Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Diversity, not divergent (yes, the Google thing)

I wasn't going to discuss this, but I am being assaulted from all sides by people who have on opinion or another on the Google "Anti diversity manifesto", how the media likes to call it, spread at Google by an employee and his subsequent firing right afterwards. So I will say a few words, but not about the content of the document, only on the reaction to it.

Let's be honest here, what happened was that someone criticized the way things are at Google and then he got fired. He did it in a whitepaper-like document in which he exposed his opinions on what he perceived as problems and possible solutions. I believe his biggest mistake was not substantiate his opinions with previous research, thus dispelling some of his beliefs and strengthening others as fact, but that's beside the point. You can read the document, as well as the response from the Google's new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, whatever that means.

James Damore, the employee who wrote the memo, was fired for violating the company's code of conduct by "perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes". What I want to focus on is that the response of Google was based on the fact that they couldn't possibly assign people to work with this guy, once he said something that was controversial, potentially offensive. By logical extension, no one can express something controversial in the company. Would you like to work there? They see it as something positive. The legalese for that is 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. What started as an open discussion, ended abruptly by termination, the employment equivalent of a death sentence for dissension. A personal equivalent would be "if you think like that, then we can't be friends anymore".

While the decision makes sense in the short run, in the long run it only hurts Google, both on a mediatic level and a financial one. However right or wrong, the author of the paper wanted to solve something he saw as problems in the company. I would want that type of person to be part of my company. And if the problems he sees are artificial, I would like to think I would try to convince him of that before firing him. Of course, Google doesn't have to do anything, because what they did is legal, but I am not talking about anything legal here. I am talking about companies having to take care about all their employees, not only the ones they like.

Personally, I wouldn't like to work in a place where I would need to guard my every word, hide my opinions and my thoughts, for fear of crossing some general line or code of conduct. I wouldn't like to work in a place that couldn't care less about me as a person. And if I were to work in such a place (ahem!) then I would create a narrative that would protect my fragile psyche, something like "they would never do that!". Well, Google did it! In a very public and bland and careless way. This will only give strength to the other narrative, the one of the former employees, released from their very strict NDAs, who complain about the same things Damore was fired for trying to solve in the first place.

Now, don't you miss the times when Microsoft was the bad guy?

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