Ex-Googler’s gen­der memo full of stereo­types; what does data say?

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

The news of ha­rass­ment and back­lash against di­ver­sity com­ing out of Sil­i­con Val­ley this year has been stun­ning in more ways than one. In a re­cent memo, a former Googler ar­gues that women aren’t bi­o­log­i­cally suited to be en­gi­neers given their bias to­ward en­deav­ors re­lated to “feel­ings and aes­thet­ics” rather than ideas. He blames Google’s ide­o­log­i­cal echo cham­ber and the moral left with an in­abil­ity to have a truth­ful con­ver­sa­tion about the roots of gen­der bias. I’m not from Google or the moral left, so let’s talk.

The Googler made many ar­tic­u­late points that are hard to re­fute when gen­der roles are viewed through a moral lens. But he’s miss­ing the point. Women bring new ideas and per­spec­tives to the ta­ble. And in do­ing so, they open the door to well-rounded thought pro­cesses that cre­ate bet­ter, more flex­i­ble prod­ucts and higher per­form­ing teams. Suc­cess­ful teams em­ploy a com­bi­na­tion of left-brain and right-brain think­ing.

In a re­cent talk, Su­sanne Paul of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy ob­served that the engi­neer­ing dis­ci­pline from academia through cor­po­rate Amer­ica has be­come syn­ony­mous with ex­treme left-brain, an­a­lyt­i­cal pro­cesses. This yields a very lin­ear process where prod­ucts are de­signed, de­vel­oped and de­ployed in that or­der — and of­ten with­out broader con­text. Her ex­pe­ri­ence is that a com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive styles al­lows for more ef­fec­tive prod­uct de­vel­op­ment through it­er­a­tive tech­niques that har­ness col­lab­o­ra­tion and cross-func­tional teams. In an it­er­a­tive process, prod­uct de­vel­op­ment takes place in con­text with con­tin­ual learn­ing and yields higher qual­ity, more rel­e­vant prod­ucts for con­sumers.

This uni­fied ap­proach is true at all lev­els within a com­pany. In a re­cent study by in­vest­ment plat­form Quan­topian, com­pa­nies with fe­male CEOs in the For­tune 1000 out­per­formed the S&P 500 with a re­turn of 348 per­cent while to­day’s strong mar­ket re­turned 122 per­cent. From 2005 to 2015, com­pa­nies with just one woman on their board re­turned a com­pound 3.7 per­cent more per year than com­pa­nies with no women. Com­pa­nies who deeply un­der­stand and in­vest in the value of di­verse, in­clu­sive think­ing are out­per­form­ing and out-think­ing their com­pe­ti­tion. By three times.

It’s clear that we need to en­gage more than ever in a con­ver­sa­tion about gen­der and di­ver­sity. If there is an echo cham­ber, we must es­cape it and have a data-driven con­ver­sa­tion as the Google memo sug­gests. How­ever, it should not be based on gen­der stereo­types; it should be a con­ver­sa­tion that es­tab­lishes a link be­tween di­ver­sity and re­sults, where real-world chal­lenges are dis­cuss­able, re­sults are mea­sur­able and lead­er­ship is ac­count­able.

Lead­er­ship teams who un­der­stand their true busi­ness chal­lenges and need di­verse prob­lem-solv­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties are work­ing to­ward and call­ing for in­clu­sion. It’s not about quo­tas or lib­eral guilt; it’s about solv­ing to­day’s busi­ness prob­lems and achiev­ing bet­ter re­sults.

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2016

Carla Pineyro Sublett (from left), of Rackspace, Gina Hel­frich, co-founder of re­cruitHer, and Ta­mara Fields of Ac­cen­ture dis­cuss women in the tech in­dus­try with Texas Tri­bune editor Emily Ramshaw at a Novem­ber con­fer­ence.

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