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Anti-Diversity, Google, And Lack Of Good Judgment

The leaked anti-diversity memo from Google shows the lengths to which some will travel to protect the largely homogenized tech industry.

08/07/2017 17:45 EDT | Updated 08/08/2017 09:00 EDT

This post originally appeared on Coderhood.

Many people who are successful show lack of good sense or judgment. There are many examples. A recent one is Travis Kalanick, the ex-CEO of Uber. His list of actions showing a lack of good judgment is impressive. You can find a version of the list here. It was painful to watch him wreck his career. Now he is no longer the CEO. That is a demonstration that behaving the way he did was not smart for himself or the business.

Definition Of Stupid

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The definition of “stupid” is:

“Behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.”

Based on this definition, Travis Kalanick displayed stupid behaviors many times. It doesn’t matter if you are a senior software engineer working for Google, a fifth grade bully at the local elementary school, or the CEO of Uber. Stupidity comes in many different forms, and it shows through actions and words. If somebody does stupid things over and over, then they are stupid by definition.

Anti-Diversity Is A Form Of Stupidity

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Behaviors that are anti-diversity, sexist, slimy or rude show lack of good sense and judgment. The Senior Engineer who published his little manifesto that went viral internally at Google is probably going to be fired and for good reasons. If he doesn’t get fired, Google becomes part of the problem.

I would never support an organization that condones deliberate anti-diversity actions or sexist propaganda. It doesn’t matter if the people involved are the CEO or some brogrammer (slang for a male computer programmer who engages in stereotypically male-oriented activities and macho behavior) with too much time on his hands. It is not right, and it is not acceptable, even if it comes in the form of a document written by an educated person using loads of pompous words. That makes it even more ridiculous.

In the Google case, many questions come to mind. How is it that the company culture makes it feel ok for a developer to publish an anti-diversity manifesto to all Google employees? How is it that the senior engineer who wrote it felt free to do it without consequences? What else is going on in the offices that we don’t hear about? And how is it that some employees agreed with him? Google should give a good example, hiring decent individuals and firing people who turn out to have a lack of good judgment or values. The manifesto that went viral was still up after the news spread around like wildfire. The clock is ticking for Google to take action before this explodes in an apparent sign of cultural problems condoned by the top.

The Anti-Diversity Manifesto

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The almost 3,300 words manifesto was published to the public here, and made the news after many Google employees revolted on social media. It reads like a lunatic collection of misconceptions, generalizations, and stereotypes that the author took out his backside. It appears to be based on a limited sample of women he must have met, or idealized and judged, in his life. The choice of words, the attempt to make it sound like a research paper – failing miserably, given that there are no references – and numerous other details tell a long story. It tells a story of assumption, bias, logical fallacy, naiveté, and faulty logical deduction degenerating in the creation of absurd conclusions.

The manifesto appears to be written by a well-educated individual. (Well-educated doesn’t equal wise, as we can clearly see in this case.) Most likely a Ph.D. in his late 20s or early 30s. Easy to tell, given that the language used is classic just-out-of-school-Ph.D. literature. An idealist who still thinks like a college student, with lots of opinions and very little life experience. Someone who doesn’t understand or know women. Also, somebody who seems to have very poor judgment.

The author of that document misses the point of the topic he is attacking. Applying stereotypes and personal observations based on little life-experience makes him blind to a much more complex reality. He used generalizations to judge individuals, which is the whole point behind Google’s attempts to be careful about unconscious bias. Even if it were true that in average (whatever that means) “women are more X, and men are more Y,” using and perpetuating those averages to make any decision – as the author suggests should be done at Google – is short sighted.

There are some pretty wild claims in that document. Frankly, stupid claims. You should read it. Some of them will infuriate all women. They will also infuriate most men who ever had respect for even one single woman in their life.

He argues that women have more “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas,” or more “extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness,” or more “neuroticism.” Those are stereotypes, labels, generalizations that cannot be applied to any one existing individual. This shortsighted thinking is not logical as it may sound by the pretentious language used; it is simplistic and misguided. A rude fallacy. Individuals have infinite distinctions; each person needs to be evaluated for his or her particular characteristics, with all of its variations, and not for the group he or she belongs to.

Danielle Brown was recently hired as VP of diversity at Google and had a rough start with this PR disaster. Clearly, the organization knows that there are issues, and this hire seems to be an indication that they are taking the matter seriously. But, are they? Perhaps she is just a figurehead with no power, hired to keep the public at bay. If you have opinions on this topic, you should let her know what you think about diversity in the tech industry.

Google needs to decide if it is going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. Given the mild response to this debacle, it smells like they might choose to do nothing and reinforce what seems to be a misogynic culture. We’ll see what happens, the jury is still out.

Averages Lie To You

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No generalization is accurate for anyone. Just because I am a man, it doesn’t mean that I am a perfect match with what someone might consider an average man.

Averages lie to you. If you have 1,000 starving people and 500 apples, you could save their lives for a few days giving each person 1/2 an apple. Even if in the world of averages this works, the details are important. You must pay attention to each person needs, not just averages. If you put the 1,000 people in a line and give one whole apple to each individual until the apples are gone, you’ll soon have 500 dead people. If you give all the apples to one single person, you’ll kill 999 people, and make one person very fat.

Do you see the subtle difference between averages and individual reality? Averages mean nothing. They lie. Moreover, when you try to assign characteristics to “the average man” and “the average woman,” you are making many assumptions. Assumption, you heard me repeat it many times, is the evil mother of all mistakes.

Culture Is Shaped At The Top, And Forms At The Bottom

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I wrote how culture is what you allow it to be in a post titled “Company culture is shaped at the top, and forms at the bottom.” If Google doesn’t take any action, it is sending a clear message that anti-diversity sexist behavior is acceptable. That message is poison. The fermentation of such sentiments will drive women out, and it will reinforce a toxic misogynist message.

While unconscious bias is sneaky, the debacle of the Google engineer who published his anti-diversity manifesto is not unconscious at all. It is open and deliberate. It is the culmination of Google leadership allowing a devolution of the culture, and now it risks to be a large cavity in one of Google’s molars. Time for the dental drill.

Why Is Diversity A Good Thing?

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Diversity in the tech industry is not “right” only because we need to be inclusive and kind to others for humanitarian reasons. Or only because it is illegal to discriminate against gender, nationality, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and age. Diversity in the tech industry is good for business.

Any leader who has observed teams of all-white-male developers under 40, and compared it with diverse groups (different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and genders), knows it. Diverse teams produce better results, the work environment is more fun, and the quality of products superior. Environments with anti-diversity sentiments are poison and generate mediocre results.

The Research Is Clear

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The research on this subject confirms my observations. For example, McKinsey conducted a study that shows that companies with a diverse workforce experience greater financial returns. The study found that businesses in the top 25 percent for ethnic and racial diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Also, companies in the top 25 percent of gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their domestic industry medians.

There are many reasons for this. Here is a short list, confirmed by the McKinsey study and many others:

  • A strong focus on diversity increases the sourcing talent pool.

  • Women and minority groups are key consumer decision makers.

  • Diversity increases employee satisfaction.

  • Diversity reduces conflicts between groups.

  • Diversity improves collaboration and loyalty.

  • Diversity fosters innovation and creativity, benefiting from more variety of problem-solving approaches, perspectives, and creative ideas.

  • Diversity enhances a company image.

Some Companies Get It Right

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Shaping a crystallized company culture is difficult. Starting with the right foot forward is an excellent idea, and some companies understand it. Startups like Zymergen ditched the brogrammer culture and made it a priority to welcome women, minority groups and people over 40. CEO and co-founder Joshua Hoffman understood very early how he couldn’t compete for technical talent with local tech giants, and created a culture that finds often overlooked exceptional talent.

Conclusions

People make stupid decisions every day. There is no reason to add to that sad collection. It is not ok for anyone. Bad behavior needs to be identified and eliminated, one way or another. Diversity is good for business and humanity. Anti-diversity behaviors in the corporate world cannot be tolerated and must be denounced by employees and promptly addressed by executive leadership. Not just with words, but with actions. Anything less than zero tolerance is too little.

The brogrammer culture is not much better than a frat house culture with dangerous hazing rituals. Even if it might seem cool or fun for some of the people involved, it is poison in the veins of the company. Don’t add to a growing collection of stupid decisions. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

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