Yes, Opin­ions Can Be Harm­ful

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Ma­lika Ro­drigues

So here’s a ques­tion for the peo­ple (shout-out to #no­tall­men but let’s face it, they’re mostly men) who have is­sues with the fir­ing of James Damore, a Google en­gi­neer who wrote and cir­cu­lated a man­i­festo ques­tion­ing the ra­tio­nale, im­pact and le­gal­ity of Google’s di­ver­sity ini­tia­tives: what ex­actly does a per­son who holds rep­re­hen­si­ble (read: ‘po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect’) opin­ions ac­tu­ally have to do be­fore you can ac­cept that he and his ac­tions are harm­ful to a work en­vi­ron­ment and his co-work­ers?

Does noth­ing count as ‘harm’ un­til you’ve got women be­ing propo­si­tioned by their su­per­vi­sors, as­saulted and in­sulted in the of­fice?

Sup­port­ers of Damore claim he’s a vic­tim of Google’s ‘ide­o­log­i­cal echo cham­ber’ who’s be­ing si­lenced, some­one who has only ever ex­pressed his opin­ions. (Let’s leave aside the fact that ex­press­ing one’s opin­ions on com­pany time is a cor­po­rate perk ex­tended to very few, my es­teemed col­leagues on this page among them.) ‘He hasn’t acted on his opin­ions,’ they say.

But if some­one’s opin­ions are that women — 50% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, by the way, de­spite what pho­tos in the busi­ness pa­pers might make you think — are just bi­o­log­i­cally less able, they are go­ing to be in­ter­act­ing with women on that premise. All. The. Time.

And that is ex­actly how they harm women, and women’s ca­reers. They tune out when a wo­man in a meet­ing is speaking — be­cause they don’t be­lieve women have ideas worth lis­ten­ing to, be­cause women lean more to­wards ‘aes­thet­ics rather than ideas’. They will not pick a wo­man for a chal­leng­ing as­sign­ment be­cause women have ‘higher anx­i­ety, lower stress tol­er­ance’. They’ll eval­u­ate her per­for­mance on that chal­leng­ing task through the lens of their prej­u­dice: is she ‘agree­able’? Then she’s prob­a­bly not as­sertive enough to get the job done.

If some­one be­lieves that women lack a bi­o­log­i­cal drive to­wards higher sta­tus, and thus don’t have the work ethic that makes them put in in­sanely long hours, they’re go­ing to select only those peo­ple who are will­ing to cede their rights to time and space off for ca­reer-ad­vanc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

And these be­liefs — opin­ions — are go­ing to in­flu­ence your de­ci­sions when you in­ter­view peo­ple, make hir­ing choices, and when you men­tor other peo­ple who are go­ing to be do­ing these things in your com­pany.

Your be­liefs are not just go­ing to sit there in your lit­tle Google doc. They’re go­ing to cre­ate a work­place that’s hos­tile to the women in it, and that #no­tall­men is a recog­nised form of sex­ual ha­rass­ment that hap­pens to be il­le­gal. So, yes, quite a bit of harm done.

This ‘man­i­festo’ goes on to at­tack sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing — aimed at re­duc­ing ‘mi­croag­gres­sions’, like that well-known ten­dency to in­ter­rupt women more — and un­con­scious bias train­ing. Be­cause ap­par­ently be­ing aware of how your opin­ions are im­pact­ing your be­haviour is some­thing that’s just too stress­ful for peo­ple (read: #no­tall­men) to deal with, and will cause a back­lash.

Yes, ap­par­ently, the class of em­ploy­ees that ac­counts for 69% of Google’s work­force, and who are bi­o­log­i­cally less likely to be neu­rotic, ex­pe­ri­ence stress and are more likely to be as­sertive and sta­tus-driven, can’t han­dle that par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.

In short, Google did the right thing by fir­ing some­one who ad­mits to be­ing bi­ased against a large class of em­ploy­ees and po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees, who be­lieves that prop­a­gat­ing that bias does not harm the em­ploy­ees he’s bi­ased against, and who isn’t able to deal with at­tempts to wean him off this harm­ful be­haviour.

You think, there­fore you’re bad enough

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.