Last week’s media buzz surrounding James Damore’s infamous “Google Memo” has already slipped quietly in to the background. #GoogleMemo isn’t trending anymore and we’ll soon forget who Damore was, if we ever really knew. This week brings new hashtags and the 24-hour news cycle continues.
In these tumultuous times, it is hard to discern who and what is right or wrong. Many well-meaning people are confused and have difficulty knowing how to act and react. I’ve waited till after the dust settled from the Google Memo before I commented because I didn’t want to add to the din, but present a clear solution for Business and Community leaders. This is what I hope I have presented here.
We as Americans, business leaders, corporations, communities, etc. pride ourselves on both our diversity and equality. In many ways, the words have become synonymous with one another. We have special groups and names for all the diverse people. We have laws and HR surveys, all designed to promote and encourage diversity and ensure no one is left out.
Yet, in this pursuit of perfect diversity, we have achieved the exact opposite. We have mistaken diversity for equality, and in doing so lost our ability to see the beauty of true individual diversity.
This is Jason Witten. He’s a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and is 6’ 5” and a solid 260+ lbs. Jason goes to my church so I’ve passed him in the hall a few times and can attest that a guy is absolutely massive in person.
This is Simone Biles. She’s an Olympic gold medalist and is 4’ 9” and barely 100lbs. I haven’t passed her in the hall, or perhaps I have and I just missed her because she’s so tiny.
The height difference between Jason and Simone is nearly 2’. The weight difference is a factor of 2.5x. There are both tremendous athletes and yet they are completely different.
Now suppose Mr. Jerry Jones decided that he wanted more “diversity” on his team (not talking about race, but physical makeup). It isn’t fair that people are different. He wants to ignore those differences and not talk about them. He wants to celebrate inclusion and fairness. Equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. So Mr. Jones calls up Simone and says “Look, Jason’s been great but we want to have some diversity so I want you to be our new tight end. I saw what you did in Rio and I know you’re going to be incredible here in Dallas.”
Now Simone is a real go getter and loves Texas so she says yes. Two minutes in to the regular season the entire nation is mourning the end of her athletic career after the first snap leaves her in physical rehab for two years.
Now we all know what went wrong and how ridiculous this example is. It is easy to see the difference in ability and how these two athletes are built for their respective sports but would do horribly if they swapped positions.
The issue we face in our organizations today is we do things that are just as ridiculous as swapping Simone Biles in for Jason Witten. Rather than viewing the individual and assessing their own skills, desires, abilities, and experiences, we force diversity and promote equality over individuality.
Don’t hear me wrong when I talk about equality. I am all for equality of opportunity. However, equality of opportunity does not equal equality of outcome. When we, as leaders, begin to focus on promoting equality of outcome for all our employees, we do them a disservice in not recognizing their individual diversity.
Albert Einstein is famously credited (albeit most likely wrongly) as saying:
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
This is often shared on LinkedIn and quoted by those who would like to appear wise, but it is often not followed in corporate settings.
James Damore’s memo went viral not because it was so well reasoned and written, but because it went contrary to our belief of what diversity means. To state that people have differences of abilities or desires based on their gender is absolute blasphemy in our PC culture. We readily recognize the difference between Witten and Biles but close our eyes to the possibility of physical and genetic differences that would give unfair advantage or tendency toward people in a corporate setting. We don’t want to acknowledge that some people and people groups are inherently better at certain tasks due to their genetic makeup.
The brilliance of Damore is that he became a proof of his own hypothesis. Tweet This. He set out to write about how Google’s echo chamber has devalued individual diversity in exchange for perceived value of group diversity. He predicted that Google will become a consequence of its own policy, weakening until the point of collapse due to their lack of true diversity. In Google’s pursuit of perfect “diversity”, they lost a great mind. If I were Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), not only would I have kept Damore, I would have made him my head of diversity for the company. In failing to recognize his talent, ability, insight, and courage, they lost a brilliant mind and weakened their organization.
America was founded on the concept that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”. These words, while 100% true (or, “self-evident”, as John Adam’s wisely suggested), are often misinterpreted. The truth is, all men are not created equal. Tweet This If that were the case, I should be playing tight end for the Dallas Cowboys right there with Mr. Witten. Instead, I’m 6’ and 185lbs and am happy when my squat is higher than my bench press (#dontskiplegday).
What all men (and women) are created equal in is their inherent worth in the eyes of their Creator God. Regardless of race, color, sex, intelligence, physical attributes, birth (pre or post), or anything else that we can see or measure, their soul is absolutely priceless. Each life is worth as much as the next. No exceptions. Because of this, all have rights. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit (equality of opportunity) of Happiness. When we lose sight of this truth of equality is when humanity goes to the dark places of racism, segregation, subjugation, slavery, and other evils.
So how do we balance the equality of the human soul with the inequality of human ability?Tweet This For this, we must go back to the (alleged) Einstein quote.
If we take a fish and decide that because of equality we are going to put it on land so that it can enjoy all terra firma has to offer, it will not only do miserably, but will quickly die. Poor little guy.
If we take an employee who is not suited for a certain task and decide that because of equality we are going to put them in that task so they can enjoy all the rewards it has to offer (say, the great careers available in the STEM fields), they will do miserably. It won’t be good for them, for the organization, or anyone else. In our desire for equality and diversity, we actually created suffering and inequality of outcome. No one was able to achieve happiness here.
James Damore, in his memo, made an observation that women, on average, have more:
“Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally
also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also
interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social
or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even
within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both
people and aesthetics.”
Damore cites this as a reason why there may not be as many women in coding. He does not say this is the case for all women, but that this is a tendency for women on average.
When dealing with social and organizational issues on a large scale it is easy to speak in generalizations and averages. “There aren’t enough women in STEM fields! We need to fix this! We need to get more women in and close the wage gap too!”. This is certainly well intentioned, but if we force equal numbers of women in to STEM with no regard for the general tendency toward more artistic fields, we will end up with a bunch of poorly performing and unhappy workers. The wage gap grows as women in that field don’t do as well as their male counterparts. Not because they are less, but because we’re trying to make fish climb trees. We fail to recognize the diversity of the individual and therefore weaken our organizations as a whole.
So what is the alternative? How do we encourage equality and harness the strength of individual diversity?
We must treat people as individuals. We must value true diversity. Not diversity for the sake of saying that we have an equal or even representative mix of people in our organization and in all fields. Yes, we should give equality of opportunity, but we need to focus more on a person’s inherent strengths, desires, and abilities. We need to develop our employees as individuals and encourage everyone to understand who they are. What is their own pursuit of happiness. We need to be ok that for many women that may be taking lower paying jobs in artistic fields while men continue to gravitate to STEM. It is only by encouraging and celebrating this that we’ll see the beauty and success of artistic intelligence.
Diversity matters. Diversity of the individual. Tweet ThisWe must value differences. Not by forcing equality everywhere, but celebrating the differences between races, cultures, men and women, upbringing, aspirations, personality type (Myers-Briggs), strengths (Gallup Strength Finder), and everything else that makes us human.
Individuals are unique and those differences must be recognized, encouraged and celebrated. This is where strength comes from. If you want to a weaken a society and control it (Communism, Socialism, Fascism, etc.), you generalize. You promote “equality” and the benefit of the State over the liberty of the individual. Ultimately this leads only to destruction, violence, and at worst, horrible crimes against humanity. While not as egregious, making the same mistakes in our corporations will lead to a weakened, discouraged, and unhappy workforce and organization.
We must never stop caring about diversity, but must reclaim the true meaning of the word and use it to lead, and lead well.