Lead the way, Google!

I admire Google for its “people operations”- they were among the first companies to try practical applications of data to HR. They were pioneers in this area. Google was also the first Silicon Valley biggies to publish its diversity data. Of course, the cool benefits that Google started have become de rigeur in the IT industry.

So the news about a Googler’s memo on the company’s (and Silicon Valley’s) diversity and inclusion efforts. I haven’t read the memo myself, and I am not interested in it. I understand it is a rehash of all the tired old arguments about why any under represented group (women, minorities, gays, people of colour) is not having more success/power/privilege because of human biology, because “we are wired that way”.

This argument completely ignores the wide heterogeneity even within a supposedly homogenous group, it ignores the role of history, culture, and societal norms in enforcing certain types of behaviour, and it pretends that our decisions are completely rational without the slightest tint of bias.

I was more interested in the company’s response- is a non-inclusive mindset enough for Google to act? How would Google respond to this unwanted publicity? For starters, their VP- D&I, and other senior leaders responded publicly and immediately, reinforcing the values of inclusion and distancing Google from the memo. Other managers wrote about their unwillingness to have the author on their teams. Within a day or two, the author of the memo was fired, for actions that are not attuned with Google’s corporate values.

In the politically charged times we live in, I doubt this is the end of the story. But kudos to Google for doing the right thing, and taking a stance that many companies would have shied away from.

  1. The response from Google and Alphabet senior leadership was public, immediate, and unanimous.
  2. They addressed different reasons for why this was a problem- corporate values, need to collaborate, need for diverse thinking, need for inclusive workplaces for everyone. Each leader and manager had their own views, but the underlying message was the same: This is Not Who We Are.
  3. Because of all the different channels and media that they used, and the direct communication, without corporate-speak, the message did not seem ‘crafted’. I do not know if this is the case, but they all read as genuine to me.
  4. None of them attacked the author of the memo, only its contents.
  5. Best of all- the company gave no more publicity to the author than it needed to. It did not announce to the media that it was firing him. No names, no defensive or shallow posturing.

Uber could take a few tips from Google. I read that it is having trouble even attracting top women executives to be its CEO. There’s plenty of bad news and data to go around about the lack of diversity in tech. We need more stories like this, of companies willing to step up to the plate and live by their stated values, even when their actions open them to more unwanted scrutiny.

This might be a 2-day news story, dying down just as quickly as it started. It may not catch the attention of most people not in the tech industry. But it sends a big message, loud and clear, to everyone who is watching: the times are changing.


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