End Stage Diversity

Hand-wringing Over Google’s Employee Demographic

Google announced its employee demographics. Suddenly the hand-wringing began over the arguable lack of diversity at the technology giant. Diversity&Inclusion (D&I) professionals are paying attention…now. The clichés and aphorisms abound, extolling the virtues of the ostensible business case for diversity. But they ring hollow as the disappointed and disillusioned Diversity Professionals take aim at Google and its leadership, any illusion of inclusion at Google shattered.

Back in April of 2010, a study was released by global consulting firm AchieveGlobal. More than half of U.S. leaders ranked diversity as the least important leadership principle. The study, “Developing the 21st-Century Leader” identified what makes leaders effective in new global markets. Diversity as a leadership principle didn’t show up on the senior management respondent radar at all, but was later grafted on to the short list by the researchers. Even at that, Diversity placed dead last.

The Google announcement, forthright as it is, represents the very essence of the AchieveGlobal research findings of several years ago. Diversity was and appears to remain the least important management principle for 21st Century leadership, if Google is any indication.

While it’s a lovely thought that businesses cannot grow or thrive without “diversity,” that contention flies in the face of everything we’ve seen in the last 150 years, right up to and including the rise of Google. Silicon Valley in like manner became the leading center of technology and related wealth on the planet in just a few decades, sans racial diversity in particular, but other types as well. The launch and phenomenal growth of Google made multimillionaires of stock/stakeholders who by all indications weren’t demanding “diversity” at all as the shares soared from $80 at the IPO in 2004 to its opening at $560.80 this week. Could there be a “business case” for diversity that Google’s board, stock/stakeholders are going to bite on anytime soon, given those numbers?

The most unfortunate and inconvenient fact for the Diversity industry is that yet another multibillion dollar global organization has grown in the span of little more than a decade at the hands of an incredibly innovative leadership team, all without a focus on “differences,” mirroring the modus operandi of its cohort in Silicon Valley.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Google’s strategic preemptive information release likely means they were already prepared to bolt on some form of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) component to the global hiring machine, but hardly to bolster a sagging stock price or sluggish market performance.

Given the standard formula for traditional “Diversity” programs, Google could choose to hire a D&I Consultant or two. It will then begin the long, slow, well-publicized journey to demographic nowhere typical for the corporate sector – unless Google, known for its disdain for being associated with failure, and its farsighted approach to all things innovative, decides to take a different route.

As far back as the early 1990s research indicated the inevitable failure of the then 25+ year-old diversity rubric, often failing specifically because of team dynamics and deep structure core values rather than in spite of them. Even top notch Diversity strategies proved unable to pull the American workforce beyond what it is today, still fraught with evidence of broadly successful discrimination strategies that effectively asphyxiated job desegregation as long ago as 1980. D&I has never been able to recover. Here are just a few ways.

1. Supplier Diversity Programs abounded. Yet, African American businesses today produce less than one percent of the US GDP, the same as fifty years ago.

2. Diversity and Inclusion programs for hiring proliferate. Yet, the African American unemployment rate is double that of whites…the same as in 1954.

3. Gender Diversity & Employee Resource Groups are all the rage. Yet, glass ceilings and gender pay gaps (17%) haven’t budged in decades, with no significant progress in the foreseeable future for pay equity, or in the “diversity” among C-Suites and Boards Rooms (4% women Directors).

4. The Bamboo Ceiling for Asians, the net wealth and pay gaps for Latinos and Blacks bear not much good news on those fronts either.

The now fifty year old focus on valuing and embracing “differences” in the workplace simply hasn’t translated into the hiring and promotion practices that positively alter the economic landscape for minorities and women. “Dignity & Respect” abounds, while difference-consciousness sustains ancient conflict in the workplace.

A few years ago while addressing Google employees, Michael Maccoby described “differences” as a most primitive way of describing one another. But…it could be a start toward a more effective array of ways of describing not just the characteristics about which we think, but the “thinking” itself.

Here we sit today, with the D&I Industry eager to bring the same “differences-based” approach to Google. Could that somehow now be the answer? Or is it more likely that attempting to drive traditional failed diversity interventions into Google will end up locking in the same patterns and failed best practices as industry at large?

It seems a stretch that any “business case for diversity” could be credibly deployed in any compelling way when presenting a to a global leadership team who built the technology giant. Google has nearly 70% of the global search market share, $50 billion in annual revenue, growth of 20% last year (not it’s best year by a long shot), and is powerful enough to negotiate with China. All of that and more in less than a decade flat, from its 2004 IPO to today. Who could convincingly present a “diversity business case” to Google leadership that greater diversity would have made the company incrementally more successful? That dog won’t hunt.

The Diversity horse is long gone from the barn @Google. The big questions aren’t at all about what Google’s leadership was doing about diversity, but about the D&I industry’s leadership. Where were the HR/D&I folks between Google’s 2004 IPO and the release of utilization information last week? Did Google’s HR department have any connection at all to SHRM? How could a full decade of such phenomenal growth speed by without even a meaningful peep of consequence from the professional Diversity World?

The most embarrassing dilemma in this for the D&I arena is reconciling the loudly touted “business case for diversity” in the face of contemporary business realities of major industries that don’t buy it. It is a tremendous blow to the Diversity industry that the “business case for diversity” just isn’t selling, and hasn’t at Google since its inception.

Google is known for hiring not just good technical workers, but for hiring the very best, brightest thinkers, the most innovative visionary talent they can find at all levels. And yet, the “business case for diversity” has not merely failed to get buy-in at Google over the last decade, Silicon Valley companies as a whole concealed their hiring practices as long as they could to keep the D&I Industry out of their growth curve to the extent possible. They’re coming out now, only well after they’ve gotten a solid foothold on their global market.

That’s not racism or sexism or homophobia. The decades-long hiring practices add up to an enormous tech-industry indictment of the ostensible “business case for diversity,” a tacit denial of what has been put forward by the D&I industry over those same decades. It strikes at the heart of the business rationalization for diversity, and shifts it straight back to the issue of pure social good.

Expecting traditional 20th Century Diversity Programs to close the barn door at Google would seem uncharacteristic of a 21st Century innovation leader. Perhaps they’ll instead look for something that fits the 21st Century workforce a little more appropriately. The soaring rhetoric of traditional D&I Consultants will hopefully fall on the deaf ears of enriched stockholders, satisfied employees and dependent customers who absolutely adore the company as is. Don’t expect to see a sell-off in light of Google’s information release. Stockholders are most likely singing to Google leadership, “Don’t go changing…I love you just the way you are.”

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Copyright © 2014 Robert D. Jones – All Rights Reserved



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