Google memo highlights need for more diversity talk
Hi, I'm Connie Guglielmo Editor in Chief of CNet news.
And I'm here in San Fransisco with my colleagues Richard Neva, who is the google editor here on our team, and Ian Sire who is the executive editor for news.
Silicon Valley has had a lot to talk about this week about a topic that has been in the news for most of the past few years, but has really taken off in the last few months.
That topic is diversity and inclusion.
There have been some high profile stories about what's going on inside tech companies, and this week, Google has taken the lead in this discussion.
Rich, give us a sort of state of what's been going on.
Sure, so the center of it is this memo that this guy, his name is James Damore, he was a senior engineer at Google, and he talked about
Diversity in the company and what he called an ideological echo chamber, and in the memo, he talks about the biological differences between men and women, and that's kind of where we got into the controversy.
You know, he cites some studies, and people are kind of disagreeing with.
With what he said, what he hasn't said.
But basically it's part of the conversation around gender and diversity in the company.
Let's talk about though what has been sort of Silicon Valley's take on what he said about diversity.
No one argues that there are Biological differences between men and women.
That's not an issue, it's the way that he's used the arguments and studies to frame a discussion.
So just give us a bead on how Silicon Valley sees what he said, the people who are upset about what he said and what his supporters think he said Sure so the people who are really upset with this memo are arguing that this is basically gender discrimination.
That he's saying because of biological traits that there are things in women that make them more neurotic And that's one of the reasons why you see less women in higher up leadership positions.
His supporters, Ian, have been saying that he has a right to his opinion and that this is all about the First Amendment and just having.
An open conversation.
What do you say?
The first amendment kind of stops at the government.
The government is not allowed to control your speech.
But, companies can choose to do pretty much anything they want with your speech.
There are rules around like what are your policies?
Are you treating everyone fairly within those policies?
But there is not first amendment protections for me to be able to say whatever I want and not get fired for it.
And Google seems to have taken a stance.
And again, what we know from Google, or from some memos written by the diversity officer there and their CEO, [UNKNOWN], he came out with a not saying That Google believes that this kinds of view is about limiting someone's potential based on their biology goes against their code of conduct.
What do you think?
You know, it's interesting because definitely the code of conduct is an important thing, right?
And having, again, policies and Kind of HR stuff that is consistent is important for any large company.
I think a lot's going to be really interesting about how far they can take this right?
Not a lot of this stuff has been tested in court before about whether or not you know you can have a code of conduct that says you know you can't say x, y, or z but one of the things I've heard a lot throughout this conversation that resonated with me is that He created a hostile work environment that.
This guy is in charge of people.
He decides raises and stuff like that.
And so he may, these views may actually be adversely affecting his employees.
It's no longer a conversation, it's actually affecting people's lives.
And that's a whole other, kind of, ball of wax at that point.
Rich, and that is true, right?
Google has a peer review system.
Tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah, that's where things kind of get pretty hairy.
So Google has a system where you have to ask your peers to review you And from what I understand, you get around five.
It happens twice a year.
And these things kinda dictate whether or not you'll get a raise, whether or not you'll get a bonus.
What kind of projects you're gonna get to work on.
Your level of responsibility.
And on the, on the other side of that it's, you know, whether or not you might get fired or put on some kind of performance plan so, you know, these things matter and if, if somebody has this kind of, this predisposed bias it is something that, you know, they might want to consider.
Bias being one of the big conversations around university, unconscious bias.
I don't know if this unconscious [LAUGH] or not given that we have a 10 page 3,000 word memo to how you interpret what he said and that is certainly a big point of controversy this week.
People are saying his views have been misrepresented and that Google was a little quick To fire him.
We don't know if he's done a lot of peer reviews, right?
What is Google telling us?
No, they're telling us nothing.
We don't know.
So that's one thing that to be sure to point out, we don't know what the peer review situation is.
So he might have done none.
But it's a good question and it's something that Google forthright about.
And if he has done peer reviews, I think we have to ask the question of, has this affected women's careers in Google.
That's a huge question.
And there may be people who have been getting less pay.
Or maybe even pushed out of the company because of these views he holds.
So yesterday we were going to hear from Google.
Sent [UNKNOWN] of Google.
Had set up an all hands meeting and without we get some of those answers, but then it was canceled at the last minute, Rich tell us why.
Yeah, [LAUGH] I know first hand that it was canceled, actually I went to Google to see what was going on and I was told that it was not happening
He said that he cancelled it because of fears of online harassment from employees.
Apparently.>> Of toured employees right?>> Toured employees yes.>> Yeah.>> Yeah apparently some people's online information had leaked And people have been you know doxing workers, which is like pretty much, how would you describe doxing?
It's basically putting out the personal information of an employee, so it could be everything from their
E-mail addresses and their phone numbers to their social security numbers to their family's information.
And something we see a lot with targeted harassment campaigns on the web, this is something that happen a lot during this period in the web called GamerGate.
It's happened a lot during the election.
It's something that especially trolls on the web and extremists like to use to.
Rattle, unsettle, scare people that they disagree with.
I wanted to step back for a second and talk about diversity in the tech industry.
As I said, it's been a topic of conversation for the past few years.
Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou lead a campagne a few years ago for all of the tech companies to disclose the makeup of their employee base.
And we started to see
A diversity reports come out, now they're annual, for more than a dozen tech companies and every time one of those diversity reports comes out, the first thing we hear from a company is that they should be doing better.
That they're predominately male, white, employee base has not really shifted that much over the past
Few years now let's just remind people why that's even a subject fo interest.
Why do people think that diversity is a business goal they should be pursuing?
Who wants to take that one?>> Well I mean I think the interesting thing is that the data out there and we've written about this on CNET is that diverse leadership
Often times leads to more profitability.
It leads to more sales, it leads to products being better.
There's a lot of information other there that shows that this is not only a social reason to do it but there's also a business reason.
The really interesting conversation I've heard in silicon valley a lot is that.
Almost everyone seems to, in leadership positions seems to understand that, that is the case, and yet they are consistently hiring far fewer than the percentage of black, latino, whatever, people who are graduated out of computer science programs in the country.
They're hiring far fewer than that percentage in just Silicon Valley.
So You have this really interesting mix up here.
Where they say one thing, they're predominantly doing the other.
And it's not changing despite, supposedly Silicon Valley being so nimble and being so.
Being able to come up with great ideas, they can't seem to solve this very fundamental one.
Well, in Google's case, the advocates for diversity there are
Your building products for the whole world.
They've got seven, they've got seven products that have more than a billion users.
And so the argument there is you want everybody to be able to use these things and so why not get everybody.
People from all walks of life to make them so they understand how
Different people are gonna be using them.
And there's an important point about why as well.
You remember Google Buzz right back in 2008, 2009.
They're competitor to Twitter.
It's okay if you've forgotten.
But one of the things that came up was that what it did is that you sent out status messages to your entire email contact list Right, and that was how they were gonna beat Twitter at their own game.
And the first thing that happened with that someone who had a restraining order against her husband, I think it was, ended up connecting with him on Google Buzz against her will.
And it became this huge problem
this moment a huge privacy snafu.
And actually, helped to sink the product.
And so, it's a great example of, if you don't have a diversity of voices in the room, you're not going to think about these things, right?
Because I don't have the same life experiences as someone who has a restraining order against her ex-husband.
I just don't.
And so, understanding, it's not like you have to seek everyone out, but having a diversity of voices will lessen the likelihood of that stuff happening.
Okay so Google had an incident where one of their senior engineers posted a memo that raised a lot of controversy about diversity and inclusions of [UNKNOWN].
He was fired after the C.E.O of Google said that it doesn't reflect the values that they believe in as a company He went to hold an all hands meeting, but canceled it because some of his employees were getting [UNKNOWN] or feared harassment for just raising questions about this debate.
So what's next Rich?
What happens next?
Well the official word from Google is that they're gonna be holding these forums over the next few days instead of this big all hands town hall meeting.
And then really, who knows.
Damore has filed a complaint against Google, right.
He's said that He feels he's been unfairly fired.
I don't know if he's filed his lawsuit yet, but he's definitely threatened in the press to do something.
And so, that will likely, at least to start this conversation that's really interesting as well, about how far can your company policies go in terms of these things.
It's gonna be really interesting to watch in that regard.
So, diversity inclusion.
We're far from the end of the discussion about this topic.
We're still at the beginning, I feel, right?
I mean, it started with these diversity reports.
and these product snafus that just continue to happen and now you know, we have Silicon Valley at the reckoning stage right, where it's no longer about talk.
It's about rubber hitting the road.
And I think we're very far from whatever the conclusion might look like.
Right, well so Damore said that with his memo he wanted to start this conversation, so in that regard.
He got it.
All right, well thank you for joining me today, and I'm sure we'll be talking about this more often in the future.