A socio-political firestorm erupted from the Californian headquarters of Google on 5 August, with the emergence of an anti-diversity ‘manifesto’ penned by disgruntled employee James Damore.
In his 10-page tirade – which went viral among the tech giant’s staff – Damore accused Google of maintaining “an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed” – such as his view that “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes, and … these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership”.
Damore asserted that he “strongly believe[s] in gender and racial diversity”, but went on to attack a clutch of company-policy initiatives such as, “Programmes, mentoring and classes only for people with a certain gender or race”; “A high-priority queue and special treatment for ‘diversity’ candidates”, and “Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not ‘diverse’ enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)”.
He added that, in Google’s “highly progressive” environment, “conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility”. Damore has since been fired – but his manifesto has already been cited as the dawn of a culture war in Silicon Valley. If this does indeed mark the beginnings of a backlash against diversity in the tech industry, how can leaders overcome it?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This has a great deal in common with the Lenny Henry blog last week, how diverse customers are better served by diverse teams . On a wider scale, though, this story really goes to the heart of how nourishing and fulfilling it is to work with people that you like, respect and trust. In that kind of environment, you have more scope to propose ideas and experiments – and to be honest and authentic.”
Cooper explains: “Having a great place to work means that you’re more likely to stay. You’re more likely to work that bit harder and like your customers. Any leader who doesn’t think that a more diverse talent pool is desirable lacks self-confidence in many ways, because if you have to surround yourself with people who are similar to you, that just says you’re unable to deal with the challenge of difference – or the creative tension that arises when somebody who really isn’t like you at all is in your environment, making contributions.”
She adds: “Leaders who carry out honest self-examinations of their views on diversity would be aware of all the reasons why one may want or need a diverse team. If you look around and find that your team isn’t terribly diverse, then start to create that environment where people like and respect each other just for who they are.
“The best way to overcome resistance to diversity is to demonstrate that differences disappear when social bonds are strong. When that happens, we see the individual: the person that we like. We’re not seeing the difference. And that high level of social sensitivity – of being kind and positive – makes for more effective work teams.”
For further thoughts on this topic, check out the Institute’s learning resources on appreciating diversity
Image of Google’s Mountain View headquarters curtesy of achinthamb, via Shutterstock