The Jury Talks Back

8/7/2017

About That Compelling Google Memo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 6:24 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Yesterday I read an interesting 10-page memo written by a male engineer at Google. In the memo, which has gone viral, the unnamed writer dissects and challenges the organization’s intellectually restrictive environment and the efforts at “shaming into silence” those with opposing views. In the name of diversity, course. The writer explains:

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.[2] 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.

Fair enough.

In part:

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.

As you can imagine, heads are exploding over the suggestion that there might be a difference between men and women. In today’s culture, basic biology is seen as a passé social construct that demands dismissal or correction. So the suggestion that any difference between the sexes might actually exist and have an impact on the numbers of women represented in a particular field, must be wholly rejected. That, coupled with a rigid intolerance of speech (which is determined offensive), becomes utterly predictable and even tedious in its extreme manifestation:

Untitled

In the midst of the hysteria (mid 17th century (as an adjective): via Latin from Greek husterikos ‘of the womb,’ from hustera ‘womb’ (hysteria being thought to be specific to women and associated with the womb), Robert Verbruggen offers some simple clarity:

To wit: Men are more likely than women to find it rewarding to work with things rather than people; men are more aggressive and status-seeking than women and thus more likely to climb the corporate ladder and ask for raises; women rate higher on other psychological traits such as anxiety. These differences are all well-documented and will not shock anyone familiar with the research on them. And while there’s some debate about the extent to which these gaps are cultural instead of biological, there’s good evidence that biology does play a role at least some of the time. As the memo’s author writes, gaps like these are found across cultures, and for some of them we’ve identified specific biological underpinnings such as testosterone. The conclusion from this isn’t that Google should abandon the quest for diversity. Instead he (reports indicate it’s not a she) suggests ways of incorporating this information into Google’s efforts, such as making “software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.”

Then there is this part that addresses Google’s political biases and exposes the heavy-handedness of the authoritarians:

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.

For the umpteenth time we see authoritarians reveal their fear of speech, and need to shut it down. Or at the very least, make it conform to an acceptable level of correctness. Also for the umpteenth time, the answer is never to shame any individual into silence. The answer is always more speech.

Anyway, Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity and Governance Danielle Brown responded to the memo:

We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company. Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

Yep. It’s always the pesky little qualifier that does speech in, no?

While Google employees are condemning the memo and calling for the writer of the memo to be fired, others are supportive – or as one employee reluctantly put it, “Honestly, more people have been agreeing with it than I would like.”

And clearly there are Google employees who actually get it:

“Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

“The fact that colleagues are calling for him to be fired—on very public forums—proves his point that there is an ideological silo and that dissenting opinions want to be silenced,” the second employee told Motherboard. “Why don’t they debate him on his argument? Because it’s easier to virtue signal by mentioning on a social network how angry and offended you are. Debate and discussion takes time.”

There is a report tonight suggesting that, based upon an internal memo written by CEO Sundar Pichai, the employee who wrote the original memo will be fired. Unnamed sources are claiming that the employee has already been terminated. Google has not confirmed the claim.

–Dana

UPDATE: The employee himself has confirmed he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

2 Comments »

  1. Interesting story. Business Insider reports the employee was fired, and names him at the link.

    Comment by DRJ — 8/7/2017 @ 6:35 pm

  2. I thought for sure he’d last until Friday, just so Google could bury his firing over the weekend. Good for him, I’ve encountered similar backlash on my college campus when I espouse similar opinions and have once been told point blank to shut up about it or the department will begin to lose funding. Bias is of course all too real, and the lack of diversity in these institution’s diversity programs is hilariously hypocritical. However, they never see it that way because they will always view themselves as being on the higher moral ground of the issue out of their sheer act of “caring” about the topic, rather than the empirical evidence that uncovers the destruction their policies have wrought.

    Comment by Sean — 8/7/2017 @ 7:25 pm

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