Google’s Lack of Meritocracy Revealed

meritocracyThe Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google has caused a furor at Google and in the media. This you can see merely from Gizmodo’s ridiculously hyperbolic headline. I’m going to reprint some excerpts here and comment. Follow the link to Gizmodo for the full text and the company’s response.

When 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. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

The author is claiming that Google’s culture reflects that of the progressive left, valuing political correctness over diversity of opinion and equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The uderlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

This is a reasonable explanation of human sexual dimorphism. This scientific fact had whole books written about it in the last century. Today, it’s validity is disputed by unscientific claims from social pseudo-scientists. Google itself appears to be attempting to help erase the science:

human-sexual-dimorphism

The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

When a high percentage of graduates in a discipline (software engineering) are men, to expect that a high percentage of the top performers, those who merit the leadership roles, would not also be men is to deny reality. Without an equal number of women and men in the industry, equal representation in leadership would indicate discrimination against men.

The author speculates on human psychology and discusses the gender wage gap. While I agree that the gender wage gap as a whole can primarily be attributed to individual choices, the correct approach in a specific situation is to require evidence of differences in compensation between people doing the same work, or statistical evidence that promotions are biased. For example, when I was working for Salesforce, the company surveyed salaries. They did find that there were people who were underpaid, but they did not find that women were over-represented in that group.

The author goes on to describe changes that can be made to improve gender equity, including paired programming and valuing teamwork. I agree that these are both great initiatives. In my experience, they improve software development in general. The author’s justifications for why these and the other measures he suggests would specifically benefit women are speculative.

I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that.

This sounds a lot like Trumps “America First” rhetoric. What the author is espousing is loyalty to the company before loyalty to ideology. Company loyalty is hugely valuable, and a company that fails to appreciate it will lose it, along with their best people.

For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences.

People won’t take risks without rewards, and risk taking is required in order to compete with other companies.

Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.

If those in power have lost sight of the fact that resources are limited, this is a chilling indictment of the company. If true, Google is headed for failure. The question is, are those at the top aware of how funds are being allocated?

To achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level [targets] for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination

Any company that does not reward its people based on merit will find its best people leaving for a company that does. If Google is truly discriminating against those most qualified on the basis of race or gender, they will “bright size” their company. Once the best leave, mediocrity will settle in, and a downward spiral will occur.

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny … climate change, the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right.

Oh, the hypocrisy and irony in this statement. The author slams the leftist bias of the social sciences, but then lauds political bias in the climate sciences.

Humans are generally biased towards protecting females. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

The author has just summed up gynocentrism and the problems it can lead to. In a free market, companies that base their policies on the merit of individuals will on average be the most successful. If men find they are being unfairly discriminated against, they will look for opportunities elsewhere. Trying to change the fundamentals of human nature won’t work at the scale of a country or a large corporation like Google.

The frequent shaming in … our culture has created the same silence [sic], psychologically unsafe environment.

Doubtless leading to people leaving for less authoritarian, more meritocratic companies. The author goes on to offer suggestions.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races. These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive.

If company programs are not open to all, discrimination is occurring. A lot of big company programs are wastes of time and money regardless. Companies that discriminate will lose their best people. Companies that waste their resources will fail when times are hard.

Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts. There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber. These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.

When a company is more about a political agenda than making great products, it is doomed. Inevitably, falling revenues due to unwise expenditures that don’t lead to great products and their sales will lead to intervention by the shareholders, who will impose new leadership, repeating the process until the problem is solved or the company ceases to exist. Google is currently in an enviable position, but in the words of Jim Collins, “how the mighty fall“.

I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.

Judging by the Trump administration’s recent moves against college quota systems, this is a very valid point.

I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

The problem with calls for increased empathy is that sympathy is a prerequisite for empathy. If people feel that policies are working against them or their company, they are unlikely to be sympathetic. Those calling for empathy need to show empathy for those who feel threatened by them. Otherwise, their only chance will be to use their authority to force compliance, which will lead to failure.

Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.

Very true. In the words of Ben Shapiro, facts don’t care about your feelings. By suppressing opinion, you suppress the best solutions to the problems that face you. People will cease to feel empowered, and will merely show up for their paychecks. Before long, your best people will tire of the politics and, because of their value, will easily move on to better companies. You will then have lost the strongest defenders of doing the right thing for your company.

Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Such training is a sign that it’s time to move on.

Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees. We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.

Regarding bias, a recent study in Australia showed that blind hiring had exactly the opposite effect than expected. Less diverse hiring occurred. So, in fact, bias seems to favor hiring women (which is unsurprising) and minorities, at least in the case studied. If challenged on bias, I would propose blind hiring as an alternative. It’s not obvious how blind promotions could be done.

Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

In the beginning, most successful companies start out as meritocracies. You simply can’t become successful without producing something that people want (i.e. has merit), barring government intervention, which does not lead to true success. If this man’s opinion–at least his argument for meritocracy–is not the silent majority opinion, Google is already lost.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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