How Leaked Google Memo Reflects Our Progress (Or Lack Thereof) On Issues of Diversity

Published: August 21, 2017

“We need to openly discuss the challenges, including taking views from opposing sides, to reduce sensitivity around these issues and push the debate forward.”

The memo written by now ex-Google employee, James Damore, touched a very raw nerve. Condemned by Google for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes”, the fallout since it was leaked to the press earlier this month reflects the progress we have made when it comes to diversity, but also the ongoing challenges we face when dealing with complex issues.

The strength of the reaction is proof of the hyper-sensitive nature of the subject, and of our passion for equality and change. Gender diversity has found a much-needed platform and this is unequivocally good. However, its controversial status, and the subsequent dismissal of Damore, has also exposed how far we still have to go before open and honest debate about sensitive issues becomes the norm.

Google rightly recognised the need to act in response to the crisis, but chose a definitive option 1 (sack Damore and state support for creating a non-hostile environment) over a more considered option 2 (retain Damore and state support for free speech). This seems to me the easier choice of flight over fight. For, though I may not agree with Damore’s reasoning at every turn, it’s hard to dismiss what is a genuine attempt to set out his personal meditations on addressing diversity at Google. It is a disappointing response for a company that claims to champion diversity in a “psychologically safe” space.

Finally, and less obviously, the story provides a timely reminder that discussions around diversity are usually limited to gender.

As recent coverage following the publication of BBC salaries shows, the prevailing focus is on the different treatment of men and women, not on other forms of diversity. Lenny Henry shone a light on the pay gap between white and BAME talent at the BBC – but he was the only one to do so, and research in this context remains slight. Delving deeper, the black actor and comedian questioned “Who are the producers, the script editors, the director…?”, reminding us that diversity means more than simply including a black woman on screen. “If the deciders remain the same, then nothing has really changed”, he concluded.

Clearly, it’s important to fight for gender diversity. Yet it’s rare for other minority groups to find a voice in mainstream media. Not a single article, for example, discussed the lack of disabled people on our screens during the recent BBC pay furore, even though there are 6.9 million disabled people of working age living in the UK. Where’s the advocate, the Lenny Henry, for this and many other minority groups?

Here, again, we need to expand our perception of diversity. Asking colleagues at Linstock “what do you think of when you hear the word diversity?”, their responses tended to focus on things we can see: gender, ethnicity, age, and ability. After all, man versus woman, black versus white, old versus young, able versus disabled, are easy distinctions to make.

I began thinking about invisible forms of diversity. What about sexuality and education? What about mental health? These are not minorities we can easily, or often comfortably, identify. But it is important that we understand the needs and challenges faced by all diverse groups to help create a fairer society.

So, what should happen next? As a start, we need to openly discuss the challenges, including taking views from opposing sides, to reduce sensitivity around these issues and push the debate forward. Secondly, we need to consider diversity in all its forms and build the evidence base for why and how doing so will improve our business, culture and society as a whole. On the first of these, by embracing our differences, we not only create inclusive working environments that allow people to be themselves, we unleash insights and ideas that can lead to discoveries and actually change how a company operates.

Linstock is passionate about diversity and has helped leading brands demonstrate their commitment to diversity, particularly when it comes to gender. We have a number of ideas as to how this work could be extended to ethnicity, social mobility and disability. Please get in touch with us at info@linstockcommunications.com to discuss how we could support your organisation.

Rohini Aggarwal
Junior Consultant

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