ll engineering is equal, but some forms of engineering are more equal than others. Social engineering, for example, as Google has reminded us. In August, an internal memo written by a Google employee named James Damore was leaked to media outlets. The memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” argued that the left-leaning ideological bias of the technology company, combined with misguided diversity initiatives and an authoritarian culture that punishes dissent, had created a workplace environment where “some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed,” including the reality of differences between the sexes.
For the left, the villain was all too familiar—an angry white dude whining about having to check his privilege. Damore’s work was universally characterized as a sexist, racist rant. Gizmodo falsely labeled it an “anti-diversity screed.” The memo fit easily into the left’s broader narrative of the tech world as a glorified frat house. Or, as Ian Bogost of the Atlantic hyperbolically put it, “all told, the business of computing is infiltrated with a fantasy of global power and wealth that naturally coheres to the entrenched power of men over generations.” Most critics didn’t bother to engage the memo’s argument on its merits—or even read it—because, they said, they already knew it had none. “To go through the emotional, and physical, labor of explaining the misguided memo would only be to validate it, and opens the door further for somebody else to raise the same ‘arguments’ later,” wrote Madison Malone Kircher in New York. “Women have more important work to do.”
Much of that work was evidently galvanizing Social Justice Twitter to call for Damore’s head, which Google promptly served up on a platter. As Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal: “We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves . . . . However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” NPR reported that some female Google employees refused to turn up for work the day after the memo was released because they felt “unsafe.”
Rather than use the controversy over the memo to engage in some company soul-searching, Google simply reaffirmed its corporate commitment to diversity without making even a pretense of engaging its employee’s complaints. Instead, Danielle Brown, Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance, declared in a smug memo, “Like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes, or encourages”—thereby inadvertently endorsing the charge in the memo’s title that Google is an ideological echo chamber.
Google’s actions are the logical conclusion of decades of human-resources mischief, aided and abetted by a corporate culture that prefers liberal platitudes about diversity to tough but honest conversations about their effectiveness. These HR departments, once the most risk-averse of any in corporate America, are increasingly embracing diversity initiatives at odds with the values of many of the employees who fill the cubicles of corporate America.
By doubling down on corporate diversity ideology, Google is making the same mistake countless university administrators have been making across the United States for the past few years: caving into social-justice histrionics even when the facts don’t align with claims of discrimination. Such appeasement never has an end, as colleges have learned all too well.
Google’s response also highlights the paradox that has always rested at the heart of diversity ideology. On the one hand, the argument goes, if there were no discrimination, women and minorities would be perfectly represented in every field proportionate to their numbers in the general population because there are no substantive differences between these groups and the white men who have long dominated certain fields (such as technology and engineering). At the same time, however, diversity ideology insists that women and minorities bring a special viewpoint and unique experiences to their work, and companies need this in order to thrive. In other words, they are especially valuable because they are different, and therefore favoring them in hiring is justifiable.
Damore said as much without explicitly attacking diversity ideology. In fact, he took pains to note on several occasions that he did not oppose diversity as a goal, just that he disagreed with the means Google was employing to pursue it. (The memo’s first sentence: “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”) Rather, he called the company’s corporate diversity initiatives “unfair, divisive, and bad for business.” As for Google’s left-leaning political bias, it’s been obvious for some time. Eric Schmidt, the head of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign during the last election, as John Podesta’s hacked emails revealed.
The Google memo fiasco comes at a time when the debate over “reverse racism” and diversity initiatives has reemerged with a vengeance. Consider the complaint that a coalition of 60 Asian-American groups filed with the civil-rights division of the Justice Department in 2015, alleging discrimination against Asians in admission to Harvard. The facts are stark. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “All else being equal, an Asian-American must score 140 points higher on the SAT than a white counterpart, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black applicant” to gain admission. And although the percentage of Asians in the population has increased significantly, their share as a percentage of the Harvard student body has remained suspiciously steady at about 20 percent for more than two decades.
Or simply look at the growing evidence for why diversity initiatives such as Google’s are not merely misguided, but unnecessary. Take gender, for example. Google is actually doing quite well at hiring women if you look at the qualified pool of women from which it can draw. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, in 2015, women earned 18 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer and information science. The percentage of women in tech jobs at Google? Around 20 percent.
The progressive narrative about white male privilege is primarily a matter of faith because the simple facts do not support it any longer. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, 2.2 million fewer men than women will enroll in college; by 2026, projections suggest that college students will be 56 percent female. In a recent story in the Atlantic about the lack of men in college, the education expert Jerlando Jackson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, noted that one of the reasons more wasn’t being done to encourage boys to go to college was that a lot of them were white and so not considered at a disadvantage. “It’s a tough discussion to have and a hard pill to swallow when you have to start the conversation with, ‘White males are not doing as well as one might historically think,’” he said. “We’re uncomfortable as a nation having a discussion that includes white males as a part of a group that is having limited success.”
At the very least, the facts should spark conversations about improving the ways we pursue diversity—looking further down the pipeline in elementary and high schools, for example, when many of the challenges that steer women or minorities away from computer science and engineering emerge. Honest diversity initiatives would also be open to tackling the astonishing lack of socioeconomic diversity in places like the Ivy League and in Silicon Valley, rather than focusing solely on race and sex.
If there is a silver lining to the Google debacle, it’s that the company’s behavior suggests the scaffolding on which diversity dogma hangs is teetering. Only in this context does it make sense that a company as powerful as Google felt the need for such a draconian response to one measly memo from one male employee. As one Google employee told Motherboard: “The fact that colleagues are calling for him to be fired—on very public forums—proves his point that there is an ideological silo and that dissenting opinions want to be silenced.… Why don’t they debate him on his argument? Because it’s easier to virtue signal by mentioning on a social network how angry and offended you are. Debate and discussion takes time.” So does the dismantling of a decades-old, dysfunctional, diversity-industrial complex. But that is an engineering problem worth solving.