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.
Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.
The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.
Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.
It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.
It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.
Rewarded for Luck
A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:
There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.
And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading