The media misled readers about the Google memo

On Saturday Gizmodo published a story titled, “Exclusive: Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google.” Other news outlets quickly followed Gizmodo’s lead:

  • Fox News: Google employee’s anti-diversity manifesto prompts torrent of responses, sparks wider debate
  • CNN: Storm at Google over engineer’s anti-diversity manifesto
  • NBC: Google Employee’s Anti-Diversity Manifesto on Women’s ‘Neuroticism’ Goes Viral
  • Reuters: Google employee’s anti-diversity memo prompts company rebuke

There’s just one problem with all of these headlines (and many more like them). The memo wasn’t “anti-diversity” it was expressing opposition to the approach Google was taking to achieve diversity. From the Atlantic:

As many who read past the headlines would later observe, its author, who was later fired, began, “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.”

The balance of his memo argues that he is not against pursuing greater gender diversity at Google; he says it is against the current means Google is using to pursue that end and the way the company conceives of tradeoffs between the good of diversity and other goods…

Perhaps the author’s approach would lead to less gender diversity at the company if it were adopted. To shorthand his position as “anti-diversity” before the fact is still misleading.

All of this ought to be something reasonable people can discuss, especially given how far Google is from anything approaching gender parity in its core business. From Google’s own diversity site, here is the current distribution of men and women in tech jobs:

Google’s tech employees are 80% male and 20% female. The site notes that is a 1% improvement over last year. There’s obviously something significant driving this glaring disparity. The memo suggests not all of that difference is socially-constructed.

The author of the memo may be wrong in many particulars. He may even be wrong on the general thrust of his argument about what drives gender differences in tech fields. What he was certainly not wrong about is his claim that there is an echo-chamber mentality about this issue at Google which prevents it from being openly discussed for fear of retribution. He wrote:

Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

Now that he’s been swiftly fired I guess we can conclude he was on to something. Still, Google is a very successful company so, one might argue, it is an insular monoculture that seems to be working (albeit by badly failing to meet it’s own gender equity goals).

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the national media whose job is not to be an insular monoculture but something closer to a free market of ideas or at least a place where ideas are taken seriously enough to represent them accurately. From the Atlantic:

Every prominent instance of journalism that proceeds with less than normal rigor when the subject touches on social justice feeds a growing national impulse to dismiss everything published about these subjects—even important, rigorous, accurate articles. Large swathes of the public now believe the mainstream media is more concerned with stigmatizing wrong-think and being politically correct than being accurate.

The fact that this memo was instantly declared anti-diversity is another example of the media taking shortcuts which just happen to line up with their own, often unacknowledged, institutional biases.

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