The Fired Google Bro Could Learn A Thing Or Two About The Benefits Of Workplace Diversity

If there was anything that could get the interwebs talking about workplace diversity, it is the now infamous internal memo written by former Google employee James Damore who wrote at length why biological differences between men and women, as opposed to systemic sexism and unconscious gender bias, are the reasons for the massive gender gap in tech, especially at a leadership level.

Since it was leaked online, there have been numerous responses, commentary, and perspectives from both sides of the coin in regard to what he was saying. The biological differences between men and women are certainly not being disputed, but to not acknowledge the very different set of social circumstances and gender roles that women have had to fight to change over a number of years in a way that men have not, seems a massive oversight.

There have been some epic clap-backs and replies to James “Google Bro” Damore (as we shall refer to him). Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance Danielle Brown issues an official statement decrying his thoughts as antithetical to what the company stands for, and Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki also shared a personal op-ed about how the buzz surrounding the memo negatively impacted her young daughter, who asked her mom, “is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?”

Our personal fave response was written by chemical engineer, Corporate VP for a Fortune 200 company, and mother-of-5 Melissa Aquino who candidly challenged Google Bro to accomplish even HALF of the success she has, while giving birth to 5 kids, dealing with rampant sexism from high school all the way through her career, and constantly being undermined by male colleagues due to her gender.

The tech industry has a long way to go in terms of being a place that is a leading example of gender equality and recognizing women’s merits and experience on par with men’s. Sadly, gender bias and ingrained sexism exists everywhere and it is going to take conscious efforts to change it, the kind of efforts some people are against (such as Google bro) because they would much rather blame women for the lack of equality rather than fix the systemic issue.

Thankfully not everyone in Silicon Valley or the greater tech industry thinks like him. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously stated how women and diversity are the future of the brand. Numerous other major tech brands regularly release annual diversity reports to show accountability with consumers and are pledging to set quotas they can work towards.

And let’s be clear, they aren’t doing this because they’re feeling charitable, numerous studies show diversity is more profitable for a company in the long run. Candice Morgan, Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Pinterest wrote an op-ed in the Harvard Business Review not too long ago sharing what the virtual scrapbooking company had learned from improving diversity rates.

She outlines how Pinterest set ambitious goals in 2015 to improve the representation of women and employees from underrepresented ethnic groups. They wanted to double the number of female engineers from the standard 16% industry rate. By the end of 2016 they had increased underrepresented engineers from 1 to 9% and increased underrepresented talent from 7% to 12% in other roles. But the number of women specifically fell short of their goal, only jumping from 21% to 22%.

Outlining 4 key strategies that they have begun implementing to ensure the company can continue working toward diversity goals, Candice specifically states how there will always be skeptics, but that shouldn’t mean pulling back on wanting to diversify, and that for Pinterest, emphasizing the need for a more diverse workforce has actually made them more efficient.

Diversifying a company shouldn’t be seen as a zero sum game, she adds, and that each workplace needs to find a strategy that it tailor-made to their environment and needs, without having to compromise on talent or merit in the process. One of the key things Candice found when talking more with women at her company was that having women in leadership positions is a great start to ensuring a trickle-down effect of diversity hiring.

Financial industry executive Debby Blakey, CEO of a Super Fund company in Australia called HESTA, knows about the female leadership gap all too well given her near-three decades in this world. She recently penned an article for Women’s Agenda explaining why she wrote to all companies in the S&P/ASX 200, imploring them to set targets to hire more women in executive leadership roles.

“Women in senior leadership can be champions of a more inclusive work culture that creates opportunities at all levels of an organization. These leaders can also encourage other women to stay in the workforce and seek advancement,” she said.

And here comes the clincher…

“At HESTA we’ve seen firsthand the benefits that come from an inclusive work culture and that’s why we think greater diversity in the companies we invest in will also lead to better business outcomes. A growing body of research backs this up, showing that companies with a higher number of women in leadership roles have better overall corporate governance and performance,” she said, citing a handful of research studies conducted over the past 3 years.

So why should people like Google bro, and all others who think like him, take note? Because a company choosing to expand its workforce and cast its talent net wide, while focusing on factors like gender and ethnicity, should not feel like a threat. White men overwhelmingly make up the majority of CEOs if major companies, and the majority of leadership and engineering roles throughout Silicon Valley’s biggest brands. At the end of the day, a for-profit company has its bottom line to look after, and if the data shows that diversity is a sure fire way to increasing that, it makes complete sense to implement gender quotas, hiring targets and initiatives to look for the best talent outside of the dominant stereotype.

“Any company not looking closely enough at 50 per cent of the population when identifying its next leaders will not attract the best people and the performance of the organization will suffer. An increase in the number of female senior executives, will contribute to improved decision making, in addition to supporting a healthy pipeline of women with the qualifications and experience to join boards,” wrote Debby Blakey in her article to the S&P/ASX 200 companies, but this advice can be applied more widely.

But it must begin with a fierce acknowledgement of the biases that exist, and strategies to improve diversity must include actions that seek to dismantle cultural sexism from being the default. Silicon Valley has certainly been a hotbed of gender-related problems, from sexual harassment and now this Google memo reiterating how ingrained the push-back toward diversity really is. Exposing it, and hitting back with solid data is the best way to continue progress and eventually chip away at outdated attitudes.

 

 

 

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