Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Diversity is not an ideology

By now, you’ve likely heard about the male Google employee (James Damore) who circulated within the company a 10-page memo entitled, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” In this memo, he critiqued Google’s efforts at maintaining gender diversity within the ranks of its employees, arguing that women are underrepresented in tech not because of workplaces biases and discrimination, but because of inherent psychological differences between the sexes.

To quote from the memo:
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.
You can read the full memo here.

For its part, Google has responded, both in writing to its employees (“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.”) and by firing the author of the controversial memo.

The news of the firing has been met on two fronts.

First, the employee says he’s exploring legal recourse at the National Labor Relations Board, as he claims that prior to his termination he had filed an unfair labor practice charge accusing Google of attempting to shame him into silence over his diversity critiques.

Secondly, the right (and alt-right) has lost its mind.
That’s Unites States Senator for Texas John Cornyn.

“No employer in America is or can be required to employ a racial bigot.” This truism starts the dissenting opinion of Judge C. Arlen Bean of the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. NLRB (more on this decision tomorrow). The same sentiment applies to sexists (and xenophobes, etc.). Senator Cornyn would have you believe otherwise.

Diversity is not an ideology, and supporting diversity does not make one a politically correct zealot. Diversity is a recognition that sameness is boring, and that we work better when we work together.

Diversity is simply a fact. We are a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-gendered society, and our workplaces should reflect this. When employers fail the law steps in, as it must. Otherwise, our workplace discrimination laws have no meaning. We can engage in a robust debate over whether Google properly pays its female employees as compared to their similarly situated male counterparts without resorting to the “men are physiologically better” argument.

Mr. Damore is free to speak his mind (within limits), and Google is free to terminate him (within those same limits), but I believe than when an employee takes a stand against its employer’s commitment to diversity, that employee has crossed the line, and the employer has no choice but to terminate. This is not standing up for an ideology. Rather, it is standing up for what is right and just in its belief that harmful and outdated gender stereotypes have no place at work.

Kudos Google. And, FYI, I’m free to offer counsel (or an expert opinion) on the legality of your decision in this case.