That Viral Google Diversity Memo

I’m going to vary a bit from typical Ethics Alarms practice, and ask for comments on the long, viral, controversial memo by a Google  software engineer named James Demore regarding the company’s diversity initiatives before I do a thorough analysis of it.  The author has been fired, of course. He had to know he would be.

The essay covers a lot more than diversity—gender stereotypes, the radioactive question on innate differences between men and women, ideology over reality, fairness, oppressive cultures, and much more. It is courageous; it’s also unethical. Ambushing an employer like this—it is fair to say that the essay has caused a PR crisis for Google—is never fair. He would argue, I suspect, that this was a form of whistleblowing, as well as taking a stand for other employees who feel as he does but who fear making their opinions known.

I have taught diversity seminars, often in conjunction with sexual harassment and bias training. The area is inherently dishonest. Of course all races, genders and creeds, ages and types should be welcome in a work environment. The claim that diversity is inherently valuable for its own sake, however, is nonsense, a phony “fact” declared to bootstrap other initiatives, such as affirmative action. The alleged innate value of diversity is cited to justify the and out-balance the inherent disadvantages and injustice of not hiring the best applicants for a job or position based on their demonstrated abilities and experience. This is a myth, and pretty obviously so. Diversity is not a virtue when it leads to incompetence, bias, resentment, and staffing that is less talented and effective than it might be. Diversity should never take priority over getting a job done as well as possible.

The bias in the news media’s coverage of the memo has been palpable, and would be very revealing regarding how ideological bias warps coverage, if so much evidence didn’t already exist. This particular biased reporting is likely to mislead more than it should, because the memo is long, and most readers will accept on faith (why? WHY???) the false characterizations of it. It is not a “screed” (The Atlantic), a “tirade” (TIME), or “sexist.” (Recode). The memo does not say that women are inferior,  or “genetically unsuited” for tech jobs. (Washington Post). Nor does he write that women are “biologically unfit” for tech jobs. (CNN). The memo isn’t even “anti-diversity” (Vanity Fair, Forbes). This is how ideological propaganda works: slap labels on inconvenient arguments that will pre-bias an objective or open-minded readers.

You should read the whole thing, which is below. As you read it, think about the fact that Google has stated that the content of the memo violated aspects of Google’s Code of Conduct. I find that incredible, and a greater indictment of Google than the memo itself.

The highlights in blue are mine, and reserved for what I regard as ethically significant sections.

Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion

James Demore

July 2017

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. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.

Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.

Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Background

People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document. Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology. What follows is by no means the complete story, but it’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google.

Google’s biases

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices:

Left Biases

  • Compassion for the weak
  • Disparities are due to injustices
  • Humans are inherently cooperative
  • Change is good (unstable)
  • Open
  • Idealist

Right Biases

  • Respect for the strong/authority
  • Disparities are natural and just
  • Humans are inherently competitive
  • Change is dangerous (stable)
  • Closed
  • Pragmatic

Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. A company too far to the right may be slow to react, overly hierarchical, and untrusting of others. In contrast, a company too far to the left will constantly be changing (deprecating much loved services), over diversify its interests (ignoring or being ashamed of its core business), and overly trust its employees and competitors.

Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

They’re universal across human cultures

They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone

Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males

The underlying traits are highly heritable

They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” 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. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.

Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.

Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness.

Also, higher agreeableness.

This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.

Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).

This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits. Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality traits becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination. Google is already making strides in many of these areas, but I think it’s still instructive to list them:

Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things

We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. Unfortunately, there may be a limit to how people-oriented certain roles at Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this).

Women on average are more cooperative

Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive. Recent updates to Perf may be doing this to an extent, but maybe there’s more we can do.

This doesn’t mean that we should remove all competitiveness from Google. Competitiveness and self reliance can be valuable traits and we shouldn’t necessarily disadvantage those that have them, like what’s been done in education.

Women on average are more prone to anxiety

Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits.

Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average

Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.

The male gender role is currently inflexible

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.

Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example, currently those willing to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.

The harm of Google’s biases

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race

A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates

Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate

Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)

Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination

These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.

Why we’re blind

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change), the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and agreeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and a whiner. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is being spent to water only one side of the lawn.

This same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness, which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftist protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silent, psychologically unsafe environment.

Suggestions

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

My concrete suggestions are to:

De-moralize diversity.

As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”

Stop alienating conservatives.

Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.

In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.

Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is required for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Confront Google’s biases.

I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.

I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.

These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.

There’s currently very little transparency into the extent of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber.

These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.

I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.

Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.

We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.

We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity.

Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.

De-emphasize empathy.

I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Prioritize intention.

Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.

Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Be open about the science of human nature.

Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.

Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.

Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I’m just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).

 

 

66 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Science & Technology, U.S. Society, Workplace

66 responses to “That Viral Google Diversity Memo

  1. charlesgreen

    Good for you for printing this.

    It may surprise a few readers here, but I am 95% on the side of you, and of the author (and I only say 95% because never say 100 on principle).

    This is a horrible example of PC thinking gone totally wrong. Demore did a pretty good job of putting forth a reasonable set of ideas, and was insanely, almost universally, panned by the Left.

    I agree with just about everything you’ve said here. I think this will be a crossroads event in shaming stupid uncritical PC ‘thinking.’

    • charlesgreen

      Jack, you may want to correct some errors in the document’s paragraph under Google’s Biases. I think the Left Biases and the Right Biases were originally in two columns, and in combining them they’ve come out all interspersed.

    • I assumed you would be positively engaged on this issue, this being your wheelhouse.
      I hope you are right about the crossroads.

    • charlesgreen wrote, “I think this will be a crossroads event in shaming stupid uncritical PC ‘thinking.’”

      I’m not sure I’m fully understanding this statement; how do you think this could, or should, change things?

      • charlesgreen

        Maybe just wishful thinking on my part…but it seems that the relatively thoughtful and educated position the author took, together with the relatively instant, biased and inflammatory reaction of all the usual left suspects, constitutes such a blatant example of bias that it will become evident on reflection to thoughtful people.

        Yes I know, call me naive…

        • charlesgreen wrote, “call me naive”

          Nope. Hopeful is a much better term.

          I guess what I’m a little confused about is it seems to me that you’re saying that people that oppose “stupid uncritical PC ‘thinking.’” should actively shame those that engage in it? Honestly, am I misunderstanding?

          P.S. I’m not a fan of “stupid uncritical PC ‘thinking.’” either.

          • charlesgreen

            I’m pretty sure we’re in violent agreement here, and both of us just being confused by complicated threads on a blog.
            What I mean to say is that there is a such thing as stupid uncritical PC thinking, and that such thinking deserves to be pointed out and yes, shamed, by thoughtful people. My hope is that this incident provides a blatant enough example of such thinking that it creates good fodder for said shaming.

            • Charles,
              Thanks for the clarification.

              • P.S. In some ways I’m ethically conflicted about the use of shaming to change behavior/thinking.

                • P.S.S. I’m sad to say that I’m a bit hypocritical in the use of shaming.

                  • charlesgreen

                    Zoltar ha ha, I hear you on both counts. That’s a very fascinating topic, and one I’d be interested in seeing discussed. I’ve used it on one major occasion to deal with a flagrant plagiarist – and would do it again. However, as I suspect you’re implying, it’s a very blunt and powerful instrument, and people should be very wary of using it. for one thing, it leaves very bruised feelings. And it’s just not very nice.

                    • charlesgreen wrote, “That’s a very fascinating topic, and one I’d be interested in seeing discussed.”

                      Ditto.

                      charlesgreen wrote, “I suspect you’re implying, it’s a very blunt and powerful instrument, and people should be very wary of using it.”

                      Exactly.

                      I wish I was more consistent with how and when I use it, I guess my ethical side says I shouldn’t do it but the dark side sometimes wins. Should it only be a last resort kind of rhetorical weapon; I just don’t know. This particular thing is something I struggle with.

            • Hot damn… We agree on things!

              My point of view is that Google had to fire him, not because he was telling uncomfortable, hard truths, but because anyone that publicly puts an employer on blast like this expects it. In a way, it can be read as a letter of resignation.

              But following that, none of the theories that he’s put forward are particularly extreme… Nothing so offensive as to cause the collective meltdown I’m witnessing on social media. It’s obvious reading both the letter and the comments on the letter that the vast majority of commentators have not in fact read the letter themselves.

              And getting into areas we might disagree on…. I think that’s both purposeful, and a trend. I’m going to compare this to the systematic misinformation campaign Democrats pushed during the Clinton Email debacle…. In a way, in that case, I can’t blame the rank and file so much as I can blame the people they trusted, who should have known better… Classifications are a strange beast that the average person might not be familiar with, and won’t really need to ever be familiar with…. but I’ve never seen more people who obviously didn’t know a damn thing about classifications attempt to look down the bridge of their noses and lecture falsehoods from a position of supreme ignorance, to the cheering of their peers and unremarked by leaders who knew better. Democrats have weaponized ignorance. And to an extent they’re doing it again here…. Although in this case, I feel that the rank and file are particularly culpable, because they could very easily just read the damn letter.

        • The situation involving professor Bret Weinstein of Evergreen College is why I am doubtful that this will change anything. Everything you praised/condemned in the Google situation, was present in the Evergreen situation, and nothing’s changed.

          Maybe it wasn’t national enough?

  2. wyogranny

    “Google has stated that the content of the memo violated aspects of Google’s Code of Conduct.”
    Is the code of conduct available for public viewing?

  3. JP

    Facts don’t care about your feelings. Ben Shapiro

    I have some more thoughts on this which I would like to express sometime tomorrow. I’m writing my dissertation on moral development in children and a lot of the research backs up what he is saying, even cross-culturally. I applauded his efforts to try, but not the way he tried it. Google seems right to fire him. He should have taken it up the chain of command. He had to have known (or at least guessed) the echo chamber would have torn him apart.

  4. Jack, I’m curious as to why you say that the memo was unethical? From what I’ve been able to find out, the author merely circulated the memo internally; he was not the one who cast it into cyberspace. If that was still unethical, then how could he have better raised his concerns?

    Also, I found an article that hints Mr. Demore’s firing may be illegal. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/07/it-may-be-illegal-for-google-to-punish-engineer-over-anti-diversity-memo-commentary.html?recirc=taboolainternal

    • It’s unethical because it is intrinsically criticism of management. You send management that privately, or orally. Sending it to staff is likely to be seen as an effort to destabilize the company. A leak to the outside is 100% predictable.

      • Indeed. In a comment on an earlier post of yours, you wrote this about Chloe Gordon.

        https://ethicsalarms.com/2017/04/29/incompetence-saturdays-grand-finale-the-most-incompetent-story-ever-told/#comment-439241

        It was clear to me that she made her concerns known, and they were ignored. That’s all she had an obligation to do, and that’s all she could do. If she blew a whistle, she could have been sued for trying—and succeeding—at undermining the festival. She’s a contractor, and no crimes were being committed. Her conduct was impeccable.

        That written, the CEO could have simply said that writing the memo and sending it to other employees, instead of just his immediate supervisor, constituted attempting to undermine a policy adopted by Google, instead of arguing that the memo somehow advanced harmful gender stereotypes.

      • Jack Marshall wrote, “You send management that privately, or orally.”

        Do we know for a fact that he hadn’t discussed this with management prior to this being send to coworkers?

        • Luke G

          Do we know that the initial mailing list he sent it to WASN’T the appropriate list of management? Call me cynical but I wouldn’t be 100% surprised to find out that even if he had the discretion to send the memo to a limited and appropriate set of managers, one of the recipients was either an outraged true believer and/or saw a chance to virtue signal by leaking the memo, generating Progressive points for Google when they then fired him in the ensuing storm.

          Of course, it’s also very possible that he just assumed he had properly signaled his non-bias with his frontloaded “I don’t deny sexism, I don’t deny bias, I’m a diversity fan” disclaimer, and foolishly thought he wouldn’t be blasted, publicized, and canned.

          • Perhaps…. But just like with any leak… Regardless of the appropriateness of the documents and participants in context, regardless of the ethics of making that document public… once it IS public, you have to deal with the reality of what is.

            The world can’t pretend the documents aren’t public.

            Donald Sterling telling his beard not to flirt with black guys at games may or may not have been appropriate in context, but it wasn’t going to cause him grief unless said beard recorded him and leaked the recording. Once it did… Certain things had to happen, and the only difference between Donald saying the words in private, or saying them on National TV is that the beard had also behaved unethically by violating trust.

            • Luke G

              True, and if he didn’t foresee this outcome from square one then he is a fool. Once he showed the memo to anyone at all this was a foreseeable possibility and nothing changes the outcome, but I do think that HOW the memo became public bears on his ethical (if not legal or practical) culpability.

              If he shared it to the wrong people his methods were either unethical (bypassing management) or unethical via negligence (if he didn’t realize he should have limited it to management, he should have). If he shared it to the right people through the right channels and one of them leaked it or shared it recklessly, his actions weren’t unethical- he still has to deal with the moral luck of the exposure, though.

          • John Staszak

            This link goes to an interview of James Damore, the author of the piece, by Jordan Peterson. As I understand it, he attended a Google diversity summit and was troubled by some of the policies they were advancing. He wrote the essay and submitted it to other attendees for feedback but received no response. He then submitted it to another group within Google
            which he referred to as “the skeptics”. At this point he started to receive pretty significant blow back from Google management. According to him, the document was spread company wide (and ultimately went viral) by the people he rather naively submitted it to for feedback. I don’t know the whole story, but he doesn’t seem like the type of person who would release this just to create a splash.

        • He was not to send it to coworkers at all.

          • Michael Ejercito wrote, “He was not to send it to coworkers at all.”

            Even if he had previously approached management with his observations and given management adequate time to begin addressing the issues, but management did absolutely nothing to address the issues?

            Your statement seems to imply that nothing should ever be done by employees to try to garner support from coworkers to address workplace issues and use group power to pressure management into addressing perceived issues; is that what you are implying?

          • Kyjo

            Although I agree that Mr. Damore’s probably should have chosen a different avenue to discuss his concerns, Google deliberately cultivates a culture of open discussion amongst its employees. They are regularly critical of company products and management decisions in internal communications, usually without consequence. One example of an internal communication resource is Memegen (Buzzfeed got a hold of some images a few years ago: https://www.buzzfeed.com/reyhan/inside-googles-internal-meme-generator?utm_term=.kdBRoOv96#.skPLg0PmX). Part of Mr. Damore’s document’s wide spread at Google is no doubt due to employee-created memes that linked to it.

        • No. But it sure seems that way.

      • Rusty Rebar

        Did Google not create an forum for this kind of discussion and solicit such discussions from employees? I could see if this came out of the blue, but posted to an internal forum that is intended for discussions on how to make Google a better company would be like firing someone for putting a comment in a suggestion box that was somewhat unorthodox.

        Google made this forum
        Google solicited employees to post to said form, for this purpose
        Employee posts a suggestion / complaint / comment and is summarily dismissed for expressing his views.

        But the employee is unethical?

        • Assuming that either Google made a forum available for this kind of input (which I’ve seen multiple reports this is the case) or the hypothetical situation described by Alex further down thread, I struggle with the idea the employee was an unethical party in this.

          He was likely naive about the effects of this memo, but it seemed to me that this was written in a genuine effort to improve diversity at Google in better ways.

        • I have seen no evidence that this was a forum for direct criticism of management. Have you? An internal forum for discussions about the workplace is still not the place to post “our bosses are incompetent, and here’s why” memos. These are smart people. They have to know that.

          The place to complain about management is management, until it refuses to act.

  5. Phlinn

    I’m not sure he is responsible for the PR nightmare. It was posted to an internal mail list, but no one details who the recipients were. Someone else on the list leaked it out.

    I think that SlateStarCodex’s post in response to pseudo scientific pro-diversity claims is worth reading.

  6. Alex

    Rather than rehash the memo or analyze it or say what is right or wrong with its reasoning, I’ll instead add my experience dealing with internal policies and “requests for comment” at a large tech (software) company – this is a direct competitor of Google, based in the Pacific NW and employing ~100,000 people (you can figure out who they are with that). My background is in Electrical Engineering with a strong focus on Computer Science, and I was hired by my previous employer just out of college after spending a summer internship with them. I worked there for 12 years, until the summer of 2016 (actually today is my one year anniversary at my new job). In my time there I can only describe diversity and HR policies around race and gender are schizophrenic, even if well intentioned. These are my stories [insert Law and Order opening notes].

    The official harassment/discrimination policy as stated in the employee handbook (which was updated every year) is incredibly vague, and this is intentional (although no one will come out and accept it publicly). We are in an at-will state, so you can be easily dismissed based on that one vague rule; and it has been used as a negotiation tactic on borderline performance dismissals to settle for a lower severance package. (“Do you really want us to state that you’re leaving for violations of the harassment policy? No? Ok, how about you settle for 2 weeks instead of 4?”) But I also have to state that the cases where I saw this section being arguably misused can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Also, I am certain that there are good intentions behind this policy, but as is the case with many well-intentioned rules, it is when the rubber meets the road that things get messy.

    Every year we had to take Standards of Conduct training. Every year we had a new edition, and every year there was at least one case study dealing with gender or racial discrimination. Some years were better than others, but in general the training was terrible. If you had the cognitive abilities of a 7 year old you could figure out what were the right responses without watching the videos or reading the policies. (The Saturday morning cartoons I watched in the 80s – G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers – had more complex moral dilemmas). I remember one year around the middle of my tenure when the videos and cases were actually interesting and engaging. A case that I still remember from that time is about an ambiguous situation between a male manager and a female engineer not in the same chain of command. There was a big internal debate about that one, and the next year we had the blandest possible training to avoid controversies.

    The above two points are to set the stage: corporate policies are clear, you should toe the line, do not do anything that might be misconstrued, you can be dismissed for very small transgressions.

    And then… well… tech companies are rebels, they thrive in chaos, and you’re expected to rock the boat. In many (may be even all) groups you can only grow so much by being a technical expert, you are expected to influence larger and larger teams as you get promoted to keep getting good performance reviews. You can be the only expert on a certain software component, but unless other people know about you and have been “influenced” by you, you are not considered good enough. This has the effect of incentivizing “visibility”. Other people and other teams should know you exist and be willing to state that you’ve had a positive impact for the company.

    Tangent here: during my last year, the official mission of the company changed from something vaguely technology related (years before it was blatantly computer centric) to a wishy-washy statement that can be summarized as “making the world a better place”. I was involved in a focus group about what we thought of the new mission. I clearly stated that if that was the new mission, my division was definitely not contributing to that and quite possibly doing the opposite. This had the effect of encouraging another member of my extended team to mirror my observations much more forcefully. This guy left the company a few weeks later, whether it was his decision or not I never found out.

    At this place we had a number of groups and initiative pushing for getting innovative things done. I was involved in some of them. I participated in after hours hackatons creating prototype projects that may or may not be later integrated into products or become new ones (on one of them I did get to meet the designer of a *very* popular collectible card game). And well, some of these side jobs you take (for no extra pay, obviously) involved not technical, but organizational issues. Things like how to improve our recruitment, improve the interview and hiring process, etc. I helped with tours and talks for HS students (sometimes focused on minorities and females).

    We also had a number of internal communications channels that could reach from a dozen to a few thousand fellow employees. Some of them were for formal interactions and project management. Others were more social in nature. A tiny fraction were tied to the “improve innovation” charter that I previously described.

    Now time for some speculation… I can perfectly see an innocent if somewhat controversial conversation happening between colleagues at one of these after hours meetings. I can even see the HR team being the ones to get the ball rolling to see if the engineers had any insights to help with the challenges they’re facing (like diversity, for example). Upper management stands behind all these initiatives too, and the mantra of being “open”, “overcommunicating”, and “rocking the boat” is repeated by everyone. You participate in these, you are expected to come up with unorthodox ideas and be able to share them safely.

    At this point a young and smart engineer raises the issue that maybe the way diversity hiring is being approached is naive with regards to gender, and that looking deeper into preferences, motivations, and evolutionary imperatives might give a better picture and can improve the hiring rate for women. A few people in that group get excited and the facilitator encourages this guy to polish the idea. He does some research and writes a memo, circulates it with close colleagues from that group and even gets some suggestions on how to improve it. Citations get added, incomplete ideas get polished or cut, the text is edited to avoid implying anything bad about the people and focuses on the process being dissected and improved. (I will add that if you’ve ever read your regular top-tier computer engineer writings, you would bet dollars to donuts that Mr. Damore’s memo had at least one copyeditor)

    When it’s advanced enough, you share it with the original group, and after some positive feedback it starts making its way into larger and larger groups, until it hits a critical mass and goes viral. Now it is reaching people who do not have the context of how it was developed, what its goals are and are possibly unfamiliar with the terminology used (I’ve seen criticism around the use of “neuroticism” in the memo, but if you’re familiar with psychology there is no reason to take that as insulting). It just has to fall into the lap of a hyperactive social justice advocate (I won’t use that other term here) and then there is a complaint up the management chain and with HR. The company is now in reactive mode and has to do a thorough investigation of what happened, regardless of merit. Some other activist familiar with the problem and seeing very little progress decides that the only way to get traction is to leak to the public and suddenly it is on everyone’s Facebook page. (I will note that with the notable exception of Apple, tech companies leak their internal secrets like a sieve.)

    The company is now forced to react. If the internal outrage was containable and a reasonable solution could be found, by now that option is off the table. Management is forced to react swiftly and forcefully for the perceived transgression. Their job is to ensure the company’s reputation is protected, so the actions they take may or may not be appropriate for the original problem.

    As you can see, there was no catastrophic fault (although many little ones along the way, except for the leak), but the thing has no rolled out of control and there are no good options for anyone. This is one of the reasons I think everyone should study Systems Engineering (the dynamics type, not the computers type); consequences are usually four, five or a dozen steps isolated from their original cause.

    I will close with one final anecdote from my first couple of years. On one of these internal lists I made the comment that management did not recognize and promote good QA engineers, so the good ones became developers to continue advancing their careers. As a consequence, the testing groups were staffed with engineers who were very junior or did not have the drive or ability to earn a promotion. My suggestion was to make a clear career path for testers to grow. What actually happened is that a very senior engineer (not from my group) gave me a very public talking to for implying that testers were not as good as developers. Many shared my opinion, but no one came to my defense. The irony is that this guy was not a tester or manager, and his attitude was just perpetuating the status quo. Later in my career a similar conversation about both QA engineers and HR recruiters came up (My wife is an HR professional and her take on recruiting is very similar to mine on QA: “management does not really care, so top talent does not stay in that area”). This time I kept my mouth shut.

    In summary, lots of little and mostly harmless decisions probably caused the Google Memo blowup. Big tech companies want to control their employees and have them be innovators, so they give conflicting messages. Naive engineers inadvertently put themselves in these deathtraps and then it all explodes because there are terrible people in this world.

    • Alex

      Well, that came longer than I expected. Hopefully I did not leave any direct references to the MEGA company doing HARD work in there. 🙂

    • Mrs. Q

      Thank you for the insider take. In your experience, was his memo unethically distributed or was it typical for how policy discussions are disseminated & communicated in such companies?

      • Alex

        It is certainly not typical. Maybe 5% of employees participate in these above-and-beyond exercises, and most of what happens there is usually forgotten or abandoned once real work is needed. We kept doing it because if you happen to be involved in a big successful initiative there is usually a promotion and bonus at the end of the tunnel.
        I don’t have enough information to say if the distribution was unethical, but it was certainly naive. I’m pretty sure Google has indoctrinated its employees into not touching third rail subjects. So Damore should have known it would be at least controversial and likely to be leaked. My defense for his wide (and I’m not even sure how widely he personally sent out the document) is that he was likely encouraged by official or semiofficial sources in direct opposition to the indoctrination received. Compounding the problem is that the official text is probably too vague and reasonable people will disagree on its interpretation.

        • In addition: in big corporations, a spectacular failure can get you promoted later through name recognition. If the failure does not get you fired in the mean time.

          In a prior life, field engineers were hired out of college to learn the ropes from the bottom up. People who screwed up and survived the fall out usually were promoted to open positions in house purely through name recognition, once the failure was forgotten, sometimes within a year.

          The other way up was to save someone else’s failure from becoming worse, in such a way that it was noticed by the right people. This is how I got into R&D (unheard of for a field engineer to directly promote there.) Rewired a fiber system back plane during a live traffic exercise on an operational system without interrupting live phone calls. R&D made the planning mistake, and the error did not drop traffic because of that operation. The next day I was invited to interview.

  7. Kyjo

    The document — which was a digital file — was linked to in a thread in an internal employee mailing list. There are many such mailing lists at Google; this wasn’t blasted out to all employees. Some employees took offense to the document and linked to it in other internal employee communications, rapidly expanding the audience (and outrage). Some even commented on the document publically (negatively, on Twitter) before the text was leaked. But unless Mr. Damore himself leaked the document externally, it seems to me that this can’t be considered an ambush of Google on his part — though there were perhaps better avenues by which to express his concerns.

    It’s unclear exactly which elements of the Code of Conduct are thought to have been violated by which parts of the document. So far, the CEO has only said that the Code of Conduct violation lay in “advancing harmful gender stereotypes.” The Code of Conduct is published here: https://abc.xyz/investor/other/google-code-of-conduct.html

    • Kyjo

      FWIW, my guess is that they settled on this wording in Section II: “Googlers are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of … bias”. Population-level differences between men and women are be construed as either resulting from or causing unjust bias against women in tech.

    • wyogranny

      Thank you.

  8. Keith Walker

    My thought here is mostly along the lines of what the reaction would be if a woman had written this same document.

  9. Bad Bob

    I disagree that the engineer acted unethically – to the point of many here, even the initial stories indicated that it was from an internal list, and so it probably was intended for management, and probably the result of the types of efforts noted by Alex.

    But “group think” at any organization is hard to crack, even given reasonable,rational, and considered responses to problems – and not just responding to management.

    I was added to a group trying to come up with a “better process” for some critical paperwork regarding contract set up – the goal was to make it more efficient, maintain accuracy, and in keeping with the corporate mandate to reduce overhead cost.

    Another fellow had fought the battle before I was added to the group, and upon my first meeting said it would largely be a waste of time. Wow, pretty negative attitude – but he was fairly new, maybe he just missed something along the way. So I offered up my suggestions; primarily, pointing out everything the newer guy had. Nope, the group actually added a step to the process. I apologized to my compatriot for not believing him.

    And none of that was remotely close to rocket surgery.

    Alex’s note on the way things usually occur at large engineering firms fits my experience as well – especially the note that something so beautifully written was likely not written by the engineer alone (I was in “administrative” work – we often updated the engineer’s prose on many a document); all the more reason to believe it was a response to a request or project on diversity.

    But, “group bias” whether on a small project like the one I mentioned or on something a lot more radioactive, such as this, tends to be self perpetuating. It’s part of corporate culture, and unless there’s a radical change manager in the organization, the culture, and it’s biases, will continue unabated. And radical change managers only show up when an organization is failing and market share is being lost.

    Google the organization is unethical in asking for candid, honest improvements to a process, and then scapegoating a guy who did just that (and as I believe, like Alex, that he had help, probably won’t be the only one).

    • The ethical thing is to speak to management directly, not in “public,” which is what a memo to the internal world is.

      • Alex

        I don’t want to be too hard on this guy. He was very likely responding to internal pressures about being open and discussing his concerns with his peers. Tech companies are like that, there is a strong belief that a crowdsourced decision is better and that everyone should be stepping up beyond their stated job responsibilities. Combine this with ethical training that is lacking in substance (what I would give to see you do consulting for one of these firms!) and it is no surprise that he ended up obliviously stepping over all sorts of ethical lines.

        • He still made the choice to air opinions that we against the company bias. I write things like this at work as well, but am careful what I say and to whom I say it (read “my trusted boss”)

  10. I find the response to the letter much more interesting than the letter itself… Nothing said in the letter is particularly newsworthy to me… It’s the kind of truths that I’ve seen many times over the last few years, although perhaps never compiled, nor this eloquently… I think the difference here was that the author had a soapbox bigger than the people I generally talk to, and all of a sudden people who have made a habit of dismissing the other side of the argument entirely are being forced to come fact to face with some uncomfortable ideas.

    What I find especially interesting though is that the desire to not have one’s belief system questioned is so much stronger for some people than their intellectual rigor… We’ve known for quite a while that this is a very progressive phenomenon… The use of blockbots on Twitter has probably been the most visible symptom of the disease previous to this, but there’s also the ghosting and unfriending of people of other social media, or the hostile shaming tactics that come (mostly) from the left (I’m reminded of the plow guy who wouldn’t work for Trump supporters). Never before has the mainstream been so obviously shown the rot at the base of the progressive movement: Anyone who both reads the letter and watches the reaction to it is treated to some of the most performance of progressive arts, and I think it’s healthy for the discussion in the long term.

  11. Chris

    I pretty much agree. I spent all of yesterday getting notifications for a Twitter discussion in which I informed an extremist liberal that the memo was not “violence.” He claimed the memo caused people to feel unsafe and miss work, to which I replied that if that’s true, those people are giant weenies. These somehow became my most popular tweets ever, to the credit of lots of people with #MAGA and Pepe in their bios. I eventually had to mute notifications on the topic.

    2017 politics are weird.

    • THAT was funny, Chris. Your penchant to call out certain outrageous progressive stupidity got noticed and propagated by the opposition. (Bet that smarts!) If you have a progressive presence on those threads, it might be WHY they liked it (“Even a progressive thinks this is nuts!”)

      Welcome to life as a conservative. Politics are ALWAYS weird from over here.

  12. Well, I don’t know who this was directed to, but as far as the content goes, it looks brilliant and perfectly nuanced to me. I back the writer(s) 100% on this document, as I currently understand it. I also find it morbidly hilarious that the news media apparently walked right into the second paragraph, whether ignorantly or audaciously.

    “…unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.” Quite so.

    It might be a good time to repaste this:

    How Not to Be a Bigot
    or
    Species-Agnostic Ethics

    1. Always give people a chance to prove you wrong about them, except where you have good reason to believe doing so would risk imminent harm to someone.
    2. If you have reasonable confidence that you can predict something about someone, even if it’s only based on their appearance, by all means use that to improve your ability to put them at ease, show them respect, and keep them safe. Don’t go overboard trying to anticipate them, though; that doesn’t put anyone at ease. It just makes them self-conscious. This rule does not supersede rule 1. (Example: If someone dresses in a way that indicates they probably have religious dietary restrictions, and they order something that contains a taboo food and you think it might have been a mistake, you might casually mention list the ingredients to them in the process of describing why they made a good choice.)
    3. Try to adapt your activities and systems to include others who might otherwise be excluded because of physical form, health, or language or cultural barriers. Empathy as a skill involves establishing bonds with people who are different, by individualizing interactions. Cleverness involves twisting paths to open possibilities that weren’t obviously available.
    4. Don’t expect rule 3 to always be feasible. It’s based on empathy, cleverness, and other chaos-aligned mindsets, and as such doesn’t lend itself well to rules or systematization at all. Focus on what people can do, entice others to help, but don’t try to restructure everything based on an inconvenience, and don’t force people to experience the same outcomes in all things.
    5. No matter how many people have done something, nor for how long, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

    Neither rules nor empathy alone can make a great society. But semantics (rules) and empathy together, as communication, give interactions at all levels the chance to be the best they can be.

    There. Now you can avoid being a bigot in a world where you can judge by appearances and more often than not be right.

    Addendum:

    It’s possible that some activity which statistically includes a particular type of person will develop a culture derived from other traits correlated with that person. For example, a male-dominated activity may develop induction rituals or slang derived from male experiences or physiology. It’s kind of dumb, but lots of what we call “culture” is kind of dumb.

    When a person of a different type appears who can participate in that activity, there will inevitably be awkwardness because they will have trouble participating in the culture. Sometimes this awkwardness dissuades the newcomer from joining, or the culture from accepting them. This is a suboptimal outcome from a societal standpoint, because it results in stagnation. Ideally, everyone involved will have some form of empathy, and some combination of the following will happen:

    1. The newcomer learns to participate in the culture they’re entering as best they can, and is comfortable with it.
    2. The existing culture treats the newcomer with respect, adapts variations on etiquette and rituals where necessary, and is comfortable with it.
    3. The existing culture gradually changes to become less centered on the majority demographic, making it easier for other (qualified) newcomers from other demographics to participate, or to learn and adapt their own variant activities. It tends to be beneficial for society that cultures mix in different activities because of the opportunities such mixing creates for cross-cultural learning and for innovation with regards the activity.

    Sometimes physical equipment may not be designed for other types of people. That’s when it’s inconveniently necessary for pioneers to come in with expensive customized equipment and break ground. We’ve all heard the stories.

    There are ways of resolving the fractured cultures that humanity has developed, but it will take a commitment to understanding the individual perspectives involved, plus as close an understanding to objective reality as we can get.

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