The situation Google is facing involves diversity in the workplace. James Damore was fired due to an internal memo he wrote, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, where he expressed his concerns with diversity at Google. The Merriam-Webster definition of an echo chamber is a room with sound reflecting walls capable of producing echoing sound effects. This implies that one only listens to ideas and opinions that are the same or like one’s own. Damore states that Google silences conservative opinions and concluded that biological differences are a factor in the shortage of women in the tech industry. Google’s reason for firing him was that he was perpetuating gender stereotypes that clearly went against the company’s Code of Conduct. However, Google was not right in firing Damore. Let’s take a closer look the problems at Google, the reasoning of why Google was wrong to fire Damore, and develop an action plan that Google should implement to be ready to deal with similar situation in the future.
The first problem is that Google has become a toxic workplace. Google wants to be inclusive and desires that employees bring their “whole selves” to work and promotes internal discussion posts where employees are free to express themselves. However, this is causing much discord among employees due to difference of opinions. Those who are targeted are mainly minority advocates. It is a shame that people cannot act cordial with their fellow coworkers. Google says they value what employees have to say but the present toxic environment makes employees think twice about posting internally. Some employees have gotten death threats, been harassed, or had their personal information exposed online. The internal discussion boards are a liability to Google and posting of non-work-related issues should be removed all together. According to Herzberg’s Two-Factor Approach, the area of dissatisfaction for a Google employee has many factors present such as negative working conditions and strained interpersonal relationships among coworkers. If there is dissatisfaction in the workplace, this will eventually lead to lower performance or employees eventually leaving the work place. Lower performance will lead to less innovation, which is the exact opposite that Google has stood for since it began. All the time spent on internal discussion posts can be better served working on job related issues instead.
Second, Google and every tech company needs to be doing more about why women are underrepresented in the Tech industry. Damore is free to have his opinion about biological differences that explain why there are less women in the field, but the fact of the matter is that women do hold less than 20% of U.S. tech jobs. Google has donated money to organizations that promote women in the tech industry, such as the Girls Who Code program and should continue to do so. The only way to get more women in the tech field is by motivating them to learn about STEM subjects early on in life. There needs to be more women who hold more bachelor’s and advanced degrees in STEM fields. Right now, the candidate pool is mainly male which leads to more jobs being filled by males. However, once we have females that hold degrees in these fields, we will be able to balance out the gender gap. However, to be fair, Google and other tech companies should also invest in education for anyone interested in STEM fields. This will allow all those interested regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation to have an equal opportunity. These companies have more than plenty of money to be able to invest back into the community and if it is for the advancement of others, why not? Google needs to be intentional in their actions so that the inclusive environment they want to foster has an opportunity to be achieved.
Third, Google needs to commit to diversity training on all levels. Damore stated that Google restricted involvement in programs and training to a certain gender or race. However, all those who wish to participate should be allowed to do so. Training should not just be about race and gender stereotypes and common biases, but rather should incorporate a wide range of topics, such as different ideologies and backgrounds. Also, the way the training is presented should not be a “do this, but not that” approach. It should be an approach that exposes real life biases and allows participants to problem solve how they would deal with the situation at hand. People do not like to be told what to do or how to act, so allowing them to find an acceptable solution will yield better results.
Google was not correct in firing Damore. First, there are some things I agree with Damore and other things that I do not agree with. I do respect his point of view and I do not hold anything against him. As a conservative myself, I do think that mainstream society has pushed views on me that I generally would not hold, and sometimes I feel scared to even talk about my conservative views in fear that others will think that I am an extremist. I do not believe Damore is an extreme conservative either, rather he was expressing his opinion and giving feedback after going through diversity training. In a live interview on the Rubin Report, he stated that after being told to give feedback regarding the training, he posted his memo to several internal discussion boards and no one really had said anything. However, once it got into some people’s hands, who hold a different point of view, things snowballed and eventually led to his firing. This is a result of the environmental and organizational factors such as political and social views at Google leaning more to the left. Damore offended many left aligned points of views and Google was quick to say that he was perpetuating gender stereotypes. However, Damore, was only expressing his honest point of view, just like the other people who do not agree with him express their own point of view. We can argue whether he had enough strong evidence to back up his claims or not, but at the end of the day he was just being frank. He did not call anyone derogatory names or name a specific individual. He wanted Google to consider his suggestions in how to make diversity better at Google; he was making a real effort to improve training. In addition, Google was not correct because it was not until after this situation happened that it released an updated Code of Conduct and guidelines for internal discussion posts. There were other people posting controversial comments long before Damore did and one can only wonder if they ended up being reprimanded. If others were not punished the same way as Damore was, then Google was wrong in firing him. Google could have met with him in private when he initially posted the memo about the changes he was suggesting. They could have put him on some sort of a warning if they felt he went too far. Also, Damore says that he was told he was fired via telephone, which is the worse way to fire someone. They should have had the decency to do it in person. All in all, they handled this situation very poorly.
There are no beneficial aspects in this situation, thus, a plan of action to address and prevent this situation in the future is necessary. The objective for the plan of action is to remove the hostile work conditions at Google by revamping diversity training all while creating opportunities for all who are interested, in especially women, to be educated in the STEM fields. The time horizon would be within three to six months, the sooner the better. The strengths for removing the hostile work conditions are that it will increase productivity by increasing job satisfaction. No one should have to work in fear that their personal information will be put on display or their photo posted on Twitter as a retaliation due to their beliefs, either left or right. Therefore, diversity training and tolerance of differences is of utmost importance. This will allow a new way of thinking and more respect for people’s differences. We have a right to be different, but we should not push our own beliefs onto others. We need to learn to be respectful of everyone’s opinions. Google should revamp the diversity training to discuss diversity exists in political, social, religious, and educational backgrounds, to name a few.
Google should train employees on basic organizational behavior theories so that they understand people’s differences and how to deal with differences. All the behavioral theories we have discussed in class so far have really opened my mind. I did take an organizational behavior class as an undergrad, but now having over ten years of work experience and revisiting these theories again, has given me an “aha” moment. Many of the workplace issues that I have encountered can be explained by an organizational behavior topic. I am sure a lot of Google employees have either forgotten or maybe never even took a class that explains these theories – the same can be said for the public. Damore was clearly using the Big Five Personality Test, and the OCEAN model to defend his position on why women are different than males. I find it very sad that people got offended by the word “neuroticism” in the memo, and Damore even said in the Rubin Report interview that is one thing he regrets writing since it was viewed negatively by some. The weakness to this alternative is that people really need to be willing to have an open mind, which some are unwilling to have. Our society needs to be more accepting and reasonable; to be able to think things through and not react to them quickly. Implementing the contact theory would be helpful to Google in that they should try to have individuals who are totally opposite of each other in direct contact at work. That way they can learn about the other individual and value them for what they are and not what diversity group they represent. Once they get to know that person, they will show greater respect for that individual.
However, the real issue regarding a hostile work environment is the various internal discussion forums for employees. Who is monitoring them and why are they constantly being leaked? What happens to the people who leak internal information? Google released an updated Code of Conduct and guidelines for posting on the internal discussion boards this past summer. Google needs to make it clear what will not be tolerated and make sure employees are aware of it, have them e-sign the Code of Conduct and revisit this yearly so each employee is held accountable. They are trying to go in the right direction, but I would rather have them discontinue the use of these internal discussion boards in their entirety if it is not work related. If Google does want employees to have a way of sharing their thoughts and feedback about the company, there should be a designated avenue to make an employee’s voice heard. Damore says he had sent his memo to various people and not many people had responded. Executives should have responded and not allowed this memo to go out to the public because it was dealing with internal issues. It was an employee’s honest opinion – it had flaws but who does not have flaws? The action plan would be to develop a “ombudsman” for employee feedback and take it seriously. Treat it as anonymous as possible, if it is sensitive in nature. The identity of many employees has been revealed; they have gotten death threats – no real change will come if you do not foster a sense of privacy when it comes to expressing views that may be controversial. Employees are afraid to express themselves in fear of retaliation, and Google should do anything possible to prevent that. If employees want to express their views outside of Google, they are free to do so, but having an internal platform is a liability to Google. Most importantly, Google executives should listen to everyone’s opinions and if the company does not agree, at least respect individuals for their opinions and work together to come to a mutual ground.
Finally, another action Google can take to promote more interest in STEM fields is to
design a program for all genders regardless of race to volunteer at schools and universities to motivate the youth on STEM careers. The program can teach the youth basic tools and allow them to take part of a Google project so that they have firsthand experience in a STEM career. In addition, Google should develop an internal leadership program to empower employees to become future leaders. A development program where they pair up every employee with a higher up manager. Employees would be interacting this way on work related issues and rotating to another mentor every year. Valuable skills will be learned if this program is implemented and employees will value the company more because they are allowing internal growth.
The alternative I recommend would be a combination, first remove the internal discussion posts all together and then create an “ombudsman” for employee feedback. Second, develop volunteer programs to motivate the youth in a STEM career and an internal leadership development program. The Google environment should be supportive of these changes since it will create an enjoyable and rewarding workplace. There may be some opposition to those who will not like the idea of internal discussion posts going away but they will be free to move their discussion on an external forum. Since it will not be directly tied within the workplace, they will be free to express themselves, except for not being able to disclose private company details, in that case, Google will be within their right to reprimand them. All this should be clearly communicated to employees before implementing this change. The timeline seems reasonable since it is something Google can implement fair easily. The creation of an ombudsman may take a little while longer but should be implemented within six months, to allow for proper training. The volunteer program will be the one that may take longer since it involves external organizations and it would be voluntary. However, Google can require the employees to volunteer some hours of their paid work day to get full employee cooperation. Although, I do not see how anyone would be against doing a good deed for the youth. Lastly, the leadership development program will allow employees to come into direct contact with coworkers who are different than him or herself. This is the best way to break up stereotypes in an organization.
Google has sufficient monetary resources to implement any type of plan, they will just need determination and perseverance. Google needs to hire talented experts to drive these changes and have the implementation run smoothly. If necessary, a consultant firm should be brought in. Google should try to revamp the diversity training sooner rather than later, but this will not really generate much needed change and that is why I do not recommend this option at this time. This will have a lot of resistance and relies too much on people being reasonable. It is very hard to change people’s attitudes. Google should have this in the back of their minds and as part of a contingency plan in the future. Google has a big task at hand, but they should continue to press forward and work hard to have a diverse company in all aspects taking into accounts the voices of all their employees and treating all with respect.