Sep 08 2017

So I read the Google manifesto…

Category: TechnicalIuliana @ 12:12

Before going on vacation the Google scandal of the 10-page “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” document was just starting. A guy at Google created this document in which he criticised the politically correct Google environment and the discrimination happening in the name of the political correctness. And that manifesto made it to the internet. I was preparing for a vacation like no other, in which I was to detach myself completely from my working environment and from the passion that I dedicated myself to for the last 16 years of my life. So I postponed reading the Google manifesto until getting back.

I read the document on the plane on my way back and I realised there is a lot of blogging material in there. Because here we are in the time where political correctness dictates which people are allowed to speak their minds out loud and which are not, unless they want to risk being fired.

First thing first, the document is presented as reflecting the opinion of a single male employee at Google, that was fired and made an example, because Google is battling a wage discrimination investigation by the US Department of Labor, which has found that Google routinely pays women less than men in comparable roles. So basically by firing him, they just declared: ” See? We care about our women employees, that is why we fired this openly misogynistic prick.” Second, out of thousands of employees, they want us to believe he was the only one with that opinion? Really?  He declares in his manifesto that:

I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.

I just can’t believe that he is lying or he is delusional and he just imagined having some peers with the same opinion in the company.

I read it and aside from declaring women biologically and psychologically unfit for a tech environment, the manifesto raised some interesting points. Unfortunately, because the author is a little bit of a misogynistic prick, the good questions he raised about the so called political correctness got ignored as well. More than that, because we live in a politically correct and gender equal world, (suuure, we just like to say so and chastise the ones that have the courage to speak the truth) he was also fired. Which is a pity, because if you want to change somebody’s mind, you keep him close and show him that he is wrong, you don’t close the door in his face and never talk to him again.

One of the snippets that caught my attention is depicted below:

Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

I can’t help but sort of agree here. I’m not sure if that is really happening at Google, but him being fired for his opinion kinda proves it. You were hired because you are good at your job and the only reason to be fired should be that you have behaviours incompatible with the job, that prevent you or others from doing the job. Not because of something you believe. Problem is, when what you believe in is fucked up, you can become a disruptive employee. Imagine you have a colleague that is a white supremacist, he does not let that affect his job, but if he will end up a manager, he will probably discriminate against Jews and black people. Not quite ok. It’s the same if you are a misogyn, if you get in a position of power you might have the tendency to treat women differently. But no opinion can be changed if it is not known. So in IT companies we need to have conversations, we need to know what people think, without the fear of being fired.

And now let’s get into the things I do not agree with:

Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.

I have to disagree with this, because he is dead wrong. There are other reasons why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership and it has nothing to do with traits. Why? Because in tech and leadership, the skills you need to do your job have nothing to do with gender. To develop proper software solutions, you do not need testosterone and stronger muscles, nor quicker fingers and boobs. You need an analytic brain and strong problem solving skills. To be a good leader you need empathy and social skills. This also is not linked to anatomic traits.

We do not have 50% women representation in tech, because there simply aren’t enough women to fill those positions yet. In tech, until recently men dominated the field.(as they dominated any work field) Why? Because that is how society was designed, for men to work and women to take care of the house and kids. But society is now evolving and women are joining the work workforce. In some domains things are moving faster, in others slower. Tech is one of the slower changing domains. Numbers of women are increasing but slowly, men are getting used to work with women and again, this is happening slowly. There were not many women in tech until recently(because of lack of interest stimulated by a patriarchal society and many others) thus, where do you intend to get them from? This is why you cannot have 50/50 men and women in tech. Because we are not at that point in time where you have 50/50 distribution of genders in tech schools either. And because we do not live in a perfect world we might never have it anyway.

What Google and other companies are doing, providing trainings only for women, or hiring more women to try to reach the 50/50 percent distribution of genders is discrimination. Because in tech, the skills you need to do your job, have nothing to do with gender. I know I repeat myself, this is the idea that people need to accept. Let’s consider a hypothetical but quite possible situation. If I would need to hire a developer and after tests and interviews I have to choose between two candidates, a woman and a man, if I would hire the woman because I have less women than men in my company, I would discriminate the man. What should I do in this case? The most fair thing to do is use a coin. Really, leave it up to chance, because like I said twice before, providing solutions has nothing to do with gender.

Hiring more women or promoting them, just to reach some politically correct numbers is not a fair thing to do and here is why. As a woman, do you want to be hired because of your qualifications? How would you feel if you would know that you were just hired or promoted because of some HR percentages needed to be reached? Because I would not be ok with this, because I would not feel truly valued and taken seriously in the field.

When I was promoted to architect last year I was “meh”. I had architect and lead responsibilities since 2010 in the previous companies I worked for, but honestly I was never interested in the title, because most companies make up their own titles and roles. I just wanted to excel at my job and be rewarded financially in a proper manner for that. After some time and some discussions with some of my colleagues, I started having questions about my promotion, that I did not ask for, by the way. One colleague asked me one day, during a discussion “Did you ever notice them treating you differently because you are a woman?” Until he asked that question out loud I’ve never even considered looking for signs or paying attention to my colleagues behaviour looking for that. But after that, there were times when some things went to shit and I started questioning them. And basically it was like this:” Why is my opinion not taken into consideration? Is it because I’m Romanian? Is it because I’m a woman? Is it because I’ve been promoted just because of political correctness, but they actually do not consider me an architect?” And down the rabbit hole I went.

It bothers me a lot to not be sure if I was promoted for my technical expertise or because some numbers of women in high tech positions needed to be reached in the name of political correctness. And I bet there are male colleagues that wanted to be promoted and weren’t and they look at me with spite for my gender, that probably brought me the promotion in the name of the so called political correctness. And it’s not even about skills anymore, because I definitely have the skills, I know it and probably they know it too. It’s about the money I guess.

Regarding the manifesto guy, I wouldn’t have fired him. I would have send him to anatomy lessons and tech history lessons. Because he probably does not know that the first algorithm was invented by Ada Lovelace, the daughter of a mathematician and the famous English poet Lord Byron. He does not know that the code that put the first man on the moon was mostly written by women. He clearly does not know that the first mathematician in this world was in fact a woman. And I would have moved him to a team made up mostly of women. And in one year he would probably print his manifesto and eat it. Maybe. Or maybe he is a prick and he would have quit. Now, we will never know. And by firing him, Google proved to be a company where if your opinion contradicts the majority and you dare stating it, you will be fired. Which is not ok. Because, aside from the fact that the guy is maybe a little misogynistic, he did not harm anyone. If we start firing people for talking publicly about their beliefs, we have a lot of firing to do.

Because I know people in tech that proudly state that “Yeah, we need women in tech, they help raise the morale”.I have a colleague that declared herself a homophobe. I have a manager that states that women cannot work together.

Neither of these guys has ever been anything but professional though, and they are quite good at their jobs.

Should we fire them as well? I think not. We are all entitled to have opinions and share them. This is how conversations happen and the world evolves. You cannot change the way somebody thinks if he or she is discouraged from speaking their minds. If you were not hired for your opinions, you should not be fired for them.

What if my company decided to fire me after I publish this post? What would you think of it then?

Does it seem fair to you? Do you consider it justified? Do you think that it will change my mind? The only thing that will happen would be that I would loath the hypocrisy of society even more and I would probably learn to keep my thoughts to myself.

And just to make it clear, I do not doubt that sexism and discrimination in the industry exists. And we should take action against it. But let’s do this while keeping things fair. Because positive discrimination is still discrimination. Sure, we need to encourage women in tech and we need to defend them from sexist pricks. But let’s do that by enforcing basic common sense and respect for any human being, regardless of gender.

This being said, let’s hope people and companies learned something as well from this scandal and the future will be brighter in tech.

Stay safe, stay happy!

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