By Corey Moss
I have been watching a thread on LinkedIn over the last few days, as well as other discussions over the last several months talking about women in technology and the subject of advancement and leadership. The discussions of diversity and inclusion follow right alongside, where the tech space has done a fairly good job over time, yet there is of course still much work to be done as we know. I have attended numerous functions where such discussions have taken place, and have written on these subjects over the last several years as well. We must always be extraordinarily thoughtful concerning the measure of discussion involving all aspects, and to make sure that we are speaking intelligently with all facts in place.
Which brings me to an incident which took place last week involving an engineer at Google, who may have set the discussions of advancement, diversity and inclusion back at least 100 years.
In a 3,000-word memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” which went out viral across the company, the author of this long-winded mindless spew of words says in part, “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
Then this gem: “Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles.”
The entire memo is posted in its entirety here on Recode – and as the article states it’s a doozy.
Danielle Brown, Google’s new VP and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, People Operations, who had just come over from Intel (and held a similar position there), issued a statement regarding the memo saying that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. Here is a part of the memo issued by Brown to Google staff:
Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.
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.”
Danielle Brown’s full memo is also posted in the Recode article. Ari Balogh is the Google VP who the employee that wrote the original memo reports to. In fact Balogh weighed in as well stating, “One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way.” He continued, “That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.”
As reported in ‘The Street’ this morning Google Fires Diversity Memo Author; CEO Pichai Says Views ‘Crossed the Line’, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took swift action in firing the employee who authored the 10 page memo and wrote a note to his staff stating that the memo violated the company’s code of conduct. Pichai was careful to state how the company strongly supports the right of “Googlers” to express themselves as well as what was contained in the memo written by the staff member was fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, he went on to point out how portions of the memo violate the Google Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in the Google workplace.
Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.
Sharon Jones, CEO of Jones Diversity, stated how such a memo demonstrates “explicit bias and unconscious bias,” and also alluded to how the engineer was rehashing past views on biological differences, something that as a country “we have rejected.”
Another Google engineer summed it up with the statement that the memo was “incredibly stupid and harmful.”
I decided to do a bit of research to determine potential biological differences between men and women in terms of the capabilities to excel in tech jobs (or should I say STEM related fields), take on leadership roles and more. In a Scientific American article published in 2013 How Men’s Brains Are Wired Differently than Women’s concerning a research study which involved imaging the brains of nearly 1,000 adolescents, it found that male brains had more connections within hemispheres, whereas female brains were more connected between hemispheres. The results, which apply to the population as a whole and not individuals, suggest that male brains may be optimized for motor skills, and female brains may be optimized for combining analytical and intuitive thinking. It is also specified how brain imaging studies have shown that women have a higher percentage of gray matter, the computational tissue of the brain, while men have a higher percentage of white matter, the connective cables of the brain. It points out that few studies have shown that men’s and women’s brains are connected differently.
There are of course numerous studies and articles written on biological differences, however I believed that studies of the brain would be most relevant to the discussion.
So if the discussion is on motor skills, maybe there’s a point. Granted though, I’d bet my bottom dollar that it would be a pretty lame argument to have in terms of the subject of qualifying for tech roles – especially engineering, as well as leadership. And to reiterate, this article specified that few studies have shown that men’s and women’s brains are connected differently.
This is no small discussion that we as a society are having on inclusion, diversity and advancement, and need to continue to build on at this time. Even disagreements over these subjects, if brought with an intelligent focus are needed. This, however, is just an example of how far one can take words with the purpose of nothing but discrimination and backward motion in mind – and good for Google for meeting it head on the way they did.
Here is the note to Google employees from Sundar Pichai in its entirety.
With over 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Final (AV) Word and The Show Corner. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers.