August 5, 2017; Recode and Gizmodo
NPQ has often discussed the efforts of companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and others inside the world of technology to increase diversity and inclusion among their workforce. Often, this involves partnerships with nonprofit groups like Girls Who Code and All Star Code, staging “hackathons” and establishing mentorships to nurture an interest in programming at the point when young people are choosing careers to pursue. However, all that money and energy put toward encouraging diverse candidates to apply to and join big tech enterprises is wasted if the internal culture of those companies is toxic; recruitment is one thing, retention another.
On Friday, word spread to social media of a memo circulating internally at Google that came out against the company’s measures to improve diversity, especially when it comes to matters of gender. The 10-page memo, with the header “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” explained in detail the author’s retrograde positions on closing the pay gap (unnecessary), gender balance among the tech staff (a function of evolutionary psychology), and empathy (to be “de-emphasized”). The closing recommendations included an end to programs encouraging diversity—save for “ideological diversity,” by which was meant conservative or non-progressive political views.
Louise Matsakis, writing for the “Motherboard” section of VICE, discussed some of the aftermath of the memo:
The 10-page Google Doc document was met with derision from a large majority of employees who saw and denounced its contents, according to the employee. But Jaana Dogan, a software engineer at Google, tweeted that some people at the company at least partially agreed with the author…. While the document itself contains the thoughts of just one Google employee, the context in which they were shared—Google is currently being investigated by the Department of Labor for its gender pay gap and Silicon Valley has been repeatedly exposed as a place that discriminates against women and people of color—as well as the private and public response from its workforce are important.
A recently departed Google higher-up, Yonatan Zunger, offered some of his thoughts here, in a blog post on Medium.
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One of the consequences of the memo leak was a statement from Danielle Brown, Google’s new VP of diversity, integrity, and governance, who was hired at the end of June, having just held a similar position at Intel. She writes, in part,
Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.
Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As [Google VP] Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, “Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ’Nuff said.”
Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a companywide OKR on diversity and inclusion. Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it’s often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that’s why I took this job.
Google attracted some attention last year for its Project Aristotle, an initiative that started as a study of functional teams and ended up as an effort to prioritize psychological safety, defined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson in 1999 as “a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” Such safety is hard to come by in the world of tech, and we hope that Danielle Brown can use her new position to help bring more of it to Google.—Jason Schneiderman