Google’s di­ver­sity mis­fire

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Let’s con­cede that Sil­i­con Val­ley isn’t the most en­light­ened work­place in the world. Men pre­dom­i­nate over­whelm­ingly, es­pe­cially in the up­per ranks. Women re­port be­ing ha­rassed and un­der­paid. Sto­ries of ap­palling cor­po­rate cul­ture are dis­tress­ingly com­mon. What’s the best way to ap­proach these prob­lems?

James Damore, an en­gi­neer at Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google, of­fered a few ideas in a memo that leaked on­line last week. It’s an awk­ward doc­u­ment and makes some du­bi­ous and tact­less claims. But its un­der­ly­ing ar­gu­ment is worth air­ing: There are many rea­sons be­sides al­leged bias that could be lead­ing to Google’s gen­der gap, he said, and they ought to be con­sid­ered in try­ing to solve the prob­lem.

In­ter­net out­rage quickly swelled. The au­thor was de­nounced as a sex­ist and worse. The of­fi­cial cor­po­rate re­sponse was that the ar­gu­ment should never have been aired in the first place. Google’s vice pres­i­dent for di­ver­sity said that the memo “ad­vanced in­cor­rect as­sump­tions about gen­der,” and that was that.

Now Damore is out of a job. And in the name of di­ver­sity the bounds of per­mis­si­ble de­bate have been nar­rowed yet fur­ther.

This isn’t good for any­one. There are many sup­posed rea­sons that women are un­der­rep­re­sented in tech­nol­ogy, some valid, some not. Fore­clos­ing dis­cus­sion of the mat­ter—even in­eptly phrased dis­cus­sion—will hardly help. To the con­trary, it threat­ens to di­min­ish the very con­cept of di­ver­sity. It feeds the de­bil­i­tat­ing cul­ture of griev­ance-air­ing and of­fense-tak­ing that in­creas­ingly de­fines civic de­bate and sub­sti­tutes for rea­soned ar­gu­ment. It im­pinges on free speech. And it’s ex­haust­ing.

More to the point, it can ob­scure real prob­lems.

Yet an em­ployee try­ing to grap­ple with these prob­lems—clum­sily but earnestly—has now been shown the door, thanks mostly to per­for­ma­tive on­line out­rage. Google is free to fire em­ploy­ees as it sees fit, of course. But this isn’t the way that free so­ci­eties should de­bate mat­ters of pub­lic im­por­tance. It’s a recipe for more po­lar­iza­tion, more an­i­mos­ity, more mis­ery. It’s a good way to en­sure that no one ever changes their minds about any­thing.

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