I use Google products every day. When I want to find that new restaurant that makes amazing New Orlean’s style Po Boys, I turn to Google.
My email: Google. Maps: yep, Google. You get the idea. As far as their suite of offerings as a software behemoth, I’m a user and a fan.
So this new battle over a memo is very intriguing to me. Let me set up the battle lines: In one corner you have a Harvard educated engineer that wants to present a dissenting view about what he perceives as the Google monoculture. In the other corner, you have the new vice president of diversity, integrity and governance at Google Danielle Brown. That’s quite a title. But the middle word of her job is “integrity.”
So before we get all lathered up and choose sides, let’s look up the word integrity. According to dictionary.com: integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It doesn’t say that you have to be 100 percent correct or be in lock step with your supervisor.
Did this google engineer act with integrity? Even if his supervisor doesn’t agree with all his points? And what does it actually say in his memo?
First off, it’s written in the style of a Harvard engineering paper to be graded by a professor. It begins, “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions.”
It only gets more academic from there. There’s a lot of jargon and footnotes.
But so far, so good? Nothing offensive or crazy yet. He definitely doesn’t come across as an unenlightened knuckle dragger.
He then goes on to say, “Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.”
I could not agree more with this statement. And it’s not just at Google. This idea has crept into society at large. Many people seem to now believe that it is their birthright to maneuver through their life and never be offended. When they are offended, somehow it is the responsibility of the person that offended them to make it right.
What are we talking about here?
Stop and think about this for a second. It’s crazy. If you say on the one hand that you value diversity, then how can you also carry this belief. Diversity means different points of view and different cultures. By it’s very nature, you will have conflicting view points.
That’s the thing you said you wanted. Diversity!
So it’s OK to be “diverse” as long as you agree with the majority?
Now, let’s assume that this engineer did actually write some sexists things, or make some logically errors.
So what? Does he deserve to be fired for that? Even if the company disagrees with some of his conclusions, it is one of the most thought out and well researched memos I’ve ever seen.
How about this for an idea? Instead of having the CEO fly back early from his family safari in Africa to meet up with the vice president of diversity, integrity and governance to see how quickly you can fire this guy, maybe get some of the people that are offended together with the engineer and talk about it? Maybe you have created a monoculture.
Maybe there is an echo chamber at your company. Maybe there are a lot of conservative Googlers that are afraid to speak up. Are you concerned about including their voices?
Perhaps the way he presented one or two of his arguments are poorly worded, but the solution to fire the guy and brand him a sexist seems harsh to me.
Yes, people in minority positions should fight back against what they perceive as racist, classist or sexist behavior. But if you think the proper reaction is to banish your opposition because they have a different world view, then you’re part of the problem, too.
It’s OK to be offended. Great thinkers and artists and musicians have offended for centuries. That’s their job. If you truly believe that you are on the right side of an issue, then listen to the other side.
Try and figure out where they are coming from. Maybe you’ll learn something. Just sit there and be offended. It’s not that scary.
The Google engineer, James Damore, is “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.”
Will you be offended when he settles for millions of dollars?