Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Google’ 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.

The Biggest Lie of 2010, And What We Can Learn From It

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerPolitifact, the fact-checking web site of the St. Petersburg Times, announced the biggest lie of 2010. But it doesn’t stop there, the NYTimes, FactCheck.org and a number of other experts agree with Politifact’s analysis.

The lie? That the government will be taking over health care.

I’ll leave it to Politifact to debate the “why.” I’m more interested in the “how” and what we can learn from this that will help us to survive today’s challenging workplace.

Repetition was probably the one factor that pushed this phrase to the top of the list. In 2010 alone, “government takeover” was mentioned 28 times in the Washington Post, 77 times in Politico and 79 times on CNN. Add to this countless times on a variety of congressional and activist web sites.

Beyond your beliefs about health care, and the politics surrounding, is one simple fact, views can be shaped by a message being said over, and over, and over again.

Which reminds me of a previous blog that I wrote about Google. Remember, Google is not an arbiter of what’s true or not true, it’s fancy algorithms only can tell you what’s popular.

If you’ve ever locked horns with a nemesis at work, you’ll learn this lesson painfully. When someone has a lot of anger and time, they can do a huge amount of mischief at work by simply repeating something over and over again.

Which is why when someone starts spreading a mistruth about you at work, you need to respond to it. Because what could seem outrageous to everyone today, can become a “health care takeover” juggernaut in just a matter of days.

Listen to the grapevine. And take out your pencil to try to erase the parts that aren’t true, while you still can.

I’d hope that most of you don’t take this as a strategy to get ahead, but rather as insight about the dynamics of how negative messages can resonate. And more importantly, how their damage can be limited.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Google and the Truth

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerRecently I had a chance to interview a former top executive for Google. She was wicked smart, insightful and clearly thought three or four steps ahead.

I kept grilling her about what the average person should know about online searches. We spent a lot of time on such topics as phrasing the searches correctly, a series of tricks you can use to make for a better search (for example putting quotation marks around the key words) and a variety of tools that Google has to help that most people don’t know anything about.

Then she dropped her bombshell. I was asking her what is the one thing that we don’t understand about Google searches. Okay, it was what I consider a fishing expedition question. An outrageously open ended question that 10% of the time generated an interesting insight, but far more often gave me a chance to catch my breath and think of anything else I needed to ask before the end of the interview.

Even though I heard her answer, I made her repeat it twice. Okay, I think that’s just about enough buildup.

“Google searches aren’t about the truth, they’re about what’s popular.”

Google has fancy algorithms that simply scour the web to see what is the most popular site in terms of the search that you requested. Most popular.

It’s as if your high school math teacher didn’t give you a positive grade for the correct answer to a problem, the highest grade went to whoever predicted what the rest of the class would pick for their answer.

Popularity contests work great for high school homecoming contests, political races and impulse purchases at the counter of a grocery store. But for our information based economy, betting our entire future on what’s popular is risky. Heck, it’s dangerous.

Google is clearly popular. The question for the rest of us is can the company consistently get it right?

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

What Makes a Job Great?

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

If you’ve paid attention to this blog, or the Workplace Fairness website, you know that we often have the job of sharing bad news, or the worst of what goes on in the American workplace. But what does it take to make a place a great one to work? With all of the bad news out there, we might be tempted to settle for just the absence of some of the worst legal violations and unfair practices. But there are some ways that employers can truly distinguish themselves, as acknowledged by some of the leading contests and recognition programs out there.

Around this time every year, Fortune Magazine names its list of 100 Best Companies to Work For (just in time for those starting their post-holiday job searches, perhaps?). The very best company selected, Google, didn’t even exist a decade ago, but has quickly developed a reputation as a great place to work — so much so that they receive 1300 resumes a day. It’s partially the perks: free meals with 150 feet of every desk, swimming spa, and free doctors onsite. And those are just the most noteworthy. But those who work there also say it’s the culture: “Life for Google employees at the Mountain View campus is like college. It feels like the brainiest university imaginable – one in which every kid can afford a sports car (though geeky hybrids are cooler here than hot rods).” (See Life Inside Google.)

It’ s certainly not the 9-5 hours: “Hours are long – typical for Silicon Valley – and it’s not unusual for engineers to be seen in the hallways at 3 a.m. debating some esoteric algorithmic conundrum.” (See Working in the Googleplex.) Google turns on its head the whole idea of work/life balance, in that those who get hired are often selected for their “diverse outside interests,” yet once they come to Google, they find “such a cozy place that it’s sometimes difficult for Google employees to leave the office” — which is precisely the point. (See Life Inside Google.)

A quality that Google and Genentech, the #2 best place to work, share, according to Genentech CEO and Google board member Art Levinson is, “the environment, one where they have an ability to pursue things largely on their own terms.” (See Life Inside Google.) So a sense of control over your own career destiny is certainly important as well. Let’s be honest, too — the stock options which have made many Google employees millionaires several times (or several hundred times) over don’t hurt either. There are some Google employees just waiting to vest, so many that they’re referred to “resting and vesting.” (See The Perks of Being a Googler.)

And having a good boss is important for most workers: a recent Florida State University study shows that nearly two of five bosses don’t keep their word, and more than a fourth of them bad-mouth workers they supervise to co-workers, creating problems for companies such as poor morale, less production and higher turnover. (See Orlando Sentinel article.) As the study author, Wayne Hochwarter, points out, “They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss.” (See FSU News.)

Our friends at Winning Workplaces have already found some of the best bosses out there, in their annual Best Bosses contest. Now they’re at it again, in a quest to honor some of the best small workplaces. Perhaps where you work will never be able to compete with the Googles and Genentech’s of the working world, but on a much smaller scale, you’ve got it pretty good. Then you’ll want to submit your nomination for consideration as one of Winning Workplace’s Top Small Businesses of 2007. You’ll need to hurry, though: the nomination deadline is January 31, 2007.

And in the meantime: if your job isn’t great, or your boss isn’t great — what will it take? Is there a role you can play in making the situation a better one? Or is it time to stop complaining and start looking? Comparing your job to either the best or the worst might be just what it takes.

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