Categories: Culture Wars / New PR in Age of Populism

11 August 2017

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How Sundar Pichai perpetuates stereotypical myths about women

According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s memo entitled Our words matter, if one man employed by the company writes or says something women find offensive regarding their gender, Google’s women start ‘hurting’ and ‘worrying’ every time they enter a room or open their mouth to speak in a meeting.

It seems that Pichai believes that if anyone at Google is allowed to express stereotypes about women at work, his female staff will feel compelled to show that they behave diametrically counter to such claims. So, if a man writes that women are more ‘agreeable’ than men, Google’s women will be obliged to prove that they are actually assertive. Or if women are accused of being ‘less tolerant’ and more ‘neurotic’ than men, they will become psychologically disturbed to the extent that countering such views will dominate their life to the detriment of their work. Pichai stated these views plainly in his justification for firing James Damore:

The memo [written by James Damore] has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’

That tells us that Pichai has demeaning, diminished, stereotypical views of his own about women. Victorian-style, he seemingly views them as being emotional creatures in need of the chivalrous protection supplied by Big Brother. So Pichai believes that women need to be wrapped in cotton wool, so that they feel ‘included’ and ‘safe’, instead of ‘harassed’, ‘intimidated’ and ‘discriminated against’. All that is so, we are told, merely because somebody expressed arguably disagreeable words (which were not nearly, if at all, as outrageous as being made out) about the supposedly innate qualities of women.

Moreover, Pichai’s Our words matter memo celebrated the rigid enforcement of an authoritarian code of conduct, which places all of Google’s employees under surveillance. This cannot but create an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, where every employee fears their colleagues might be surveilling them on behalf of the all-powerful Big Brother protector. As his memo states:

 …our Code of Conduct… expects each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.

One envisages a poster of Pichai on every meeting room wall with the slogan written on it ‘Our words matter’.

Shareholders should be appalled by Pichai’s behaviour. Instead of being obsessed with running the company, he is spending too much time obsessing about the emotional well-being of, what he seemingly assumes to be, emotionally fragile employees. Instead of building his business, he has become immersed in what amounts to office politics. His Our words matter memo makes plain just how much of a distraction this has become:

I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group — including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

So, what is the alternative to this disruptive despotism? Well, if Pichai wants to do something positive to attract the best women the world could hire, he should stop patronising them. He should abolish his diversity programs and create instead a proper meritocracy, rooted in a confident corporate culture.

The way forward does not involve replacing one set of politics with another. We should not encourage endless political debate at work. Neither do we require its polar opposite, which is a climate that prevents people from expressing their views on particular subjects. The way forward is to take the top-down politics out of Google and for staff to keep their politics any place but in the workplace. This expectation need not be rigidly policed. It should instead become ingrained in the daily life of the company, which allows for give and take and a sense of proportion.

Google should concentrate on its customers, on its profits and products and on developing innovative solutions that earn good returns for shareholders.

My core message to every employer is that they should view and treat women as being as robust and as capable as men.

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