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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Google memo: politics in the workplace

I wish to be a teacher. An university philosophy professor to be exact. It will not be easy, there is some competition for teaching positions and the university workplace is known to be rather elitist: if you aren't famous for your work, your actual talent might not be enough. It's cynical to say, but true nevertheless, that universities see your pedigree before your CV. It's especially true for more renown ones. Oh sure you are first of your class, teachers said you are a genius and so on... But your master is unknown to all but those teachers, you never published anything that became viral, you have no relevant connections and you are not popular enough to cause awe in the university's donors/sponsors so nevermind. The sad reality of higher education teaching is that it is more about politics than degrees, the more people you know, and the more people that know you, the better your chances. Legacy privileges are not just for students I'm afraid. So of course, having political opinions that match those that could become your colleagues or employers help tremendously, it's almost a requirement in some fields, like political science. If you do disagree, and still want to persevere to become a professor, then it's probably best to keep it quiet until you are in a position where it would be less risky to speak up. It goes without saying that not all universities have the same biases or level of biases but most of the time keeping your controversial opinions to yourself is the better approach in any workplace, not just universities.

...Which brings me to James Damore, the "Google memo guy". In a move that can either be considered bold or reckless, Damore criticised his workplace, colleagues and superiors, for not being, in his own opinion, open enough to diversity of ideas, focusing too much on physical diversity of races and genders.
In the 10 pages memo (can we even call it a memo then? More like a manifesto) he goes on and on about a few topics, but the main message, after you take out all the fluff, seems to be "Google should treat people more as individuals,not as members of a race or gender, and be more open to discuss ideas from other political perspectives than the one Google already approves of."

I can't say that I disagree, seems reasonnable... What did he dislike?
Well he mentions classes reserved to specific genders or races and other racialized or gender divided practices. I didn't get Google reasons for this, but if it's just for diversity's sake, then yes it seems wrong. I don't know though. He also says that conservative or center views are shamed at Google. Can't say if that is true, but if it is... Shameful and unsurprising, that's how it is in any workplace, left or right leaning.

The part where most media outlets and twitter aficionados seems to focus is the multiple pages where he rant about how Google "refuse to recognize that biological differences in men and women could explain the gender gap in tech". While I don't think it's systematically wrong or sexist to point out that men and women are ,on average, different, I do wonder why it is relevant here. Damore wanted to call out the lack of ideological diversity, so why lash out at this specific leftist belief that biology doesn't influence men and women careers in tech?  It seems oddly specific. There is also an implied assumption that most of the gender gap could be due to biological differences, which hasn't been shown to be true, and not so implied assumptions that the left reject biology in favor of feelings. He makes assumptions about what he thinks are the left/right biases, opposing them, for example he says the left is idealist, the right, pragmatic.

This shows more his biases than anything though, because none of those opposed traits applies only to one side: both sides can be idealistic, pragmatic, open or close minded, open to changes or affraid of them, etc. His notes at the end of pages where he mentions communism, IQ, and what he consider himself politically all point toward a strong right leaning bias. I mean he claims to be a classical liberal... We all know how much "liberal" those that use that label truly are... Just look at internet political celebrities Sargon of Akkad and Dave Rubin who both used that label, despite frequently supporting right wing leaders and policies like Trump and the trans ban in the military. Those are liberals? Really? He might be different but I doubt it somehow. He also claims political correctness is a tool of the "left PC autoritarians" which I couldn't disagree more. Political correctness happens in any political circle, the content that is sensitive just vary according to the group. Conservatives hate to talk about secularism or how stupid many traditions are, Libertarians hate to admit what good taxation can bring, Trump supporters hate discussing his shortcomings. Saying only leftists are embarrassed and upset by certain topics is disingenuous.

His sources are not all stellar as well, some are old, not very convincing, from newspapers... You get the idea.

Do I think like many have claimed that he is against women and minorities in tech, that he consider them biologically unfit for the job and is a racist and mysoginist?

Eh... Yes and no. He obviously didn't say that they are unfit, claiming he did is a blatant lie and people should really read it thoroughly before throwing accusations of mysoginy at him, but his insistance on pointing the average psychological differences between men and women in a post about why Google should have more ideological diversity is suspicious. Plus, despite him saying "on average", it does feel like he is generalizing, if there are women interested in tech, and this is outside the average interest for women, then why should we assume those women fit the average for their personalities then?
Seems like cherry picking to me.

Anyway, I think that despite having a good message about inclusivity of ideas in the workplace, he handled it very poorly.
First of all, because he rambled so much about women in tech and the biological differences between genders, his message was lost in this flood of random assertions with not enough evidence to support his claims. This can be easily demonstrated by the news coverage this event got, his memo is called an anti-diversity memo, and every google employee under the sun is calling him a sexist mysoginist. He also lost his job because of that biology part that Google claims reinforce gender stereotypes. I guess that's kind of true? I mean  biological averages are indeed stereotypes... Regardless if they are true or not.

Google says that the part about openness to new ideas from different ideological perspectives is indeed fair criticism of their policies and work environment and that they will do something about it, they made it clear it was his ramblings on biology that got him fired. ( Here if anyone is interested. Third fact. There is also the full PDF to download there,not just retranscriptions.)

The reason I mentionned my career choice earlier is simple, if you like your job , but not the political leanings of your colleagues and superiors, keep it quiet, gauge how much open some of your colleagues are to different political opinions and express your concerns with those closest to you. Don't publish a manifesto. If you really want to write down your grievances, then be focused, otherwise you won't get your point across. If you are really upset/worried and there is an HR (Human Ressources) department, go there to explain your issues with the company policies, see their point of view on the matter. They will appreciate your honesty and love that you didn't make a scene and decided to keep it private. Bad press is not the best way to garner sympathy in any company.

On a closing note, what do I think of  practices such as affirmative action that "reverse discriminate" in favor ethnic minorities and women?
Well I don't like the idea of it, but I get that there is not many ways to fight discrimination... I just wish we didn't fight fire with fire . I'd say "why not focus on getting rid of prejudices instead of doing this condescending practice that reinforce the notion minorities and women can't do as well as white men without getting forcefully favored."... But since we can't really force people to get rid of their prejudices and something still need to be done... I'll say it's a tolerable practice in the meanwhile, at least until we find a better solution. However, I think it need to fit two criterias to be adequate.

First, it need to remain positive discrimination to fight negative discrimination. What I mean is that you should think this "our jobs are open to all, we will just give priority to some CVs to fight our biases" not "this job is for women and minorities only, white men need not to apply". The latter is just adding discrimination, it's not helping to remove it.

Secondly, the requirements must not be lowered for all to help a minority or group to pass or just for them and keep them high for everyone else. This one should be obvious. How inferior must you think women and minorities are that they can't pass the same requirements as white men? Whenever I see examples of this, it makes my blood boil, when people talk about "soft bigotry" that is what they are referring to.

Thank you for reading and see you next time! -KeLvin