Lessons from the Google memo: why working together is critical

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You’ve likely seen in the news this week that Google has been under heat after an employee, James Damore, penned a 10-page anti-diversity memo that went viral internally. Unsurprisingly, it caused major backlash among staff at Google and in the tech industry as a whole. Since its release, Google has now made the decision to fire Damore, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai put out his own public note in response to the crisis.

Within this, Pichai said something that resonated with me. He said, “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive’, showing ‘lower stress tolerance’ or being ‘neurotic’.”

This speaks waves about how important diversity at work really is. The more genuine difference you have around you, the more likely you are to consider new frames of reference and ideas. This not only broadens your own mindset, but can help prevent stagnation in creativity at work caused by the ‘echo chamber’, where we pay most attention to views similar to our own.

Here’s another way to think about it: if you have a discussion with someone who has a similar background or perspective to your own, you can go a long way, and reach many conclusions, without having to really justify or explain your rationale. Both of you have the same inherent attitudes, you trust each other’s assumptions. Conversely, if you’re in a meeting with people from a very different outlook or ethos, you need to work harder to make your case, and you may need to defend or re-think certain assumptions, putting a lot more effort into how you form your position. That’s why we make better decisions where we mix up the room with more variety – be that through gender, ethnicity, social background, and so on. We have to consider more viewpoints and work harder to reach a consensus.

Pichai makes a point in his note about reaching out to those with different perspectives than your own, and this – to me – is so important, and a key reason I started Rungway. The platform deliberately matches people into one-to-one conversations outside their usual circle and mindset for advice and help. Interestingly, a lot of the interactions we see do negate the claims made by Damore’s memo.

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As many reacted upon reading the original memo, claims that ‘women are more anxious’ or ‘men seek more status’, are far too simplistic. Through Rungway, we see both women and men seeking advice on career issues, and both genders giving advice too. Questions range from tackling company and career problems, to personal challenges around wellness and emotion. We also see Generation X and Baby Boomers asking as many questions around career advancement as their Millennial counterparts.

The point is, every workforce is made up of individuals with different values, and whether they prioritise status, money, mission-driven work or work-life balance depends on so much more than gender. Clearly, not every Googler shares the view of Damore. A recent Invisibilia podcast, for instance, examined one engineer who realised he was too enclosed in his Silicon Valley ‘bubble’ and so created an app that showed nearby open Facebook events for him to attend and learn about people outside his circle.

We’re all different. Generalising misses the point. It’s time we help and learn together. Through harnessing what makes us unique, our businesses and our people will thrive. 

Originally published on CityAM