Bias vs. Bias
On Monday morning, Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired an employee, James Damore, for writing a memo stating that Google’s diversity program was based on left wing ideology and not on the biological and/or psychological reasons that the proportion of women in tech jobs and leadership roles is less than that of men. Mr. Pichai stated that while many of the points raised should be discussed, the core assertion of the memo, that men and women are different and that these differences favor men in a company such as Google, was crass gender stereotyping and violated the company’s code of Conduct.
But Mr. Damore does not appear to be a misogynistic troglodyte. He cites numerous articles from well-respected publications (US New and World Report and the Atlantic Monthly, for example) and several peer-reviewed psychological studies to support his assertions. He cites several scientists and authors that readers of my essays will be familiar with including Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind, 2012) and Scott E. Paige, (The Difference, 2008).
Mr. Damore asserted that in a company with a corporate culture that rewards hard work, long hours and assertive behavior, men are more likely to thrive than women. He stated that women are more collaborative than men and relate more to relationships and than to things as do men. Mr. Damore suggested that the company’s gender equality goals would be better served by less bashing men with diversity training and more by structuring the work environment to reward collaboration.
He stated that women suffer from a higher degree of neuroticism (backed by a peer-reviewed study) that does not function very well in a high-stress job place such as Google. This comment generated a lot of outrage among women in tech including Sheryl Sandburg who averred that unequal outcomes in tech are not related to gender differences but to cultural stereotypes.
But Mr. Damore titled his memo “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”. His concern is that there is more ideological discrimination than gender discrimination at Google. Perhaps this assertion prompted his firing more than accusing women of neuroticism as it hits a bit closer to the locus of Google’s problem. One of the great problems confronting our country is the divisive nature of American politics where partisans on both sides of the political aisle are locked in feedback loops of alt-left and alt-right propaganda outlets that spew reams of fake news. This is Mr. Damore’s point when he says that discrimination to reach an ideologically based outcome is “unfair, divisive and bad for business”.
Professor Paige, in his book, showed that diverse people working toward a common goal generated better results than less diverse groups. But Professor Paige was talking about diversity in ways of thinking. In solving a difficult technical problem a mathematician and physicist would complement each other even if of the same sex. Two mathematicians might not be complementary even if of different sexes.
Professor Haidt addressing the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology asked the group of about a thousand participants for a show of hands, how many are liberal? About eighty percent of the hands went up. Next were centrists and moderates. By the time it came down to libertarians it was twelve hands up and for conservatives, three. The point is not that academia is liberal. We know that. It is that the choices of their studies and the way they structure their questionnaires is within this left-wing framework and the results reflect this bias. This is called confirmation bias and it is common is people and non-diverse groups. That is where you need diversity. And this was the point Mr. Damore was making and why he was fired.
Postscript: A study that was reported in Fortune Magazine, said that woman CEOs of public companies had almost three times the ROI (Return on Investment) of male CEOs. The study by Catalyst (a women’s issue NGO) showed that a group of 80 women CEOs outperformed the S&P (as a proxy for male CEOs) by 226% over a twelve year period from 2002 until 2014. The study is not definitive and it did not correct for women CEOs in the S&P or the size/industry of the companies but it does give an indication that women make pretty darn good CEOs. Today’s guest host on Squawk Box (Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank) prefers to invest with woman run companies. But a woman would have a difficult time rising to CEO in a highly competitive and aggressive corporate culture such as Google. Perhaps Mr. Pichai would be better off working with Mr. Damore to change Google corporate culture than firing him. And hire a couple of conservatives to reduce confirmation bias if he can find some in Silicon Valley.