Beware Twisting Science to Justify Prejudice

The tech industry was rocked last week when Google engineer James Damore wrote a memo in which he was trying to justify why 80 percent of his company’s employees were male. The questionable science he used to justify discrimination in Google’s employment practices illustrates how the biggest barrier to diversity today is still bias. What we are witnessing is people feeling empowered to express their hate and use false narratives and junk science to validate their prejudices.

The Globe and Mail article by Deborah Soh continues to perpetuate the idea that women and men are more or less suited to various jobs based on assorted scientific research. This perspective raises a number of questions. My primary concern is that the results stemming from this approach are misleading, and in some cases untrue. Broad stereotyping, while arguably more efficient, is inappropriate from every other perspective.

Scientific studies, based as they are on objective data, are open to interpretation. Although according to earlier research, men may score higher in certain skillsets, when we take the time to examine the situation from a broader perspective and look at more current studies, real balance emerges.

According to emotional intelligence expert David Caruso, PhD. of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “when we look at data on our ability test of EI (Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test), women score a bit higher on all four abilities. They score slightly higher on ‘Facilitating Thought,’ suggesting that women, as a group, have more emotional empathy than do men (feel what others feel). That could be problematic and lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, etc.; but the biggest gender difference (although none are huge) is for the ‘Manage Emotions’ ability. Women outperform men on that ability. This means that you can have empathy, but if you manage the emotions you feel, you can achieve your goals (the ‘what’ of performance) as well as be a decent person (the ‘how’ of performance).” 

Because of the culture of fear that power-hungry executives instil in their employees as a way to control them, many people who do feel compelled to express their opinions, do so rather thoughtlessly, by only going after the low-hanging fruit. This is a dangerously slippery slope to follow as one usually only finds the obvious glaring faults, rarely ever seeing any virtues.

Ironically, it is the bullies of the group who themselves are fearful of losing their power. By swiftly disseminating false narratives, more thoughtful and reasoned perspectives can be avoided, deflected, and ignored.

This toxic dynamic, if allowed to continue unchecked, will lead to the downfall of organizations.  In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss bullying and the attraction and retention of talent, whereby the top talent finds more verdant pastures; those who remain disengage further; and profits plummet.

Instead, we need to encourage systemic change within an organization’s culture, in order to make true progress towards diversity. The necessary change can only happen if organizations commit to making inclusion part of the foundation of company culture.

This can be achieved through the Ethic of Reciprocity, allowing organizations to balance profit with employee engagement, productivity, and retention – a real cultural about-face.

Image credit: International Business Times