all applicants and competes with other tech titans to hire only the “best” talent for each job. And the industry as a whole is plagued by their ongoing challenge of developing more diverse, equitable, inclusive (DEI) workplaces.
I’ve had a few days to digest the plethora of responses to James Damore’s memo, reading views from multiple perspectives, and analyzing scholarly research. In the spirit of helpfulness, and as an organizational psychologist experienced in DEI, I’m here to offer a few suggestions:
- Remind your employees that free speech means the government cannot arrest you for saying whatever you like (and even the 1st Amendment has caveats and limitations). It does not mean that you are free to disparage, write or say whatever you like at work, without consequence. Company policies apply. Company values matter, too. Employees must know and understand them.
- An over focus on unconscious biases to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities is insufficient to drive real change. Biases are malleable and should be surfaced and worked, but people cannot be shamed into change. Meaningful dialogue and education are imperative. Many people, particularly those from privileged backgrounds, have little knowledge of and even less experience with structural inequities. Share a framework to get people thinking about differences. Guide employees in the process of self-discovery. Start by having them write their brief bio. Include questions like:
As a child, what were you taught to believe about how to treat others?
What were you taught about people who did not share your family’s beliefs? How connected were you to your community (school, town, place of religious worship, cultural groups)?
How has race, class, or gender influenced your life in terms of what you believe you could accomplish?
Note differences among people, or the lack thereof. Build awareness and appreciation for others.
- Educate yourself about what is required to have bold, inclusive conversations about race, religion, politics and other topics. Begin by reading We Can’t Talk About That at Work! by Mary-Frances Winters (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2017).
- Change your recruiting process. Take advice from the late Steve Jobs and hire more people from the humanities. Measure EQ of potential hires. SAT scores and IQs are not correlated with success on the job, but Emotional Quotients (EQs) are. Hire holistically. The ex-Google memo writer James Damore is skilled in the so-called hard sciences but knows little if anything about historical, structural inequalities. Ask interview question such as:
Give me some examples of how you have supported diversity, equity and inclusion in your previous job/community/etc.
What is more important to you: valuing differences among people or valuing commonalities among people? Why?
Tell me about a time when you had to manage conflict in a multi-cultural group?
“What we permit, we promote,” the saying goes, so kudos to Google for sacking the offending memo writer. The time is optimal for tech leaders to address employees who lament that bringing in diverse hires means “lowering the bar.” Hiring women, people of color, or disabled people is not charity work and the belief that applicants of different backgrounds are somehow “lesser” people, smacks of prejudice. Also, the presumption that there is an actual, objective, predefined bar against which to measure candidates is bunk. Hiring is far more subjective than scientific. Interviewees get rejected for the ill-defined “culture fit” all the time. A candidate declined by one company often makes an excellent hire by another. The so-call “bar” and who clears it says more about the company and hiring managers than it does about the candidates applying for a given role. Inclusive leaders must model appreciate inquiry (a change management approach that focuses on identifying what works well and doing more of it – versus focusing on problem-solving) and show employees how to shift thinking from looking at what’s missing on a resume to looking at all the assets the candidate brings to bear.
So there you have it. Plenty of work to do. Down with hiring sexists, racists, and their ilk. Up with hiring a diverse workforce and building inclusive work environments.
Need help? I’m here.
Barbara B. Adams, PsyD
Dr. Adams is the Founder of GAR (Gender, Age, and Race) Diversity Consulting, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an expert in organizational development and has a great passion for workforce diversity and inclusion. She consults with technology, healthcare, educational services and government clients throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia.
She is a former director in the National Diversity & Inclusion Office at Kaiser Permanente (KP), ranked #1 in the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 survey. Before KP, Dr. Adams worked for ten years as a global management and technology consultant. She holds a Doctorate of Psychology degree in Organization Development.
Dr. Adams is the author of the forthcoming book: Women, Minorities, and Other Extraordinary People: The New Path to Workforce Diversity. She has been featured in The Sacramento Bee; SiliconValley.com; WallStreetSelect; Miami Herald; MercuryNews.com; and SignOn San Diego. She resides with her family in Northern California. Contact her at www.drbarbadams.com
 Colfax, R., Rivera, J., Perez, K. (2010). Applying Emotional Intelligence (EQ-I) in the Workplace: Vital to Global Business Success. Journal of International Business Research, (1) suppl. Special Issue 1, pp. 89-98.