by Sharon Florentine

Still asking why tech struggles with diversity and inclusion? Google it

Sep 22, 2017
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Google is a prime example of paying ample lip service to the ideas of diversity and inclusion, while its actions demonstrate the exact opposite.

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone,” is the quote from CEO Sundar Pichai that is prominently displayed at the top of Google’s diversity page. The page also has sections outlining the company’s diversity initiatives as they apply to hiring, recruiting, inclusion, education and community efforts. Cool. That all sounds lovely.

The contrast between these “bumper sticker values” or values that “look good in an annual report [or on a diversity website] but have no real meaning within the company,” as Steven L. Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right, calls them, and what seems to be actually going on inside Google, is striking — but not surprising.

The New York Times reported earlier this month on an employee-led effort that started in 2015 to record salary disparities between women and men at the company. That didn’t go well.

According to the article, “Female employees are paid less than male staff members at most job levels within Google, and the pay disparity extends as women climb the corporate ladder, according to data compiled by employees that provide a snapshot of salary information at the internet giant.

“A spreadsheet obtained by The New York Times contains salary and bonus information for 2017 that was shared by about 1,200 United States Google employees, or about 2 percent of the company’s global work force.”

“At five of the six job levels, women are paid less than men. At level three, the entry level for technical positions, women make 4 percent less than men at $124,000 in salary and bonus. But it widens to 6 percent by the time employees reach midcareer status, around level five, with women earning, on average, $11,000 less than men.”

Google’s explanation for salary spreadsheet data — I’m not buying it

Google attempts to explain this by claiming the spreadsheet’s data may not be accurate because employees might have made errors when they reported their salary.

“The salary information in the spreadsheet cannot be viewed as an exact portrait of what people make at the company, because some employees may have erred when they put in their information. At some job levels, only a handful of employees volunteered to share their salary information, so a few salaries can skew the data. Even though it’s not a random sample of staff members, the information is tracked closely throughout the company,” the Times article reported.

Really? That’s your position? A company that constantly touts its workforce as being the best of the best and is notorious for its exacting hiring standards — and the argument is that their employees are too dumb to remember how much they make and/or enter it into a spreadsheet correctly?

Google also argues that the leaked spreadsheet “does not take into account a number of factors, like where employees are based, whether they are in higher-paying technical positions, and job performance,” the Times reported.

Fair point, except Google is being sued by the U.S. Department of Labor, which “found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” according to Labor Department Regional Director Janette Wipper in a hearing. Three female former employees concur, alleging the company shunts women into lower-paid roles with little room for promotion, pay raises and advancement.

Culture of sexism and racism

And, of course, there’s the ‘man’ifesto. I really don’t want to give James Damore any more print space than he’s already been gifted, so I’ll just say this: Good for Google for firing him. But what about his many supporters who still work there? What about the culture of sexism that contributed to that kind of thinking?

I’m apparently not alone in wondering about this — the Times article quotes James Finberg, a civil rights lawyer and partner at Altshuler Berzon L.L.P., as saying, “It is an atmosphere filled with stereotypes, that the comments espoused in the memo were not isolated incidents. They are more of the norm than the anomaly.”

And we can’t forget about the racism! There’s yet another lawsuit, this one alleging racial discrimination at Google. My God, what an incredible place to work. I can’t imagine why they seem to have problems “moving the needle” on diversity and inclusion issues.

The point I’m taking forever to make is that you can pay lip service to diversity and inclusion issues all you want. It might fool a few people, and it might burnish your image to an extent. But you can’t just talk the talk while ignoring the reality.

This is why it’s so important for diversity and inclusion to be a part of every single aspect of your organization. Every single person you hire must understand the importance and be willing to make the effort; that is, if you haven’t already baked it in from the start. That’s a whole other post.

Otherwise, you risk ending up like Google. And that’s not necessarily a good thing right now.