Google diversity and ‘left bias’
Already under federal investigation for allegedly paying its female employees less than their male counterparts, Google was hit with another allegation of discrimination over the weekend. A male software engineer at the company accused it of having an “ideological echo chamber” that silenced conservatives and blocked debate over its efforts to promote diversity.
The engineer’s internal memo quickly spread online, triggering a vigorous, even outraged debate over Google’s policies. If Google was actually trying to squelch a free and open exchange of ideas, this anonymous Googler has engineered a way around it.
Granted, much of the debate seems to be over the memo writer’s views about why women hold such a small percentage of the leadership jobs, not his opinion about “Google’s left bias.” Although he insisted that he shares the goal of a more diverse workplace, he argued that part of the blame for the gender gap in hiring and promotion was a function of uncorrectable chromosomal differences, including a disinclination among women to take on stressful jobs.
Naturally, that triggered the sort of outrage that gender stereotypes usually produce, and rightfully so. On one front, though, the provocateur is right: No company’s leadership should be afraid to reexamine the methods it’s using to achieve its goals, whether that be turning a profit, recruiting a great workforce or having a healthy corporate culture. You’d think that Silicon Valley, with its meritocratic posturing and its fetish for disruption, would be particularly open to ideas from outside the mainstream.
Google’s hiring and promotion practices have come under scrutiny because, like much of the tech industry, the company’s workforce looks little like the world around it. Some 80% of its technical workers are men. Only 2% of its workers are African American. As the Guardian pointed out Monday, the lack of racial diversity typifies Silicon Valley, but not other U.S. tech hubs.
Google insists that it is committed to reducing these gaps, even though it has resisted the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to collect detailed payroll data in its probe of alleged pay disparities (the company has agreed to turn over a limited data set). Ultimately, the goals it sets and the methods it chooses are up to the company’s leadership, overseen by those who enforce anti-discrimination laws and, ultimately, by the market.
The disgruntled software engineer seemed more concerned about Google’s efforts to train more women and minorities to become engineers than about the shortage of women and minorities entering the field. The former isn’t the problem — the latter is. But at least he has demonstrated how easy it is to foster a debate over Google’s goals and methods, at least outside the top offices of the Googleplex.