Google’s Response Should Start With “We” Not “I”
Louis XIVth taught us, pronouns matter. His famous expression, “L’etat c’est moi,” may have been acceptable in past centuries for someone who sat on the French throne for 72 years.
In more egalitarian times, indulgence in the first person pronoun is seen as a psychological telltale of rank egotism. It suggests the speaker sees the world as “me” centric where everything revolves around oneself because of undue self-importance, like Louis XIVth.
When Danielle Brown, Google VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance, responded to Google’s diversity debate, she used the pronoun “I” 3x as often as “we” or “our” — her point could not be any clearer than if she had said “l’entreprise, c’est moi.”
This is now a story about her and not about the formidable and talented women of Silicon Valley.
More importantly, her high handedness caused her to miss the opportunity to rebut the inaccuracies of the original memo with a thoughtful and scientific response, which a conscientious Googler did a few days later.
In Danielle Brown’s memo:
“I” is used — 15x
My — 2x
We — 5x
Our — 5x
Your — 1x
Her memo is reprinted below:
I’m Danielle, Google’s brand new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. I started just a couple of weeks ago, and I had hoped to take another week or so to get the lay of the land before introducing myself to you all. But given the heated debate we’ve seen over the past few days, I feel compelled to say a few words.
Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.
Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, “Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said. “
Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a company wide OKR on diversity and inclusion. Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it’s often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that’s why I took this job.
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.
I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and I can tell you that I’ve never worked at a company that has so many platforms for employees to express themselves — TGIF, Memegen, internal G+, thousands of discussion groups. I know this conversation doesn’t end with my email today. I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts as I settle in and meet with Googlers across the company.