The Google Memo

I had a great conversation with Kathleen about the “Google memo”. We talked about her experiences and the greater context of several previous generations of women from the trailblazers to those who later entered workplaces in mass to find they were boy’s clubs.

We already had decades of the golden age of “free debate” workplaces where the topic was often whether women–or minorities–were “cut out for this line of work.” See the first few Mad Men eps, or ask a woman who went to work before the mid 80s. The fully “free debate” workplaces were found wanting and we rightly took some topics off the table. Absolutely some censorship in workplaces is critical! Over the years I’ve heard plenty “ideas” at work that created hostile environments, or would have in a more diverse group. It’s a shame the memo writer didn’t run this by a few women, ideally coworkers, before dumping to Google’s whole workforce. It may have sharpened his arguments and led him to a better approach to reaching his goals.

Naturally our culture around work formed under the assumption of women at home rearing children. Over decades millions of decisions were made without the idea of working women and raising families with both parents working. This isn’t a value judgment, but it means that firms who value diversity still have really big levers they can pull that make the consideration of miniscule biological differences just not that important. Firms will of course forever have to balance their diversity desires with the law’s prohibition of discrimination; the memo’s author basically accused Google of discrimination against men, and that’s for the courts to figure out.

I’ll give him this, he’s right that political viewpoint diversity is probably very lacking at Google, as it is nearly everywhere in America due to our acidic hyper-partisanship and geographical self-sorting. He referenced the Heterodox Academy and I’m a fan. In general diversity is so hard because humans don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations or get pushback on their ideas, even if weeds out the weak ideas and yields better solutions.

To some extent each firm has to consider whether actively fighting against a nationwide polarization trend is worth the hassle, but the more politically homogenous businesses will probably be the first to majorly mess up in public and “out” themselves as saying nasty things about half their customers.

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