Can Google bridge the gender gap?

13 Aug 2017, 09:26

Google's new VP of Diversity, Danielle Brown, was faced with responding to the controversial memo just a few weeks into her new job. Photo: Collected

In the growing furore that followed Google’s decision this week to fire James Damore, questions have been raised about whether the Silicon Valley giant was right to dismiss him. Among other assertions, the sacked engineer's memo suggested that gender representation discrepancies in his industry may be at least partly down to biology, reports BBC.

In an email on Monday, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai described Damore’s comments as ‘offensive and not OK,’ but stated that much of the content within the memo was fair to debate.

BBC Capital asked six experts to weigh in on the best potential solutions for improving diversity within large tech companies, how to discuss policies internally, and what they would do if placed in Google’s shoes this week.

Solat Chaudhry, CEO of the National Centre for Diversity in the UK

‘They [Google] moved too quickly. I don’t think I would’ve sacked him. You create a siege mentality. In the long term, I think what will happen is people will go underground. If you have these opinions you will find people that are like-minded who will have secret discussions.

‘It should have been taken through the normal process – people should’ve talked to him and found out why he has these views. It is not helping the debate.

‘Google is a large player with the power to buy anything – but one of the things it cannot guarantee is diversity – that has to be done over a period of time.’

Charlotte Sweeney OBE, author of Inclusive Leadership and Diversity

‘Get employees talking about the issues they see in their part of the business and discuss how to tackle them – senior leaders don’t have all the answers, they need insights from across the business and from across all levels of the hierarchy.

‘By creating a workplace where people can be themselves, feel valued for their contribution and can get on, you’ll then have a great basis to increase the level of diversity across the firm. 

‘Start a conversation. Be open and transparent and get a conversation going – enable people to disagree, allow controversy and different opinions. After all, isn’t that what diversity is about?’

Stephen Frost, founder of diversity consultancy Frost Included

‘Google has to kick-start [the] supply of talent from different sectors of people. Tech only recruits within tech – so a quicker way is to break into talent from different sectors where there are different cultures.

People have got to be wanted, and if you are a minority, you have got to have more assurance that you are wanted. You need people to say: you really are wanted, we need you.

I wouldn’t want to solve the furore, because I think it is an important conversation to have. The fact is, he probably speaks for a lot of people and it’s better to have that on the table.’

Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, co-founder of education social enterprise Stemettes

‘It is a culture change needed. Google needs to have a culture that allows people to hear different sides and understand different perspectives of people they work with, but also punishes negative behaviour.

‘At the moment [it’s] almost like everyone is a bystander. If managers provide an example of how to work, people think it is okay.’

Frank Douglas, chief executive at executive development firm Caerus Executive

‘Google bosses need to engage on a personal level with their underrepresented staff and not outsource it to the 'diversity function.' They must work together.

‘The key lesson from this is that free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Companies will have to be more explicit in what is the red line that cannot be crossed when it comes to expressing viewpoints in a corporate environment.’