Dissecting the Google Employee’s Anti-Diversity Manifesto, Piece-by-Piece
This is the third part of a critique of the “Google ManifestBRO”. Today’s article is published on the day the Google employee was both dismissed and named as James Damore, an employee who had been at the company since 2013. Whilst others can choose to find out information about him and there is merit in the discussion of Google’s response, this series continues to dissect the manifesto to understand the position taken as the position has consequences. I’ve also got hold of the cited version to conduct a desktop study.
Work Life Balance
The manifesto itself has conjectured about the need or otherwise of crisp male and female work life balances. Whilst this may or may not be true, given previous research which seems to cite the inflexibility of IT employment practise as a factor for women leaving the industry. This may seem like a legitimate position, since IT can be problematic, but research hasn’t suggested this to be the case.
Of 6,633 women respondents to the question of reasons to leave the industry, conducted over several years found that the top 3 reasons for considering leaving the industry were to do with the lack of women mentors, role models and bosses, masculine culture and lack of opportunity for career development and growth (original survey).
Long Hours? Not in the Data
The manifesto continues to argue the case for Men and Women’s differences having an effect on their ability to do their job. Now, aside from the fact that most tech engineers would agree there is a huge variation in the way and work rate that developers and engineers work, we would have to find a statistically significant gap in productivity, however it is measured, between men and women. No such gap has been proven to exist.
Furthermore, James’ position then goes on to assert that women would be unsuited to long hours.
For this, we turn back to Sue Gardner’s survey, and specifically what Women who are considering leaving or have left, don’t like about their work (above). As we can see, only 24.2% of women cited too long hours as a reason to leave, with 24.8% citing they wished to spend more time with their family. While we could try to compare this against the male number, it is equally useful to compare against women in tech’s opinions on working environment, where 30.4% of responses indicating a too Masculine environment.
In addition, the concerns of women that are significantly higher than the long working hours are:
This is even worse for the manifesto, since if James’ position is that women and men are different, then the problems they face are different, which he acknowledges, and as such, the order of male and female reasons for the above would be different. Hence, the solutions are almost certainly different.
I’ve heard it said that people of under-represented groups wanted to see more people like themselves there. As a result, to encourage the diversity of staff, they have to entertain the diversity of mentors and role models. This is a crucial point, especially with women in tech. The prevalence of impostor syndrome is high in the industry. Having people who can be there to see it through is useful. That is the first portion of the argument. This bit, in itself, is fine, especially where there is an identified sociological need, as evidenced above.
In addition, we can look at the converse question. What do women in tech like about working in tech? Here, we see an indication that women actually like the tech industry due to the ability to work remotely.
67.5% of women surveyed for this question liked the flexibility and ability to work remotely. This would tie into any position on childcare or work life balance.
Women appear to really enjoy working in tech. Women like solving difficult problems. The environment, sans the negatives, is a good place to work, as with all environments when you do the same. The problems are very definitely different for women.
Work Life “Balance”
In the second half of the same paragraph, the manifesto states
Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.
As a point of debate, this is the occupational and employment position. There are 24 hours in a day and if we were to assume the manifesto position on female’s being more “outgoing” and social, whilst men were the workers, we have therefore to compare life outside the office. So if we look at the “life” position, we have to be mindful that 87.6% of rape victims are women, whilst in the USA it is 84.8%.
For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google — with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example, currently those willing to work extra
hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.
The point of optimising for Google is not incorrect. However, as with a lot of the the rhetoric in the document, there is little adequate citation.
Whilst I am not one to automatically cite McKinsey studies, their study of 2015 corroborated a line of older studies demonstrating that diversity in the workplace correlated with higher performing teams, companies and innovation.
So the point of optimising for Google, whilst correct, also crucially, corroborates Google’s existing position by the results of the various pieces of research that corroborates the above. Google should be optimised through a process of greater diversity, not less.
Additionally, the zero-sum game misses an optimisation point in it’s own right. Zero-sum games work at various “fractal” granularity but the coarser grains above it can gain greater optimisation whilst the original conditioning results in a zero-sum game for the lower granularity.
A simple point of culture illustrates that concept. After all, people move teams within an organisation and whatever cultural benefits they gain from one team, transfers with them. The ‘new’ team then benefit from that fresh outlook and better still, it enriches the toolkit of both the team (from the new participant) but also the individual, who expands their repertoire with the new team’s skillset. Cultural diversity is a two way street!
Does it dilute the existing team? No, but not because the existing team’s practise isn’t made slightly more obsolete, it’s that you are trading off portion of the team’s existing practise to gain a whole other area of expertise and experience to optimise with. To talk about dilution assumes that the original culture was the most optimal, and dare I say ‘supreme’, unchanging position. As if the top of the tree is absolute and never changes. Which we know is incorrect, given the number of companies who were top of the tree and collapsed. Ask Yahoo.
Hence, dilution is the wrong word. Enriches. Adaptation is the reason humans are at the top of the tree, not because we are the strongest (we’re not), the fastest (we’re not), or even technically the cleverest (we’re not). It’s that we can adapt. Anything that prevents that adaptation, arguably even bigotry and hyper-conservatism, is a direct threat to the survival of the human race, not the introduction of diverse DNA, whether it is cultural, psychological or genetic.
The Racial Diversity Debate
The manifesto links to an article in the Wall Street Journal. This one I have very personal experience of, dating back to 1995. Oxford University in the UK got it similarly wrong. The reality is that James’ manifesto misses a step between the need to present a commonality and any idea of an enforced, tokenistic, positive discrimination. As someone who watch the “I am Oxford” and “I am not Oxford” campaign play out some 22 years later in the generation after mine, I couldn’t help but smirk at the situation and how little the university had learned from the situation.
Yet, here was the manifesto missing the point in precisely the same way. It is not that the reason itself is wrong, it’s that the execution itself is botched. Indeed, the manifesto itself is a botched execution, since the data itself does show a factual presentation of the problem, to which Google is providing arguably the correct solution.
And just for a reminder:
A Case for Positive Discrimination?
Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women.
Agreed :-/ Positive discrimination doesn‘t work. Yet, in no way does that mean that diversity doesn’t work. Indeed, quite the opposite has been proven true time:
Diverse companies see higher profit and have better focus - here's why
Diversity matters to any company worth working for, and it's becoming increasingly clear that it's also important for…
Racially Diverse Companies Outperform Industry Norms by 35%
Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 30% more likely to have financial returns above…
And time again.
Contradiction in Solutions
As covered last time, the manifesto has a particularly big problem in that a number of logical contradictions exist within it. This also applies sociologically and indeed, shows a complete lack of awareness of social situations.
As we’ve seen from the source data from Sue Gardner’s survey, many women feel the effects of impostor syndrome. Also, if James’ position on bullet point 3 is correct, then pair programming is not effective, since it forces a collaboration where one cannot perform or flourish. This certainly isn’t limited to women, since introverts or all demographics suffer from this same effect.
Therein lays another huge irony. Quote:
Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap has absolutely no tasks for men to take away, in the same way it references women. That is the single biggest flaw in that section. It is saying to women, that “Women have to make the move” to be more like men.
Yet, we can see from the survey results that women do not want to be in an environment that is too masculine. That would be highly destructive to any attempt to close the gap.
Finally, he ends it with:
If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles
Which misses the point entirely and sadly, corroborates this particular paragraph:
This fundamentally shows a complete and utter lack of understanding of the problem. There is no need to close the gender gap between men and women. We need to close the treatment and opportunity gap of men and women by our industry! That is the key thing that James’ naivety fails to understand throughout the document. In order for a discrimination to occur, there has to be both a protected characteristic and behavior to prejudice it, one way or another. The problem isn’t gender, it’s the culture and perception that allows one party to self exclude and the other party to dominate.
The footnotes are just as interesting as the main body.
Reference 8. This is totally and utterly incorrect. IQ tests are a mongrel of US Army General Intelligence Tests, Galton’s factors, Binet-Simon tests in 1905, focusing on identifying “retarded children” before coming together in the Stanford-Binet scale in 1916, that some places still use today. At no point was left wing politics a driver for IQ tests. This again, feels like it was lifted straight out of an alt-right position.
Point 10 is a key statement. The issue here is that it is actually pretty correct in it’s assertion. Sadly, there is a general lack of awareness of this, which is why suicide is one of the biggest killers of men. Yet, this also contradicts the previous position on women suffering from anxiety at a greater rate than men. That comparison is simply missing, leaving a hole in the argument.
Yet again, the manifesto has proven yet more fallacy about gender roles. The science and logic simply doesn‘t back any of that up.
This is part of a series of articles critiquing the Google employee’s anti-diversity manifesto.
This article has been modified to correct a missing block quote and I took the opportunity to dig out some more research to cover another point within it. Thanks to Adrienne for pointing out the portions of the manifesto.