Google Stuck in an ‘Ideological Echo Chamber’

Google Stuck in an ‘Ideological Echo Chamber’
A man holds his smartphone which displays the Google home page. An internal memo published by a disgruntled senior software engineer has sent the company into turmoil as it faces an investigation over an alleged "gender pay gap."

An anonymous "senior software engineer" at Google has set Silicon Valley on fire with a 10-page "hot take" on the culture of political correctness and generally left-leaning politics within the company.

Reportedly an "anti-diversity manifesto," the document was first reported by the technology blog Motherboard on Saturday, and has since "gone internally viral" within the tech company. Another technology news website, Gizmodo, got its hands on the full document, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber" later in the day, and has since reported on the company's internal response to the document.

The document begins:

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. 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.

The document then goes about making the following points:

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

The author also made some suggestions to fix the culture within the company. These include:

  • De-moralize diversity.
  • Stop alienating conservatives.
  • Confront Google’s biases.
  • Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.
  • Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.
  • Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.
  • De-emphasize empathy.
  • Prioritize intention.
  • Be open about the science of human nature.
  • Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

Google is currently the subject of a wage discrimination investigation by the U.S. Labor Department related to the company's "gender pay gap." In response to the "manifesto," Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance Danielle Brown issued a memo to Google employees.

It states:

Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like 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.

Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we'll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, "Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. 'Nuff said. "

Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a company wide OKR on diversity and inclusion. Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it's often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that's why I took this job.

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

I've been in the industry for a long time, and I can tell you that I've never worked at a company that has so many platforms for employees to express themselves—TGIF, Memegen, internal G+, thousands of discussion groups. I know this conversation doesn't end with my email today. I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts as I settle in and meet with Googlers across the company.

So, did Google reinforce the engineer's concerns, or effectively repudiate them? It's hard to say, for sure, which might have been the engineer's point all along. His (likely) fellow Googlers were mostly outraged by the document, and took to Twitter—as all social justice warriors do these days—to vent on its contents. But rather than attack his arguments, they instead attacked him personally, again helping to make his original point.

One might recall that during the 2016 presidential election, Eric Schmidt, president of Google's parent company, Alphabet, had pledged to use the company's resources to help advance the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And not long after WikiLeaks exposed this arrangement, a number of conservative outlets pointed out how search results were being altered by Google, ostensibly to help Clinton and her struggling campaign.

But, in a culture that seemingly seeks to be perpetually enraged, it seems the "manifesto" merely added gasoline to a roiling fire.

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