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