Google employee’s manifesto raises questions over company’s diversity training

by Brett Henebery18 Aug 2017
Earlier this month, a Google engineer, James Damore, wrote a controversial “manifesto” about the company which has raised serious questions about the tech giant’s diversity training.

The 3,000-word memo included an assertion that women are less successful in finding tech jobs because of biological differences rather than skills.

Diversity training is provided by organisations seeking to build inclusive and respectful working environments for employees.

However, Damore – who has since been fired – says it was Google’s diversity training that led him to publish the memo.

Bill Proudman, co-founder and CEO of leadership development consulting firm, White Men As Full Diversity Partners, said Damore’s argument sounded familiar to opinions he’s heard from other white males.

He told Workforce Magazine that while diversity training is usually focused on the experiences of minority groups, one of the downsides is that it sets up white men to feel discriminated against.
“When the dominant or normative group sees inclusion, it’s about everybody else other than them,” Proudman said.

“When it gets hard, [white males] don’t know how to stay in it because they don’t understand their mutual self-interest. They don’t understand how they’re being impacted by inequity in the system.”
Proudman said often in order for white males to care about diversity and inclusion, they need to be shown directly how it affects them.

“They need to understand how inequality is impacting how they assess talent, how they promote people and how they give performance feedback, so they really can hire and promote the best talent rather than the talent that is most comfortable  which becomes a huge win for them on a personal level,” Proudman said.

As Damore asserted in his memo, white males often come out of diversity trainings feeling like they are personally responsible for inequity or that they shouldn’t say anything about race or gender – and that’s a problem, Proudman said.

“Straight white men have to be brought into this inclusion work in a very different way than they have been historically,” he said.

According to research, organisations shouldn’t be so quick to use diversity training to shed employees’ biases.

A report by Harvard Business Review found that diversity training programs can actually have the opposite effect of what they intend.

“It turns out that while employees are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers,” the report stated.

In fact, the positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.

Another study, by the University of Buffalo’s (UB) School of Management, found that diversity training programs are not effective at changing attitudes and behaviours towards diverse groups in the workplace.

Despite this, nearly half of midsize companies use it, as do nearly all the Fortune 500.

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Do colleges need mandatory gender diversity training?