Do you think that people of different races are born equal? What about people of different genders?
I’m asking this because we’ve been talking a lot about equality lately, especially in the wake of the Google fiasco — you know, where that engineer was fired for writing a manifesto about gender roles. He said that women are biologically less suited for tech roles, and as a result, some of Google’s gender diversity efforts are misguided.
Except, he’s misguided. But not for the reasons you might think.
To understand why he’s wrong, it’s important to ask a larger question: What do we mean when we talk about equality? What should we mean?
Separating Wrong From Reich
To find out, everybody, hop on the bus! We’re going to take a road trip, y’all! We’re heading to Charlottesville, where I’m going to say something that only a “fine person” from Charlottesville would say: Black people are biologically dumber than white people. The most classically racist line there is, right?
Now, as a decent human being, your immediate reaction is probably to argue that there’s no real proof of this. Just like in the Google case, people reacted with the most common defense that there’s no scientific evidence to back up the guy’s gender claims.
And from a workplace perspective, you tend to refute these claims because oh-mi-god! If people think they’re valid, then what might that say about the perception or the validity of diversity programs themselves.
Stop! Don’t do any of this. Do not fall into that trap of addressing biological facts or “facts” about race and gender as a means to uphold diversity and equality. Because that doesn’t actually make sense.
What If It’s True?
To see why, pretend the claims are true. Imagine a world in which black people really are inherently dumber than white people. Imagine that women really are intrinsically less suited for certain professional roles. OK, now what?
Well, for starters, it would mean that biologically, we wouldn’t have racial or gender equality. In both cases, in some ways, one group would be superior to another. OK, and? Would this mean that hospitals should stop recruiting black people to be doctors? Would it mean that Google really should end diversity efforts to support women in tech?
After all, if groups of people are not inherently equal, then why should you or I or any company pretend otherwise? Why should there be diversity programs built upon a myth of equality?
Yeah, About That Myth…
I’m going to tell you why, and I don’t need to a hypothetical to do it. Because in reality, people are NOT born equal. We talk about equality as if it’s a fact. It’s not. Equality is a lie.
Regardless of whether groups of people are biologically equal, it is certainly true that as individuals, we are not. Our genes differentiate us. So of course we all know black people who are smarter than white people. We have the current and former U.S. Presidents to prove that!
What all this means is that there is no single quality that we all share that makes us equal. Not through nature or nurture. Not intelligence, not strength, nothing.
As my favorite philosopher Peter Singer said — and much of my views here are based on his: “The principle of equality is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans; it is a prescription of how we should treat human beings.” Pretty profound, right?
Equality Is Not a Description — It’s a Prescription
Equality is also a creed that we extend not to groups of people but to individuals. And we do this not because of our similarities but despite them. The science is irrelevant.
So when someone argues that people aren’t equal — again, by nature or nurture — you tell that person that none of that matters. The only thing that matters is equal consideration of individual interests.
And when someone uses a misperception of equality to say that diversity programs are wrong, you say, Are you kidding me? Diversity isn’t about descriptions of equality. It’s about prescriptions for equality of opportunity.
And when someone still insists on using stereotypes — accurate or otherwise — to deny individuals the right to advance personally and professionally, you say, Dude, I will vote you out of office in three years.
As if you haven’t read enough opinions about the fiasco that a Google software engineer sparked with his memo about diversity, I’m about to offer viewpoint #67,945 on the matter. Here goes:
It was not what the guy said that offended people. It was that he had the balls to say it. I mean that literally. It was because he was a man.
Before I explain what I mean, here’s a brief recap of what went down. Googler James Damore recently penned an internal memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he posited biology’s role in explaining why women are underrepresented in tech.
“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” Damore wrote, citing numerous stereotypes, assumptions, and opinions explaining that chicks don’t want jobs they aren’t inherently good at. (Just stick to nursing and teaching kindergarten, ladies.)
People got offended by what they perceived as sexist remarks. Not offended enough to vote for Damore for President of the United States, but just enough for Google to fire him. The company’s diversity chief, Danielle Brown, explained that Damore’s opinion is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
Or even discusses, apparently. Continue reading
Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?
This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.
Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.
Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.
As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:
- I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
- I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
- I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
- I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
- I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
- I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
- I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
- I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
- I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
- I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
- I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.
I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals. Continue reading
I came to America in 1979. That I am an immigrant is common knowledge among friends, acquaintances, and anyone who’s sat on my schmata-covered couch (it’s not plastic, OK?). But many people do not realize that I am also a refugee.
My family fled the Soviet Union about 37 years ago so that we could buy quality toilet paper at Walgreens. That, and something about an oppressive regime. I’m too young to remember growing up under authoritarianism (though I’m getting a bit of a real-life lesson now), but my mom tells me that life pretty much sucked.
I think nothing of my neighbor overhearing Britney Spears blaring from my apartment, but when my mom was young, her family used to listen to BBC Radio at home at barely audible levels. They did this in spite and because of the fear that neighbors might discover and report the illegal act, ensuring shipment to a camp (not the summer kind), or worse.
Like most Russians, my mom wasn’t allowed to say anything she wanted, live anywhere she wanted, or work anywhere she wanted. But hey, at least she could vote. The choice was always Candidate A or Not Candidate A. Not Candidate A consistently lost by a landslide.
There were also economic problems. You know, Jews. Many Russians understood the obvious: Money-hungry, cheap Jews were manipulating the ruble. Actually, you could trace pretty much everything wrong with the country back to the Jews. Forced to queue for toilet paper, bread, or whatever surprise staple awaited you (if there was a line, you got on it)? Blame a Jew. Lost a job? Blame a Jew. Stuck in traffic? Blame a Jew. Bad hair day? That’s on you, but take it out on Ilya Cohenbergman anyway because you know he’s doing something to ruin your life. Continue reading
I recently read an article in which AT&T Chief Diversity Officer Cynthia Marshall said, “It makes good business sense to have an employee base that looks like our customer base.” I suspect most of her peers agree. Her statement is exactly what you’d expect a diversity and inclusion leader to say. It’s about as controversial as what I ate for breakfast. Probably because it intuitively makes sense.
It made sense to Pepsi. Years ago, the company realized that women and minorities drink soda, so it launched a major campaign requiring that half of all new hires be women and minorities. Business improved.
Causation? Correlation? Does it matter? No corporation will claim that its diversity efforts aren’t valuable. Neither will any argue that hiring for diversity actually hurts business—nor am I insinuating that it does.
But here’s the problem: If what Marshall and other leaders say is true—that your workers should reflect your customers in order for your business to thrive—then they create a twisted paradox that scrapes at the core of diversity and inclusion. What if most of your customers are women? Or black? Continue reading
I’ve always thought of myself as contrarian. Generally, I think this is a good trait—but the contrarian in me has me wondering otherwise.
Actually, Leah Clark has me wondering. Leah is an executive coach at Blessing White, a leadership and employee-engagement consultancy. A while back, she and I had an interesting conversation during which Leah asked: Would you rather be labeled contrarian or critical?
I’ve been thinking about her question ever since. After all, if I’m going to slap a sticker on myself, I better make sure it’s the right one.
The Madonna of HR
A common definition is that a contrarian is someone who habitually opposes accepted policies, opinions, or practices. That’s me—but that’s only because there are so many policies, opinions, and practices that are messed up.
Another definition explains that a contrarian accepts nothing that anyone says—that is, a person who takes the opposite opinion for the sake of it. Is that me? I like to think that when I take an alternate position, it’s because I believe what I believe.
I’m also self-aware enough to know when I’m lying to myself. The truth is that I sometimes argue different viewpoints because I enjoy screwing with the status quo. That’s why they call me the Madonna of HR, and by “they,” I obviously mean no one.
If contrarianism can sometimes seem self-indulgent, it is. But is it a bad attribute? Continue reading