Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

August 7, 2017, 4:13 PM UTC

It was a busy weekend for the diversity and inclusion crowd.

It started as an anti-diversity memo published on Google’s internal mailing list on Friday. Then it tumbled—first in bits and pieces, then in its entirety—into public view.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” is a 10-page manifesto published by an anonymous Google software engineer that argues several points, chief among them that the search giant’s left-leaning biases are shutting down conversations about its flawed diversity agenda. “[W]hen it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

After a bit of throat-clearing, he makes his case. “At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership,” he says. “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes,” and further, “and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

The memo’s existence was first reported by Motherboard, then later published in its entirety by Gizmodo.

The online response was swift and angry. (Fortune’s David Z. Morris has an excellent recap here.) It also briefly pulled back the curtain on the search giant’s efforts to do what, to some, seems impossible: Transform a culture of tech machismo into one of harmonious inclusion.

Danielle Brown, Google’s brand-new vice president of diversity, integrity, and governance rushed to introduce herself to the company, before weighing in on the memo. “[L]ike many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages,” she wrote in an internal note obtained by Motherboard.

An executive response was essential, particularly as the company currently faces an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for paying women less than men. But the company also has some decisions to make about what to do with a man whom no female engineer is going to want to work with anytime soon.

It’s not just Google. That an engineer at a blue chip firm felt it necessary to explain, in excruciating detail, how a woman’s biological tendencies (agreeability, neuroticism, empathy, etc.) makes her less equipped than a man for certain jobs, serves as a reminder on why tech continues to be, in large part, a walled bro-garden. There are fewer women (or people of color) in tech because they know how awful it can be to work there. No bullet-pointed memorandum cheering for “viewpoint diversity” can put lipstick on that particular pig.

Much of the online debate understandably focuses on whether the memo was proof that Google’s attempts to change its culture has failed, or worse, was more performative than prescriptive. (For what it’s worth, I think that it’s too soon to call time of death on an inclusive Google just yet. Here’s why.)

But on Saturday, engineer Yonatan Zunger posted an equal and opposite manifesto which reveals a bit more about how Google’s famously secretive culture is reacting to the memo.

Zunger was most recently a Distinguished Engineer at Google, working on the privacy team. (He just left the company to work on a yet unannounced project.) “I am no longer even at the company and I’ve had to spend half of the past day talking to people and cleaning up the mess you’ve made,” he says in an open letter to the Googler. ” I can’t even imagine how much time and emotional energy has been sunk into this, not to mention reputational harm more broadly.” As Zunger sees it, the “meritocracy” as described in the memorandum does not represent a radically conservative path to business success; it is merely a fresh defense of a socially-acceptable version of a hostile workplace.

For what it’s worth, it sounds like Zunger would have fired the engineer the day the memo posted. For his epic explanation as to why — and his take on the true collaborative power of engineering — click here. It’s really something.

On Point

When you’re an elder in techThat’s a kinder way of saying what Karen Wickre called herself in this important piece: an “old” in tech. While tech’s uniquely youthful swagger often leads to bonding events designed for the limber bodies of childless people (think wilderness trust falls and late night karaoke), that’s not the only missed opportunity for the over 50 crowd, says the veteran of Google and Twitter. She comes with kind-hearted advice for big companies who want to both leverage their mature talent and keep them growing as leaders until they’re ready to do something else. Number two got my attention: Career development. “As long as you’re still working, professional development shouldn’t stop,” she says. She’s right.Wired

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This simple, fun quiz tests the power of our most basic human quirk: We hate to hear no. As a result, people are more likely to believe information that fits their views of the world, and they tend to stop looking for new information once they believe they have enough evidence execute on a grand plan. It’s a short quiz that has big implications for policy and corporate decision-makers, for starters.
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My job as a leader is to make sure that everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact.
—Larry Page

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