To Google; it wasn’t even about diversity…..

Firstly – let me say, Google is a pretty good organisation, as organisations go

There is however, a number of things that can be learnt from their recent challenge following one of their employees writing a 10 page challenge to their diversity policies, both what and how they do things

It seems pretty much everyone, including Google, missed the point completely

They had a GOLDEN opportunity to make a bold and great step forward, but unfortunately it seems they have not quite twigged that yet

In the document this particular Googler (James Damore) challenged the idea that women will never be able to account for a significant proportion of Tech positions, and that Googles attempts to force this through are not helpful – fair enough

You can find the document here:

So this is the SUBJECT about which he was discussing – but what he DESCRIBED was an organisation that is run by fear – he articulated that not many people would speak up as he has, he described an organisation where many people feel the way he feels and yet nobody says anything – ie they lie and hide

He describes an organisation where you cannot have an opinion if it differs from the politically correct, “google” version of reality

Now – let me just make a really important point – this is the error that nearly ALL organisations make – it isn’t something to point at – it’s something to LEARN from

There has been quite a lot of opinions about this chap online, either that he should be fired for having these views or that he did a great job in simply expressing his view

Let me go back to some basics:

Google, like many organisations of today have worked out that a “diverse” workforce is good for business – and there is probably a ton of data to support this – but regardless, this is their view and strategy to improve their business – and THEY GET TO DO THAT – it’s THEIR business, they get to run it HOWEVER they like.

James Damore effectively said that there is at times positive discrimination – but again Google may well have worked out that they are STILL more effective as an organisation with a diverse workforce, even if individually you take on an employee (a female) that is a bit less skilled than another (a male) – I don’t know – the point is, that is their prerogative

There is lots of debate about whether his opinion is so far away from the company values that he HAD to go, let me deal with that – he was just WRONG – so he used some very scientific looking words and graphs – but he was still wrong – that’s all

So – a helpful step for Google to take would be:

“hmmm, we clearly haven’t been able to articulate why diversity is so important, and why our policies are what they are – AND while we are here we might be able to review them and see if they ARE right and ARE doing what we want them to”

A much more responsible way to move forward

The point James was making is further proven by what happens next:

So Google CEO Sundar Pichai organises a town hall brief at Google to de-brief this and answer questions from Googlers – the briefing gets cancelled at the last minute and his memo to staff stated:

“We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward. But our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally. Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be “outed” publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”

Here is the KEY question – why on earth would anyone by concerned about their “safety” and be WORRIED they may be “outed”?

Because they are AFRAID

Why are they AFRAID?

Let me go back to quote from Jame’s original piece:

“I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired”

“Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology”

So if we put these two pieces of information together we have an employee describing a fear based organisation, and the organisation responding in a manor driven by fear

Google actually proved the existence of some of the problems James communicated in the very response they made to his open letter

So not particularly great

But here is the thing: Google can, at any time, pull this back – all that is needed is a response based on truth, not fear

At any time you just stand up and go “yeah, you know, maybe we handled this badly – oh well – we can rectify most of that pretty quickly – now on to the issues James raises:

  1. Before we do anything, let’s gather some more information – it seems that James may not be the only Googler feeling uneasy about some of our policies, rightly or wrongly – how widespread is this feeling? We will do an anonymous survey, with perhaps 4 or 5 questions to work out a) how people feel about the diversity programme and b) do people feel they cannot speak up about this or other things for fear of retribution
  2. Once we have this information we can take some more steps a) gather more information b) stand by our current policies, and explain in much better detail why we feel these are important c) change our policies d) try and work out how we address the fear of retribution e) mix of the above

At this point I think it might be worth addressing what they could do with James – they fired him – presumably he did a pretty good job – he was a senior guy – if he was rubbish at his job he probably would not be there – second, his general respect for his colleagues, including the opposite sex is unlikely to be offensive or discriminating on a daily basis – again on the assumption that if he really was that bad, he probably would have long gone, third, he doesn’t actually talk down women in his article as such, he simply has a view that women as less likely to come into Tech because of their biology, which, for the purpose of this article lets just assume that is incorrect – so he has some incorrect ideas about things – that does not necessarily mean he inherently undervalues or looks down on women

James effectively describes an organisation that at times exhibits positive discrimination – now – lets assume this to be true – for the sake of this post – Google just needs to work out why this is the right thing, just like I said earlier – is this something that has a longer term overall benefit to the business? Maybe it does – maybe they really do need more women in the business to create that more diverse workforce, that somehow the sum becomes greater than the parts – ok – so one very real option would be to just go back to James and assess – if we work with him – can we all learn and grow from this? We may not need to change the policy, we may need to work with people like James to better articulate why this is important to us. If you can’t stand behind it – either work out why or stop – why would you continue to do something if you cannot stand behind and really know why you are doing it?

There is another point, perhaps one of the most important points to be grasped from this whole thing: James was just frustrated – why – because he didn’t feel heard

He felt like nobody was listening

And it turns out – they weren’t

How do we know that? From their response

In a wealth of ways they have demonstrated that they didn’t really want to listen

It was Napolean Hill who said:

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”

So here is the golden nugget:

“We were wrong, whether James is factually correct or not is irrelevant – it’s not about agreeing with him or not, the point is – we didn’t even listen – as an organisation we failed to listen, and we were wrong”

“And there will be others out there who don’t feel heard, and we want to change that”

“If you don’t feel like you can speak out, if you don’t feel like you are being heard, then come forward – we may not agree, we don’t have to, but we do need to listen”

THAT is caring about the happiness of another human being – right there.

So Google – you have an opportunity of such great magnitude it is difficult to imagine – you have an opportunity to help your people feel heard – to feel like someone is listening, and that they care about how you feel – they don’t have to agree with you – but they WILL listen – gosh – you learn to really listen and you might just find a whole chunk of them are like putty in your hands – why? – because Real listening is SO rare, that it’s possible nobody has ever really listened to them – ever.

What a gift

You have a wonderful opportunity here Google – nothing need be wasted here – NOTHING – It looks unlikely you will twig – but hopefully you will.

He just want to be heard – that’s all – it wasn’t even about diversity

You can have the grandest, fanciest offices in the world, the greatest perks but none of that will help people feel heard – that requires something you can’t just buy and erect with a chuck load of money – it takes learning and growth and time and wisdom

If you liked this post or think others can benefit from it, please like and share, or comment on what you learnt

BIT OF HELP – For all of you that found and like my post in a LinkedIn Group – please like the post itself as well as the group discussion – it helps spread the word, and LinkedIn spreads the blog further afield

If you want to address fear in your own life or in your workplace, get in touch



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