Google Reveals Diversity Gap

By Tony Clark, 2-Dooz Inc. – June 2, 2014

goog-div.jpgLast week in a seminal blog posting titled, “Getting to work on diversity at Google,” the company disclosed its 2013 EEO Employer Information Report and in doing so reinforced its reputation as a champion of transparency.   Moreover, by removing this veil, the company created and took advantage of the opportunity to publicize its objective to “recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people;” and, in the process, established itself as a leading advocate for diversity.

Google’s actions demonstrate that it clearly understands that attracting the best and brightest, regardless of sex and ethnicity, is not only socially responsible, it's a strategic imperative as well.  The company notes on its website, “[h]aving a diversity of perspectives leads to better decision-making, more relevant products …” However, knowing something and achieving something are two different things.  Google admits that it is falling short of its own goals.  In the blog, Laszlo Block, Senior Vice President of People Operations, wrote, “we’re the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be—and that being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution.” 

Google is unquestionably one of Silicon Valley’s brightest lights.  Its commitment to diversity comes as no surprise.  After all, this is the same company that once had the corporate mission: “Do no evil.”  However, what is surprising is that a company, which can seemingly do whatever it sets out to do (think driverless cars and Google Street View for example), can’t figure out how to better close the gap between where it is and where it wants to be regarding diversity. This admitted achievement gap is particularly puzzling to me in light of my chance encounter with the two most famous Googlers.

I met Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin nearly 15 years ago during Larry’s first stint as CEO, before Eric Schmidt took the helm.  The occasion was what felt like an interview, though I wasn’t a candidate.  They were looking to hire a new CEO and I was a reference for one of the guys that had made it on the short-list.  I don’t recall all of the details of the meeting, but I do recall the impression that Larry and Sergey made.  Both had clearly spent a great deal of time thinking about the qualities of an ideal CEO and had spent an equal or greater amount of time developing the custom process which they used to vet the candidates (including the candidates’ references). 

They insisted on coming to my office, though I had offered to save them a trip by talking over the phone.  I recall that we met for nearly 90 minutes.  In contrast, just last week I met with a special investigator regarding the renewal of the security clearance for another colleague for whom I am a reference and that meeting lasted roughly a third of the time.   

Larry and Sergey took turns peppering me with an assortment of questions in seemingly non-stop fashion—they left no rock unturned.   As they left the meeting, I thought to myself, I don’t think I’ve ever participated in or heard of an interview process that was as methodical and detailed as the one conducted by these two.  Moreover, the fact that they spent so much time trying to learn everything they could about an obviously outstanding and proven candidate left an indelible impression on me.   I thought to myself, “These are two guys that leave nothing to chance.”  They will make whatever effort it takes and will commit whatever time it takes to find the perfect fit.

Reflecting on that meeting, it is hard to fathom, in the intervening years, how in spite of all of its accomplishments and innovativeness, Google still suffers from the same challenge that almost every other high technology company in Silicon Valley suffers from—namely falling short of their diversity goals.  The good news is, though they may currently be stuck, they are smart and have a proven track record of successfully tackling the most difficult problems.  I have no doubt that they will ultimately figure this out. 

Google undoubtedly knows the solution requires multiple tactics and some out of the box thinking.   This is borne out of the fact that they already taken several important steps, including ones to increase the number of women and minority computer science graduates.  Still, they can do more.  And, I have a specific, actionable idea that can help Google even more quickly to close their diversity achievement gap (look for more on this in a future Strategy Talk article).  In the meantime, if either Larry or Sergey happens to read this, give me a call … it’s time for another meeting.  I'll come to you guys this time.

Those are my thoughts.  As always, I invite and look forward to learning what you think.

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