Google has been trying to build cars that drive without humans for longer than it's been trying to hire more women and minorities. But the company really knows its audience. Workshops at the center of its diversity initiative were specifically designed for one personality type: "a skeptical, scientifically minded Google employee," says the New York Times.
That's because despite empirical evidence—like the fact that 79 percent of Google's managers are men—Googlers did not realize that they themselves might be responsible for cultivating a homogenous workforce. This revelation began a couple years ago when Laszlo Bock, Google's head of human resources, wondered—possibly for the first time—whether unconscious biases might be at play:
Google's interest in hidden biases was sparked in 2012, when Mr. Bock read an article in The New York Times about a study that showed systematic discrimination against female applicants for scientific jobs in academia. The effect was so pervasive that researchers theorized the discrimination must be governed by unconscious cultural biases rather than overt sexism.
Mr. Bock wondered how such unconscious biases were playing out at Google. "This is a pretty genteel environment, and you don't usually see outright manifestations of bias," he said. "Occasionally you'll have some idiot do something stupid and hurtful, and I like to fire those people."
"Genteel" may not be the best way to connote open-minded. Nonetheless he's onto something:
But Mr. Bock suspected that the more pernicious bias was most likely pervasive and hidden, a deep-set part of the culture rather than the work of a few loudmouth sexists.
By GOOG, I think he's got it!
Now whether or not you believe that a 16-year-old "recruiting machine" only just turned on this lightbulb, these workshops are a positive development—a gesture in the right direction. And they're already jolting Googlers into using a new section of those scientific brains:
Another time, in an all-company presentation, an interviewer asked a male and female manager who had recently begun sharing an office, "Which one of you does the dishes?" The strange, sexist undertone of the question was immediately seized upon by a senior executive in the crowd, who yelled, "Unconscious bias!"
Mr. Bock saw all of these actions as evidence that the training was working. "Suddenly you go from being completely oblivious to going, 'Oh my god, it's everywhere,' " he said.
For the record, Google just called itself "completely oblivious," not me.
To contact the author of this post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image via Getty]