Google – Is positive discrimination in tech the answer?

By Oliver Smith 8 August 2017
Image: Getty/JasonDoiy.

Google's anti-diversity row raises questions.

Google has been embroiled in a row after an employee wrote an anti-diversity memo, lobbying against the company’s initiatives to increase its workplace diversity.

The email made some abhorrent sweeping remarks about the stereotypical types of work that men and women in Google were ‘better’ at, like women “prefer jobs in social or artistic areas” while “more men may like coding” – and its author was swiftly fired.

But it also highlighted some initiatives which, it was argued, seemed to positively discriminate against employees not from minority or underrepresented groups.

These included mentoring, careers programmes and classes only for people with a particular gender or race, priority queues for ‘diversity’ candidates during hiring, and hiring practices which lower the bar for candidates deemed to be from a ‘diversity’ group.

These kinds of initiatives are currently one of the leading ways that companies in the tech sector – which is in the midst of a diversity crisis – have to improve their inclusivity.

But are they the right solution?

Georgia Hanias, Innovate Finance’s head of global communications and diversity programmes.

A better way?

“Diversity programs come with the best intentions – but many are not effective in dealing with the problem, especially in technology,” Innovate Finance’s head of global communications and diversity programmes, Georgia Hanias, told The Memo.

“From my own experience – and from extensive studies done by leaders in this field, what clearly doesn’t work is if you try to enforce policies that require management to engage in diversity training or make them hire and promote people from different backgrounds.”

Google appears to be an example of this, where certain employees have begun to turn against these initiatives.

“In other words, they don’t feel in control of any decision-making. They begin to resent it,” says Hanias.

“Managers seem to respond better to a work environment that gives them the choice to engage in the process of coming up with solutions to challenges such as the diversity gap.”

One example she offers is group decision-making when it comes to new hires, where everyone must agree to a hire in order to try and avoid unconscious bias.

But, without clear efforts to redress an industry lacking diversity from the top down, others believe a more structured approach is what’s needed to force change.

A plan for inclusivity

“Diversity and inclusion programmes are crucial for improving business performance, continued growth and success,” Sarah Kaiser, head of diversity and inclusion at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, told The Memo.

Kaiser says the skills gap is already costing the UK economy some £63bn a year, and improving diversity is an obvious solution.

“From rewriting job adverts in a more inclusive language – which helps to attract the widest pool of candidates – to celebrating diverse and inclusive role models, there are so many ways for organisations to gain value from diversity and inclusion programmes,” she says.

“Diversity and inclusion-focused programmes are a no longer a nice to have, but a must have.”

Divided over diversity

What’s clear from everyone we asked is that there’s no hard and fast ‘solution’ to tech’s diversity crisis.

We all know diverse companies are better for everyone – business owners and employees alike.

But while initiatives might be welcomed and embraced by staff at one company, clearly in Google they’ve grown to foster exactly the kind of division which diversity is supposed to overcome.

The way we get to a more diverse tech sector may be rocky, but at least the Google débâcle has put the question of diversity and how to improve it firmly back on the table.

What’s your company doing?