Where do you go when you want to get to the truth in a conversation about gender equality? Well, I head for the local gym of course – the sauna to be more specific.
The sauna – the last bastion of anonymity – is a place where lots of blokes, (for reasons to best known by themselves) feel you can talk to strangers freely about all sorts of things from sports to politics. The relative anonymity provides a safety blanket – it removes the fetters of political correctness. The sauna is a place where you can listen to the “average” bloke speak truthfully.
So, what does the “average” bloke think of the now Ex-Google engineer James Damore’s sexist furore?
I would imagine many people (sauna users included) would have only read the headlines and heard the sound bites and wouldn’t have read the full ten-page memo published last week by Damore.
My sauna using colleagues hadn’t gone to the efforts of pulling the memo to bits – this is not surprising and the overwhelming view was that the Damore “was right, but you can’t say what he said out loud otherwise you get into trouble”. It is not surprising when all you have heard are the soundbites.
When you read the memo in full, you may find it to be as did I, emotionally charged and neurotic. Which is ironic as this is how the author chooses to describe women.
On reading the full memo, one can imagine your “average” bloke being easily lulled into thinking these are the rational, dispassionate, thoughtful, observations of an intelligent and reasonable guy.
Damore uses phrases such as ‘I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists’ to placate the reader and to convince them of his credentials as just a normal bloke who speaks truth to the lies of the left wing. He presents himself as the voice of reason. It has a pseudo-academic feel about it, because he presents his memo as if it was based on research and proof yet he fails to identify any sources.
I found his memo difficult to critically evaluate because on the face of it, and from my own research I know that some of his observations are rooted in scientific fact. However, though he is obviously not lacking in IQ, this is a real example of how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Damore uses science to try to argue his points but once you get to the crux of his points you can see that the whole piece is infantile and politically charged – something he accuses Google themselves of being.
It smacks of a child throwing his toys out of the pram because he is not getting what he wants.
He mentions programmes, mentoring, and classes which are only for people of a certain gender or race. If this is true then this is one aspect that I agree with him on. When you isolate people into exclusive identity groups you automatically create an ‘Us versus Them’ situation.
Often it is not the “diverse” people that need coaching and mentoring it is the people at the higher levels within an organisation, who need to be coached and mentored in order to understand how they can attain a better mastery of their own responses to similarity and difference, and the impact of their responses on others.
He speaks of a high priority queue and special treatment for “diverse” candidates. Yes, he went there and pulled that old chestnut again as it has been for 30 years. Where is the proof of this?
Damore also goes on to mention another very boring, old topic where he talks about hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates, by decreasing the false negative rate.
Again, where is the proof? I remember a member of the Police Force that I used to work with over 20 years ago, saying diversity means lowering the bar. I remember thinking – lowering the bar? Precisely how did someone like that with little common sense, some who is lazy, uncommitted, has few educational qualifications, is a poor communicator, has poor inter-personal skills, someone who lacks self control and is prejudice ridden, get to become one of Her Majesty’s finest and then talk about lowering of the bar?
By the way, my experience of over 12 years in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion field has taught me that people from underrepresented groups very often feel the opposite. They feel that in order to succeed in organisations where people like them are in a tiny minority, they have to be vastly better than their counterparts.
Damore goes on to state that Google reconsider any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction is clear confirmation bias.
Again, let’s see the evidence. Why would you do it in reverse when 81% of the employees are male?
This memo has been released in the midst of a disturbing trend in the US where people are dividing themselves; or being divided by their leaders (and particularly their President), into the so called “left” or the so-called “Conservative” camps. Then of course we have the sudden emergence of the Alt-right and white supremacists.
The divide in American society between Democrats and Republicans has left American democracy at a crisis point. The crisis is that a “right wing”, allegedly Alt-right sympathetic, President has reached power through the democratic process.
The seeds of resentment and hatred are sown everyday when you have deep socio-economic and political divisions in society. Bit by bit the seeds are fed by a diet of daily, local and national tensions, which are increasingly given more prominence and sensationalised; so that they look worse than they are, and this in turn has the effect of making the tensions and feelings of resentment worse. It is a vicious cycle, one we can see being played out on channels such as Fox News and CNN.
Going back to Damore, it seems to me, on the face of it, is a well-paid, achiever (after all the author of the infamous memo was amongst only 1% of applicants who successfully secured employment with Google), who doesn’t have much to complain about, unless he wants to maintain a status quo that suits him.
He goes on to say, ‘In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason’. As the CEO of the National Centre for Diversity, I have to say that actions speak louder than words, and the need that Damore felt to write and circulate his memo makes me think twice about how much he truly values individualism.
Liberals value the freedoms that come from justice, fairness, respect, equality of opportunity, embracing difference, inclusion and the enabling of meaningful engagement of people in worthy pursuits.
These ideals never magically happen on their own. They have to be promoted, campaigned and fought for. Has there ever been a time in our history, in any society, where these ideals instantly existed as part of the norm, rather than being fought for?
In my opinion, if he was a classical liberal he would hold all these ideals dear to his heart and wouldn’t try to disguise his populist zeal in some type of principled stance which is supposedly an attempt to somehow protect the honour of diversity and inclusion.
So, let’s debunk the first myth that somehow, Damore is a principled warrior for liberalism. Some of his views would go down well with the Alt-right.
Damore also felt the need to point out that he is not sexist. His views come from much further right of centre than most people would want to be, and when we look at his views through that context we can begin to understand what motivated him to write such a piece.
Amusingly for a person who put himself out there as a man with the answers he writes that we should “de-moralize diversity”.
According to Damore’s memo, ‘As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.’ This of course is just gobblydygook.
Unlawful discrimination (conscious or unconscious) is wrong, it is a right or wrong and therefore morality is inextricable.
Human beings are emotion driven. We don’t always make cold calculated decisions based on cost and benefit alone. World famous scientists such as Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely will tell you that although we think we are rational beings, we actually follow and endorse decisions already made by the brain, having already been processed through our brain’s instinctive and emotional centres.
Research by the McKenzie Institute also shows that diversity is proven to bring all sorts of benefits to organisations, including increased innovation, increases to the bottom line and improved decision making.
Damore’s memo speaks in very binary terms. He contradicts himself by saying that ‘Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently’- he is protecting the rights of so-called down trodden male “Conservatives” that are being held as hostages by the cruel, left wing conspiracy that is Google’s drive for greater diversity. A drive which isn’t working too well by the way when we look at their employment stats.
One of the major flaws in his piece is that his viewpoint assumes that all men and women have a binary view of the world, technology and of diversity. Studies have shown that human brains have a wonderful ability to create new circuitry all the way into old age which helps us to see, accept and embrace new age realities e.g. that women can and do become outstanding at things that evolutionary biology suggests that they shouldn’t be good at i.e. female soldiers, female pilots and female technology engineers.
When you have a lack of diversity in organisations it is important to ask why. Although this is exactly what Damore did; in his case he both asked and answered the question, and luckily for over half the world’s population, he doesn’t decide who gets to join Google’s ranks.