Google is trying to disrupt the oldest system of all — the methodology we use to decide who we hire and reward professionally. Google announced a new workshop that takes on the unconscious bias in the work place, appropriately titled Unconscious Bias at Work. “We fill in the blanks because our brains are wired to do that,” says Google chief technology officer Megan Smith in a promotional video about the workshop. The roughly four-minute video introduces viewers to a host of employees and leaders within Google that are largely not old white men. They all talk about how unconscious bias, mental associations our brains that help make sense of the world, may be preventing the tech sphere from diversifying.
Google, like many tech companies, is a man’s world. Started by a pair of men, its executive team is overwhelmingly male, and its work force is dominated by men. Over all, seven out of 10 people who work at Google are male. Men make up 83 percent of Google’s engineering employees and 79 percent of its managers. In a report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, Google said that of its 36 executives and top-ranking managers, just three are women. Google’s leaders say they are unhappy about the firm’s poor gender diversity, and about the severe underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics among its work force. And so they are undertaking a long-term effort to improve these numbers, the centerpiece of which is a series of workshops aimed at making Google’s culture more accepting of diversity. There’s just one problem: The company has no solid evidence that the workshops, or many of its other efforts to improve diversity, are actually working. In some ways Google’s plan to fix its diversity issues resembles many of its most ambitious product ideas, from self-driving cars to wiring the country for superfast Internet.