Google di­ver­sity and ‘left bias’

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

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.

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