The Failings of a Google CEO

in opinion •  last year

Corporate twisting of the truth is something that often annoys me. In recent days, we had to suffer a bout of corporate truth twisting by none other than Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO.

In the infamous Google Memo, now ex-Google engineer, James Damore suggested that certain traits are required to be hired by Google as a tech engineer, and that those may be less frequent in women than in men. He claims that this is a possible contributing factor to the underrepresentation of women in Google tech jobs, and that therefore, according to him, the difference cannot only be explained by sexism at Google.

There are a number of claims there which we aren't going to look into, as they don't relate directly to Mr. Pichai's truth twisting abilities. However we do have to look at what trait distribution means, and we'll do so using a totally made up example.

Let's say that to be a good Google tech engineer you need to be somewhat introvert. Let's say that on average out of 100 men 5 have this somewhat introvert trait, while out of 100 women only 3 have that trait. As a result, out of 100 men and 100 women interviewed by Google, a total of 8 people will be somewhat introvert enough to be hired by Google, and men will be overrepresented 5 to 3 in that selection.

It would then follow that the 8 people hired by Google all have this trait, i.e. those three women are equally suited for the job as those five men. In fact those three women are better suited for the job than the 95 men who were not somewhat introvert enough and were thus not selected by Google.

That is not particularly hard to understand you'd think, yet Mr. Pichai, twists it like this:

"To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

Except nothing in the proposed explanation of trait distribution suggests that those women who are hired (i.e. colleagues) are somehow less suited, it instead suggests they are equally suited (as they have the same traits, which got them hired in the first place).

Had Mr. Pichai been honest, he should have countered James Damore's real and core claim instead, which was that underrepresentation of women cannot only be explained by sexism at Google. For instance by saying the following:

"We reject the suggestion that external factors, such as trait distribution difference among men and women, are a contributing cause of the underrepresentation of women among Google tech engineers. The only acceptable explanation is active and/or passive discrimination by Google and its employees against women."

After all that really is the proper conclusion if James Damore core claim is wrong. The US Department of Labor certainly thinks that is the right conclusion, and Google aledgedly tried to block media coverage of that.

It is of course understandable that Mr. Pichai doesn't want to admit to that in public. Yet it's either one or the other, either Damore is right or Google discriminates, either external factors play a role, or they don't. You can't have your cake and eat it, even when you're Google.

There's more though, after firing James Damore for expressing his dissenting opinion that all the blame may not lie with Google, Mr. Pichai makes the following claim:

"People must feel free to express dissent."

After firing someone for expressing a dissenting opinion, does this guy really expect us to believe him when he says that?

The revealing thing here is that we have a story that we all saw unfold, in public, yet Mr. Pichai seems comfortable enough to completely and shamelessly twist it!

How can we trust anything else that comes out of Mr. Pichai's mouth? Or out of the mouth of any other Google corporate representative for that matter? Especially about things that we cannot verify.

Things like our privacy, how Google handles our data, if they cooperate with repressive regimes, if the NSA has backdoors at Google, etc... Things that are far more important than some engineer's internal memo.

Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (source Wikipedia)

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