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What Google Needs to Learn About Inclusion

A recently published “manifesto” by a Google software engineer has once again placed the issue of women in the tech industry in the spotlight. The 10-page paper argues, among other things, that women are simply not cut out biologically for careers in the tech industry and criticizes Google’s recent efforts at promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Shortly after the paper made headlines, the author, James Damore, was terminated, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut short a family vacation to return to the office to disavow portions of the controversial memo.

We certainly don’t agree with Damore’s contention that women (or any group for that matter) are less biologically suited for careers in the tech industry. While it’s hard to defend – morally or scientifically – some of Damore’s comments have been defended, including by some within Google.

As Seth Fiegerman of CNN writes:

The reactions internally have been fierce and divisive. Some employees have used an internal discussion group to call for the engineer to be fired, according to a source inside the company. Others have supported the employee's right to voice his opinions, if not supporting the opinions themselves.

"Something is clearly wrong with the culture," one person wrote in the discussion group. "The author presented his point of view and some people want to leave unless the author leaves or HR take action. That's pathetic."

Indeed, there is a larger point here that deserves to be addressed. Putting aside one’s own opinions of Damore’s comments, they can be generalized to represent a backlash against efforts at diversity, and Google is certainly not alone here.

In some ways, this has to be seen as a failure of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly the inclusion portion. Inclusion means that everyone is represented and has a seat at the table, serving to make organizations stronger. Here, at least with this particular employee, we see that the idea of diversity is threatening to some – in this case a white male. Diversity shouldn’t be a signal to employees within this group that they are being marginalized and losing out because their company wants to hire more women or minorities.

Without defending anything Damore has said, this episode is useful in the sense that it brings to light the importance of ensuring that all employees see the benefits of diversity and inclusion and feel included themselves. It’s understandable that white, male employees could feel left out by policies that promote greater representation by women and minorities in the workplace. The job of human resource professionals and diversity executives like Google’s own newly minted VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Danielle Brown, is to ensure all employees feel included and understand the value of that inclusion as it relates to all employees.

Inclusion is a business imperative. It is, therefore, imperative that we are inclusive—of everyone.

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