Why James Damore should not be a surprise

by | Aug 19, 2017

Every company has a James Damore

The D & I world reeled last week when a Google employee James Damore went on an anti-diversity rant - but isn't he just the tip of the iceberg?

James Damore seems to have taken not just Google but the world by storm in his paper “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.  I didn't get a lot of things about the whole debacle  - mainly his motivation. What was he thinking? But also why were we all so surprised? The memo, more of  missive really, has been analysed from every conceivable angle, ad nauseam. Was the firing decision correct? Has the diversity initiative been damaged? How to move on, the validity of his so-called research and whether this reflects a misguided result of affirmative action for women and minorities etc. But the tone of all discussions has been rooted in genuine disbelief. That was what surprised me. Given the recent exposés of sexism in the tech industry should the incident be that shocking? Isn't this par for the course and don't we know that James Damore is just the tip of the iceberg?

Read: The angry white male is not who you think

Tip of the iceberg

James Damore

James Damore

Damore was fired within days, although it was made clear the decision was not taken without debate.CEO, Sundar Pichai explained in an internal memo that Damore had violated the Google Code of Conduct.

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,”

Senior women within Google and elsewhere in the Tech sector responded robustly. Damore himself claims to have had support for his “conservative" ideologies within Google which include a number of generalizations and factual inaccuracies.

Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, (our italics) which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

The message is that there are other Google employees who support him and that there is a Googler iceberg lurking below the diversity surface.

Read: Why women suffer from gender burnout

James Damore is everywhere

Because there is no doubt that there are James Damore clones in every company. Some are less vocal perhaps because the dominant culture is male-coded, so they don’t have to be outspoken. Many are less articulate. Others are less arrogant and make an immediate connection between action and consequences. Yet more are less well-informed and make no claim at all to support gender balance even in theory. Some are more empathetic and get that suggesting that a high percentage of your colleagues are lowering the workplace bar because they have been hired for gender or ethnic reasons, wouldn't go down well.  They know well that by doing so it immediately catapults you into the category of "Major HR Problem."  James Damore despite his research was not familiar with the concept of the "gender dividend" and for some reason believes conservatives are more conscientious.  I would love to see any research on conscientiousness having an intrinsic political leaning.

Daily sexism

But the reality is that women are dealing with this kind sexism and bias on a daily basis. It is unremitting and corrosive. It can be overt and intended, or sometimes a result of unconscious bias. At the extreme end it moves into harassment and discrimination. Most women (80%) have dealt with some sort of "micro-aggression" in the workplace. It can be a certain type of look or snigger, a joke, a put-down, being interrupted, asked to make coffee, being sidelined on a project or stereotyped expectations because women have kids or asked illegal questions in interviews. I have been in a workshop of 45 men and 8 women and a man genuinely believed the group was gender balanced. Really. That is a true story. The observation was shared with no ill intent. That was his perception and reality.

This is a relentless part of every day life for working women and something that a James Damore of the world can't get his head around. As Dr. Wanda Pratt said in her excellent post "why women can't just get over it."

People need to ‘get over’ their assumption that all is well for women today.

Diversity isn't pie

If there wasn't such resistance to diversity, which is a fear based response, women would have made greater progress. But as that wonderful line about successful gender balance and equal rights suggests, it is not like pie. If one group gets more, that doesn't mean that another gets less.  If diversity means that organisations are more successful, then surely everyone is better off.


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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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