Google Memo Shines a Floodlight on Diversity Training
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
A lot has been written in the last week about the Google memo and engineer James Damore. Some are very angry at what they perceive as misogynist comments and are pleased with his firing. Others are supporting his right to speak out against his former employer’s policies and agree with his spotlight on what he feels is reverse racism. Whichever side you fall on, or maybe it’s somewhere in between, I invite you to look at the missing factor in our discussion in all of this: social identity. When we challenge the very core of a person, who they are and what they believe, there is going to be pushback. And that is exactly what we are doing with the current unconscious/implicit bias trainings being pushed across the country.
I have no doubt that implicit bias is present in high-tech companies. And I think it’s imperative for social scientists and HR professionals to address it. But based on the current research on implicit bias, behavioral change and my own experience as a diversity leader conducting unconscious bias workshops, we as practitioners, leaders and employers need to step back and look at what we are promoting to employees. We cannot expect to create effective education without considering the employee’s social identity. With this in mind, I offer three important tips to help:
Diversity and Inclusion education should not be punitive. No one wants to be required to go to training because of his/her bad behavior. This is an unwilling audience. They will sit with their arms crossed and never hear the words you say.
You cannot exclude 60 to 80% of your audience. Unconscious Bias training cannot be a finger-pointing session. In most high-tech companies in North America, white males are the majority. The education session must be developed with this key audience in mind. If we want change, we need the help of the “ingroup.” We cannot alienate those that hold power and make decisions. With diversity must also come in inclusion.
Change will not come overnight. For those companies thinking that they can hold a 45-minute training and then have an inclusive environment, it’s not going to happen. Implicit biases are built over time and hard-wired into our brains. A short session scolding and accusing employees will not work. There needs to be an investment in both time and support from the leadership team to see real change.
I have a lot of thoughts of my own about whether Damore should or should not have been fired, but that’s not what really stands out to me in this case. What does stand out is that we still have a lot of work to do to create a workplace where everyone feels valued and appreciated – a place where everyone can reach his/her full potential.
Let me be very clear that I’m talking about implicit bias and not explicit bias. It will take more than a few workshops to heal the deep divide caused by racism.