The 3 Biggest Mistakes Google Made – by a Current Googler
I’m a Google employee who has taken the manifesto situation to heart. Not because I agree or disagree with the position James took (that will be part II), but due to the way Google has handled and responded to it. I’m not going to evaluate the substance of the manifesto, but I will evaluate the actions taken by Google. I believe James was well-aware of the potential consequences (including termination) by publishing the manifesto using Google collateral versus a neutral platform (e.g. Facebook or blog). I say this because I believe James took a calculated risk, and I’m not sure if he got the outcome he wanted or not.
I started this blog to tell my story about always dreaming of being a millionaire; realizing that dream at 29 years old and still feeling as broke as I did when I graduated at 22 years old making $24k a year with $10k in savings (hence the name of the blog). I planned on my first blog post being around financial freedom, creating wealth, spending habits, demystifying retirement, making your first million before 30, making your third million before 35 but I feel compelled to address the situation. For some reason, I feel it’s my duty to provide a Googler's POV. What qualifies me to write about this topic you ask? To start with, I’m a Google insider. I live, breathe and spend a majority of my day in Googles culture (so I get it). I’m not an organic Googler, in that I came from another industry so I’m open-minded and not someone who has been drinking the kool-aid since graduation. Let’s cover the 3 biggest mistakes Google made in the last 72 hours:
1. Not Walking the Walk
If you’re going to preach an open culture that promotes diversity, you have to accept diverse opinions that are presented in a respectful, thoughtful, open and non-aggressive manner. You can’t send out Leadership memos that promote diversity, and then only accept diversity that aligns with what Google deems acceptable. Starting off an email with: “First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it" doesn’t give you a right to be the judge and jury on what can and cannot be safely expressed. It gives you the power but not the right. This is why you're seeing #MarchOnGoogle.
Google should have used this situation as an example of practicing tolerance and grace during a time of such divide. Bring James in and go over his 10-page manifesto in order to truly understand his position. Then determine if his position on the topic is termination worthy and a violation of our Code of Conduct. Did the memo offend Googler's, Yes. Does offending someone = termination or discussion? I’ve spoken to dozens of Googlers about this and it’s split 50/50 on whether or not James should have been fired. Notice what I said, 50/50 on whether he should have been fired, not whether or not they agree with the content of his manifesto. I was happy to find this article right before I published this post to support my findings that Googlers are split. By firing James, Google sent a loud and clear message: if you don’t agree with Google’s opinion then you’ll be fired if you ever decided to express yourself. Google has officially established themselves as a far left political organization versus wanting to organize the world's information, making it universally accessible and useful. Please remember: Don’t be evil.
2. The Double Standard - Leadership's Bias
The second biggest mistake that Google leadership made was their double standard, in that they are also exposing their own biases. Danielle Brown, our new of VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, introduced herself to Google with her first “Hi, my name is ___________” email by addressing the manifesto. Side note: I can relate with Danielle given my first blog post has also been hijacked by manifestogate. Does that make me VP worthy? Maybe! Ha, I digress. I think Danielle’s email was safe and well-balanced. In part, because I don’t think James’ fate was determined when she sent her note. Danielle was walking the line on this, and I can’t blame her. My issue is with our CEO, Sundar Pichai. At the surface, James’ manifesto offended women by making statements like:
“Women, on average, have more: Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”
Understandably, this pissed of a number of female Googlers, and Leadership felt they had to intervene and support the women at Google. In Sundar’s memo, he quoted our Code of Conduct, and said:
“We expect each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”
Leadership determined that James’ memo violated our Code of Conduct resulting in termination. Sundar continued with: “The memo has clearly impacted Googlers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being “agreeable” rather than “assertive,” showing a “lower stress tolerance,” or being “neurotic.”
The message from our CEO is, biases have no place at Google. Yet Sundar presented a HUGE BIAS while writing his memo. Notice Sundar was careful to not take a gender position here, but only mentions and defends points that would have offended women at Google. To be clear, his focus was to only protect and defend females at Google. What about the non-engineer, passive, introvert male that felt emasculated by James’ manifesto? Let’s call him Joe. Joe read the memo and realized that he doesn’t possess any of the male characteristics that James identified. Joe now doesn’t feel like a “Man,” he feels emasculated and inferior when he compares himself to Male Googlers that are Engineers or in Leadership positions. Sundar didn’t mention Joe’s feelings - no one came to defend Joe. Sundar was blinded by his own bias when writing his memo by trying to be the Knight to save the damsel in distress. Don’t mind Joe, he can handle it because men just need to suck it up…right?
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki's response confirmed the focus is only around women. This is further evidence that our Leaders continue to talk about not having a bias, and they themselves are showing a bias by choosing to defend and protect only women who might have been offended by the manifesto. To be very clear: I’m not asking for equal protection or defense, I believe that women deserve the majority of attention here but please just mention that fact that the manifesto also hurt males who don’t feel they possess the male characteristics the manifesto called out in statements like this:
“Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.”
Male Googlers who don’t judge themselves based on status, are not in higher paying positions, would shy away from high stress jobs, and who would never put themselves in a dangerous job now feel emasculated. Why is Leadership not protecting or defending this group? You know why? Because Leadership as an implicit bias and they don’t even know it.
Dear, Sundar and Janet - before you fire someone for having a bias please have a look in the mirror right before you hit send. Courage is to be truly open to diversity and not just Google’s definition.
3. Psychological safety is dead and Google killed it
The third biggest mistake that Google leadership made was that they killed psychological safety. Google kicked off a management/culture project back in the day called Project Oxygen. By 2012, it was widely adopted and showed that the best performing managers were the ones who were the most aligned with Project Oxygen. Not long after, Google kicked off another project to determine what makes a team successful. The biggest/most important factor in both studies was psychological safety. Now, psychological safety is a very powerful phrase at Google. If it ever comes up in conversation, everyone perks up like a prairie dog because someone just went nuclear and dropped the PS bomb! Did you hear that Bobby dropped the “I don’t feel psychologically safe bomb” and now HR and his manager are all over it? For those not in Tech, Psychological Safety is can be summarized as follows: You feel comfortable that you can offer up an opinion or ask a question within a group/team and you don’t feel you’re at risk of being judged or attacked for presenting your thoughts. Well Google, you just killed psychological safety for a large group of Googlers by firing someone for expressing an opinion that at least half would agree was not a fireable offense. Want evidence: our message board for today's canceled Google meeting had an enormous amount of "anonymous" questions/comments about not feeling safe. A majority were conservative Googlers who have been in hiding ever since they joined the company, with a number of other anonymous comments who supported the firing. Anonymous postings = not feeling safe. To add, Googlers were asking for explanation for why people were casting down-votes to questions that were linking the manifesto to race more than gender. Almost like Googlers were trying to smoke out closet racist. Looks like our utopia of free lunches, coffee bar, gyms and massages finally got a dose of the real world.
We can debate if you agree or not with the content but to fire someone sends a strong signal. The conservative minority will be silent, or anonymous, for a long time at Google. Based on how Google handled this, I’m not sure we’ll ever see a Jerry McGuire moment like this again at the Googs…#notsafe.
Bonus: James sent out his manifesto July 2017. Danielle Brown sent her email to all of Google on August 5th, 2017. Sundar sent him Memo on August 7th 2017 and Google updated their Code of Conduct on August 7th 2017. Sneaky…sneaky Google! It’s not like we’ve ever been busted for being shady. My biggest gripe with the content of the manifesto is the weak suggestions. James and Google missed the most important way to solve this problem. More to come next week!