By: Imogen Rose-Smith
Despite spending many millions of dollars on training and seeking to improve its corporate culture, most tech companies still struggle with the issue of diversity. Those who do include Google parent Alphabet. Last month, NBC News ran a story saying that Mountain View, California based search engine Google “drastically rolled back” some diversity and inclusion programs. Citing interviews with current and former employees, NBC’s April Glaser reported that:
Since 2018, internal diversity and inclusion training programs have been scaled back or cut entirely, four Google employees and two people who recently left the company told NBC News in interviews. In addition, they said, the team responsible for those programs has been reduced in size, and positions previously held by full-time employees have been outsourced or not refilled after members of the diversity teams left the company.
One well-liked diversity training program at Google called Sojourn, a comprehensive racial justice program created for employees to learn about implicit bias and how to navigate conversations about race and inequality, was cut entirely, according to seven former and current employees. Sojourn offered its last training to Google workers in 2018, four current employees said, and by 2019 it was cut completely.
Glaser said that many employees believed that the reason for cutting back on these programs, especially the Sojourn initiative ,was to “shield” the company from conservative allegations that it is too liberal. Glaser quoted one anonymous Google employee as saying “One of the major motivations for cutting Sojourn is that the company doesn’t want to be seen as anti-conservative,”[…]“It does not want to invite lawsuits or claims by right-wing white employees about Google discriminating against them.”
Ten Congressional Democrats, led by Illinois Representative Robin Kelly publicly responded to the MSNBC news story. Writing a letterto Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai “expressing concerns over reports that Google has purposefully scaled back elements of diversity and inclusion programs at the company.” (Pichai has denied that the company has cut back on diversity initiatives.)
This inquiry from the House Majority Party, which included a series of questions concerning Google’s diversity initiatives, was enough for the Wall Street Journal editorial board to come out swinging. The op-ed criticized democrats DNC for spending time on this issue in the midst of a global pandemic, before devoting more ink to the topic. Writing:
It’s no secret that many Silicon Valley companies have become liberal hothouses, and this episode illustrates how activist employees can enforce political orthodoxy. Overtly political programs are created even if they are outside the scope of the company’s mission. Changes prompt leaks, hostile coverage and new Congressional demands. Management may decide in the future that it’s best, as a matter of political protection, to let its diversity apparatus continue to grow.
The WSJ argues that the “culture wars” of university campuses have spread to Silicon Valley, with, they suggest, dangerous implications for the future of tech.
Diversity and inclusion programs have their problems, and their detractors. But to frame a push for more inclusive companies in what should be among the most innovative sector of the economy is to miss the bigger, and much more important, picture. Which is that companies should strive for greater diversity and inclusion not because it is ethically the right thing to do – although it is, and that should be reason enough – but because it is good for business. Studies show that mover diverse teams are more innovative, and better at tackling hard problems. Precisely the attributes that companies like Google desperately need.