For all the hand-wringing over one Google engineer’s ‘male rights manifesto’ discovered over the weekend, the company behind it has escaped rather unscathed. Was Google’s response the right one, though?
If you’re not familiar with the situation, it’s a sticky one. A Googler penned an internal document noting some fairly off-center ideals. As first reported by Motherboard and later posted in its entirety by Gizmodo, the “internally viral” paper, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” asserts things like biological differences between men and women are the reason Google has more male software engineers than female. It also posits that the company should end funding programs for underrepresented racial or gender minorities.
Speaking with Motherboard, one Googler said: “The broader context of this is that this person is perhaps bolder than most of the people at Google who share his viewpoint—of thinking women are less qualified than men—to the point he was willing to publicly argue for it. But there are sadly more people like him.” A former Google employee added: “I feel like there’s a lot of pushback from white dudes who genuinely feel like diversity is lowering the bar.”
The paper’s author claims conservative views are silenced within the company while “harmful leftist” ideology is widely promoted. He claimed a more open culture embracing all points of view would be best. (Google later fired the employee.)
Google’s response was measured, and clearly written as a direct retort to the infamous paper’s existence rather than addressing its points. After kicking off the retort by noting she was new at her job, Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown, said everyone should have a voice at the company:
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 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 company wide 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.
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.
Taking a Stand
On some level, Google has to walk a tightrope with these situations. Still, there’s a lot to unpack from its six-paragraph response to a ten-page manifesto.
We have to wonder how prevalent this thinking is within Google. “Official” responses such as this are typically crafted so as not to cause uproar. If a large portion of Google’s engineers share a similar viewpoint (as some assert), that suggests the company just didn’t want to enrage those folk by making a stand one way or another.
Extending this idea further along gender and racial lines, Google’s own diversity numbers might show why it didn’t immediately denounce the paper: 53 percent of its tech employees are white, and 80 percent are male.
While most focus on the sensationalism of the paper (such as the author’s view on why men are better equipped to succeed in tech), the author says: “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.” In his view, minorities from every walk of life should simply achieve success in tech on their own accord:
I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).
You could argue that he’s just out of touch, and doesn’t understand the need for programs that help underrepresented minorities find their way to tech jobs (and feel included while doing so). Google seems to share that view, but it isn’t taking that stand; it seems like a missed opportunity from a new diversity chief who could draw an early – and popular – line in the sand. (It might even help to curtail some recent bad PR for related issues, including sexual discrimination.)
Brown likely had more than a few eyes over her shoulder when releasing her letter, and this might simply be a response to known, internal conservative hand-wringing that has boiled over. But Google doesn’t make significant contributions to the programs the paper’s author takes umbrage to, and the numbers show its diversity initiatives are (slowly) working. Those are two things Google didn’t bother to touch on in its response.
Rather than try to stop the pot from boiling, Google could have turned the fire off with some cold hard facts that directly refute the author’s stance. Facebook sidelined – then dismissed – Palmer Luckey after it was discovered he was funding an ‘alt right’ movement. Virtual reality is core to the company’s ten-year plan, and yet it simply removed the leader of that initiative. Perhaps that’s the example companies should follow, not the non-commenting that tends to prevail.