Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Diversity’ Category

You do not have a constitutional right to be extremely sexist at work

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

A male software engineer at Google, James Damore, wrote a 10-page memo in opposition to hiring practices that consider racial and gender diversity in tech, arguing that women were unable to do the same kind of work as their male peers. Days after it was circulated throughout the company and leaked to the press, he was fired.

Now many journalists, activists, and even politicians are arguing that he was unfairly punished for expressing his ideas, with some going so far as to say the employee was banished for “thought crimes.”

In this case, Damore’s thoughts were that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech in a number of ways and that women deserved their current status. In his anti-diversity screed, the software engineer decided to list personality traits that he says women have more of. Here is one:

Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

He also wrote that women have “higher agreeableness” and “extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness,” and that this is why women tend to have a harder time negotiating salary. He does not acknowledge that research shows again and again there is a social cost for women who negotiate for higher salaries.

In addition to saying that women will always have these specific qualities that prevent them from advancing in their careers, he flat out writes, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.”

He also wrote, “However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices.” He listed mentoring, programs, and classes “only for people with a certain gender or race.”

Men from all sides of the political spectrum weighed in to argue that he should not have been fired.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted out a National Review article with the headline, “Google Fires Employee Who Dared Challenge its Ideological Echo Chamber.” Julian Assange condemned the decision as “censorship.” Tim Miller, co-founder of the America Rising PAC, said Damore is being banished for “thought crimes.” Jeet Heer, senior editor at The New Republic, said the engineer should not have been fired for his ideas.

The engineer’s decision to write a 10-page memo, which he clearly spent a good deal of time writing, and then share that memo, is an action, however, not merely a thought.

In a Medium post, Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee, explained why the memo was enough to create a hostile workplace environment and thus warranted termination.

Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.

Research shows that frequent and less intense but unchallenged sexist discrimination and organizational climates were similarly harmful to women’s well-being as more overt but less frequent acts of sexism, like sexual coercion. Heer suggested demotion as an alternative to firing but no matter his position, Damore would have some power over his co-workers since Google’s performance review process allows peer reviewers to give feedback on job performance. This includes employees who are junior to them.

Viewed this way, the decision to fire Damore was not censorship. It was a decision to protect women from a hostile workplace environment. Google prioritized the well-being of its workers and the company’s overall success over one man’s career.

Like most of the tech industry, Google employees are predominantly white men. In April, the Department of Labor accused the organization of “extreme” gender pay discrimination and pointed to evidence of “systemic compensation disparities.” Diversity statistics the company released last month revealed that 69 percent of its employees are male and 31 percent are female, but when it comes to technical roles, only 19 percent of the positions are held by women.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Lyft releases its first-ever diversity report

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Lyft has produced its first-ever diversity report, months after its chief competitor Uber released its own data about the make-up of its staff.

While its numbers ring similar to other tech companies—which are predominantly white and male?—?Lyft does have more female employees than Uber. Overall, 42 percent of Lyft’s employees identify as women, compared to Uber’s 36 percent.

Lyft, however, is more white than Uber with 63 percent white employees opposed to Uber’s 49 percent. Uber bested Lyft by having a better representation of Asian, black, and Latinx employees overall, with 30 percent, 8 percent, and 5 percent respectively?—?compared to 19 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent for Lyft.

All of those numbers shrink considerably for tech and leadership roles. At Lyft, only 18 percent and 13 percent of its tech staff and leadership respectively are women. There are no black people in tech leadership roles while Latinx leaders make up just 4 percent. Thirty-four percent of tech leaders at Lyft are Asian while the remainder, 59 percent, are white.

In a blog post releasing the inaugural report, Lyft said releasing diversity data will help keep the company accountable.

[W]e have a lot of work to do. Releasing our data will hold us accountable, but it’s the actions we take that will make a difference to the people who come to work every day at Lyft. Our diversity data exposes gaps in important areas. So we’re doing something about it.

The diversity report comes on the heels of Uber’s, which released its numbers following a massive sexual harassment scandal earlier this year. Lyft hasn’t had such a scandal but its numbers, which can be improved all around, suggest that it’s doing much better on gender representation than race and ethnicity.

Tech companies in general, however, have struggled to improve their diversity numbers in spite of releasing transparency reports. For example, Apple has previously called improving diversity “unduly burdensome” and recently shot down a proposal to diversify its all-white board led by CEO Tim Cook. Even Google, which started the diversity report trend in 2014, hasn’t been able to solve its race and gender diversity?—?and retention?—?problems.

Along with the its diversity report, Lyft mentioned its hiring of Tariq Meyers, formerly the company’s community organizer, in 2016 to lead its diversity and inclusion efforts as well as its partnership with the diversity strategy firm Paradigm.

“We’re investing in more programs and taking stronger actions,” the company wrote. “Being a culture of inclusion requires continuous, purposeful work. And it’s work that we must do. Because Lyft is for everyone: no matter who are you, where you come from, or which seat you’re sitting in.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lauren Williams is a tech reporter at ThinkProgress.

Uber ignored its diversity problem. Now it’s paying for it in spades.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Uber is under fire after a former engineer made headlines for publishing a detailed account of her experiences with sexual harassment—and Uber executives not addressing it. The timing seems particularly awful for Uber, which just lost 200,000 customers for the way it handled President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. But Uber has been one of the few holdouts not tackling the problems of diversity and inclusion that ail much of Silicon Valley. Now, the company has to pay for it.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quickly responded to former engineer Susan Fowler’s claims that her supervisor made sexual advances toward her, and that the behavior went unchecked when she reported it to human resources. Kalanick called sexual harassment “abhorrent” on Twitter and then sent a memo to employees Monday announcing that the company was assembling a legal investigation into Fowler’s claims, spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fowler’s post seems to have triggered an about-face in Uber’s approach to claims of the company’s wrongdoing, unearthing a new company mission to root out “injustice.”

“I believe in creating a workplace where a deep sense of justice underpins everything we do,” Kalanick wrote in his memo to employees. “It is my number one priority that we come through this a better organization, where we live our values and fight for and support those who experience injustice.”

Kalanick’s justice-focused position also promised to look into the “many questions about the gender diversity of Uber’s technology teams.”

But the toxic culture Fowler described at Uber isn’t news. While Kalanick has previously denounced drivers’ acts of violence against women, the CEO has also made misogynistic comments. In a GQ profile, Kalanick referred to the company as “Boober” to denote how his success has helped his sex life.

During Uber’s rise, there have been sexist ad campaigns and executives suggesting the company should “dig” into a journalist’s personal life for criticizing Uber’s culture. Uber brushed off criticism that the company was violating customers’ privacy with its “God View” capabilities, and fought the unionization of and granting employee-status and fair pay for drivers?—?many of whom are immigrants and people of color.

So while it’s not brand new that Uber suffers diversity issues, the sexual harassment allegations could push the ride-sharing app to be more transparent. In the past, Uber has been one of the few tech companies that hasn’t released a diversity report, refusing to acknowledge requests for more transparency.

In January, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which pressured Google to be the first tech giant to release its diversity report, urged Kalanick to reveal Uber’s demographic breakdown of employees, leadership, and new hires. Uber refused Jackson’s and the coalition’s request for 2015 data last year.

But following Fowler’s blog post, Uber might change course. Kalanick revealed in his memo to employees that the company’s number of female technical employees hasn’t budged.

“If you look across our engineering, product management, and scientist roles, 15.1% of employees are women and this has not changed substantively in the last year,” he wrote. “[Human resources head Liane Hornsey] and I will be working to publish a broader diversity report for the company in the coming months.”

But if Kalanick is dedicated to ridding the company of “injustices,” there’s a lot of material to work with.

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on February 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress. She writes about the intersection of technology, culture, civil liberties, and policy. In her past lives, Lauren wrote about health care, crime, and dabbled in politics. She is a native Washingtonian with a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Apple Store Employees Are Diverse, But Their Silicon Valley Co-Workers Lag Behind

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Lauren WilliamsApple is Silicon Valley’s most diverse tech giant. According to the company’s mint diversity and inclusion report released Wednesday, Apple has been able to significantly increase its number of female and minority employees since 2014.

Women make up 32 percent of Apple’s employees worldwide, up two points from 2014. Apple’s report also boasts that racial and ethnic minorities consisted of 54 percent of new hires in the United States since June 2015. But those boosts largely come from hires in Apple’s retail stores — not tech workers in Cupertino, California.

Racial and gender diversity in retail has jumped since 2014. Seventeen percent of Apple store employees are Hispanic or Latino and 12 percent are black — a 4 point and 2 point increase respectively. Asians have much lower representation in retail stores at 7 percent, but make up 27 percent of the company’s tech employees.

Apple diversity 2016

CREDIT: APPLE

The percentage of white employees is steady at 59 percent, which could indicate that even as Apple continued to grow its retail workforce, diversity was a priority in the hiring process. Women still only make up 32 percent of their retail employees, but that is a slight improvement over two years ago, when they were just 30 percent of their staff.

The retail industry is more inherently diverse than tech industry at large, and Apple’s numbers are on par with that: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold 31 percent of jobs in electronic stores, while blacks make up 14 percent, Asians represent 9 percent, and Hispanics hold 19 percent of those jobs. But Apple is also one of the only tech companies with any significant retail presence, meaning their overall diversity numbers benefit in ways that most other Silicon Valley giants do not. Apple employs more than 30,000 retail employees in the U.S., where the company has more than 250 stores, double the number of their next closest competitor Microsoft.

Apple diversity 2016

CREDIT: APPLE

On the tech side, gender diversity has improved by 3 percentage points since 2014, with 23 percent of tech jobs filled by women. The number of Asian workers has ticked up 4 points since 2014, with the number of blacks increasing 2 points. Hispanics in tech saw a marginal increase from 6 percent in 2014 to 7 percent in 2016.

The transformation of Apple’s workforce from a white, male dominated company to one that is more reflective of society as a whole is a slow process, but Apple’s report is heartening. CEO Tim Cook has been outspoken and proactive about the tech industry’s need for diversity of all kinds, including religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, some of the company’s most visible — and perhaps most laudable — improvements have been in its outward representation.

Apple has been more inclusive during their signature product launches, putting more women and people of color on stage during big events. Apple Music VP and head of global consumer marketing Bozoma Saint John was the highlight at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The native Ghanaian, who joined Apple in 2014, is the brain behind Apple Music’s hit 2015 Emmy awards commercial featuring black entertainers Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington casually singing and dancing to tunes.

Incremental changes, such as increasing recruitment from historically black colleges and universities, are noteworthy. But while Apple can’t change Silicon Valley’s make-up in a year, the company is working to change the face of the brand. Those changes will hopefully reverberate, not only within Apple’s tech sector, but the industry overall.

This post originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on August 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress. She writes about the intersection of technology, culture, civil liberties, and policy. In her past lives, Lauren wrote about health care, crime, and dabbled in politics. She is a native Washingtonian with a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

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