What Can Small Business Learn from the Google Manifesto
Earlier this week a Google engineer James Damore was terminated for penning an internal memorandum questioning the Google Dogma about diversity. Some have commented at length about the memorandum itself. Others have called it a “rant” or a “screed.” Pundits on the right and left have made much of the Google memo, which has become an epicenter of a culture war about diversity, misogynism, and women’s role in technology.
The upshot for Google is that it now reportedly faces a lawsuit from as many as sixty female employees who allege the Silicon Valley gem created a hostile workplace. This is in addition, of course, to a wrongful termination suit from Damore. I would also expect Damore to continue his literary endeavors by publishing a tell-all book about his experiences at Google. Plus the tech giant is the subject of negative press coverage and the butt of jokes over this whole scenario.
Let’s get real, companies don’t get much bigger than Google. It will survive this scandal. Small to mid-sized businesses don’t need these kind of headaches. So what can a small to mid-size company due to mitigate these types of problems?
Gender Skill Gap? Damore asserted that women on average are less suited than men for technical jobs. This caused much ballyhoo. Statisticians and neuroscientist have even weighed in on both sides of the argument. It may be an important issue at a societal level. But your small or midsize business probably does not have the time or resources to be a thought leader on advancing women in STEM. The good news is that shouldn’t have to be. Here’s why.
When you are hiring employees, you should not be looking to hire an average male or an average woman. You should be looking for the candidate that has the best skills, experience, and cultural fit for the position. It should be insulting to women to suggest that you have to lower the standard and hire women who are not as skilled or effective as their male counterparts. Let me give an analogy. I’m a marathon runner. I run very, very slowly. It may be true that men on average are faster than women. For instance, the fastest human in the world is Usain Bolt. But I am no Usain Bolt. Many women are faster than me, and many women are much, much faster than me.
The point is this. When you are hiring for one particular position, you are not comparing the relative skills of men worldwide versus women worldwide. You are comparing the skills of specific individuals. You do not have to solve the riddles of the Google Manifesto every time you hire an employee.
Gender Pay Gap? The gist of the Google memo was about the difference between male and female workers, rather than about the global gender gap in pay. However, many commentators have used this story to springboard to a broader conversation about the gender pay gap.
Small to mid-sized companies often are managed in a flat management style. With fewer resources, smaller companies may not have as formal compensation structures or a formal compensation committee. If they do have a compensation committee, I would highly recommend it that committee includes women or minorities so there is greater representation and transparency on that committee. If possible, I would also recommend the compensation and bonuses are tied to identifiable performance metrics. This is easier said than done in most fields.
Among commercial real estate brokers it is easy to calculate compensation based on closing deals. Performance is tied to specific events (i.e., closings). But measuring performance among coders, data processors or middle managers is more difficult and nuanced. Nevertheless, the more that compensation is tied to performance, the less prone an employer is claims of discrimination.
Set Internal Communications Standards. Damore’s notorious memo was circulated on an internal Google employee message board. Smaller companies may not have as elaborate message boards as Google. However, internal electronic communications are becoming ever more commonplace. Small businesses should learn from Google-gate and set parameters and policies to inform their employees what is acceptable and appropriate communications among co-workers.
For instance, employers should clearly inform employees that they are prohibited from any derogatory or disparaging remarks about other individual employees or classes of employees. This one is obvious.
Communicate Between Crises. Large organizations have entire department of internal communications. They regularly communicate about HR policies, company expectations, initiatives, community involvement and morale building. By contrast, small and mid-sized companies are so focused on day-to-day activity that they do not communicate to their employees as often as they should. The pressing nature of day-to-day operations often makes it difficult to communicate with employees except in moments of crisis. Regular communication from company management can help establish a culture and expectations for behaviors. It is also a constructive reminder of each employee’s role within the company.
Mentorships. Another way to establish culture and cultivate young talent is through formal mentoring programs. But let’s be real. Mentorship programs come with their own issues. If experienced women mentor young women, are the young women being relegated? Or, if older men mentor young women, does that create room for hanky panky and mischief? Mentorships can be useful, but they are no panacea.
Affinity Groups. Bigger companies build culture, promote positive communication, and encourage sensitivity to others through internal infinity groups. We recently wrote about Deloitte’s changes to its affinity group program. Deloitte’s affinity groups traditionally broke down along gender and racial lines. The unintended consequence was to segregate these groups, rather than foster dialogue among all employees. Deloitte is remodeling such groups as inclusion councils that will unite workers across gender and racial lines.
Small to mid-sized firms may not have as formal affinity groups. But there may be some lessons to learn here. Rather than encouraging employees to form factions based on gender or race, perhaps employee should be encouraged to form here groups and networked together across genders and racist.
Unwanted Advances and No Fraternization Policies. One of the responses to the Google memo is that too many female employees in the Silicon Valley face unwanted advances from their male co-workers. So maybe the right answer is through traditional hardline rule against any internal employee fraternization. This sounds logical. But do you really want to be in the business of policing whether or not your employees are dating or flirting? And are you willing to penalize both male and females for violating this rule? This is a sticky wicket.
Damage Control. I’m a little surprised that Google terminated Damore. This seems like an overreaction. Perhaps there is more backstory. But, if you are a small business and an employee has violated rules of conduct such as writing political manifestos that are not in line with your company’s policies and mission, consider other remedies short of termination. If an employee is shown a little grace, and is reprimanded or even suspended, he or she is less likely to file a lawsuit or run to the press to tell their story. Escalating to a termination may have negative consequences to an employer, so it should be a remedy of last resort.
The ownership or management teams of small to midsize companies have to understand the political and society pressures at play in their workforces. But, smaller companies simply do not have the resources to effect societal change. Instead, focus on doing the manageable. Do right by your own employees rather than taking on the problems of the whole world.
Photo credit: stockbroker 123rf.com
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