Diversity Debate, Hypothesis, Social Science

The Case for Diversity

Editor’s note: this piece is part of an ongoing series on the subject of diversity. If you would like to join the diversity debate please comment below or send a submission to pitch@quillette.com.

The issue of racial and gender diversity in our schools, companies, and communities has become highly politicized. While one tribe sees diversity as an imperative cure-all for many of the world’s problems, another tribe sees diversity as a form of tokenism at best, and a nefarious conspiracy at worst. Even political moderates can have a visceral reaction to the term “diversity” and may accept any line of thinking that validates their reaction, leading to shallow reasoning on all fronts. Rather than advocate for a particular position in this essay, I hope to add some nuance to the conversation and show that the truth is much more complicated than many are willing to admit.

The business case for diversity

What are the arguments for and against diversity? It’s often claimed with certainty that a diverse workforce is good for a business’s bottom line, but the data doesn’t actually show an effect on a business’s profits. Take women on boards, as one example.

A 2015 meta-analysis published in PLOS One showed that all-else-being-equal, “the mere representation of females on corporate boards is not related to firm financial performance”. Another 2015 meta-analysis published in the Academy of Management Journal also found that across 140 studies, the relationship between gender parity on boards and market performance was near zero. What seems to matter most is not the gender of executives on a board, but their individual talents and team cohesiveness.

What about other kinds of diversity? Scott Page argues in The Diversity Bonus: How Good Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy that cognitively diverse teams can lead to more innovation and better decision making. Indeed, this has been demonstrated by a recent study titled The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds which found that polarization among Wikipedia editors leads to articles of higher quality. In his book, Page extends the umbrella term of cognitive diversity to include “identity diversity” arguing that “racial and gender differences” can impact cognitive diversity, so this can lead to beneficial outcomes as well.

We should also keep in mind, though, that diversity may decrease social cohesion (i.e., sense of belonging and group solidarity),1 which has been linked to personal well-being and economic output. Diversity may have many benefits, but there are likely to be some costs as well.

To address this decrease in social cohesion, organizations now offer inclusion programs. Unfortunately, these inclusion programs can amplify the salience of gender and ethnic identities, which worsens social tensions by making divisions more apparent.

In countries such as Rwanda and South Africa, governments have addressed problems in social cohesion with some degree of success by doing the opposite: pushing their citizens to identify with their nation rather than their tribe, clan, or ethnic lineage. These policies, however, are controversial, and more often favored by majority groups.

A diverse workforce may not increase profits, but some would argue that it increases the number of potential applicants—this is valid if people prefer to work for companies with a diverse workforce, but it’s unclear if this actually happens. We should look for talent in unconventional places, revisit exclusionary norms, and make sure everyone feels welcome, regardless of their identity. However, going too far, like with gender quotas, can stigmatize those you’re trying to help and cause both men and women to be less likely to apply.

Moral arguments

Now that it’s becoming clearer that the economic arguments for diversity consist more of aspirations than evidence, pundits have shifted towards moral arguments. This becomes contentious, though, because of how much morals differ, particularly between different political orientations. The greatest difference is in how much conservatives and progressives view disparities between groups as fair, with progressives less satisfied with the status quo.2 We should, however, be careful regarding how much we depend on moral arguments; moralizing an issue constrains our thinking and labels anyone who disagrees with us as immoral.

The core moral argument is that of equal opportunity. Nearly everyone agrees that equal opportunity is good, but disagreements lie in what constitutes unequal opportunities and what measures should be taken to correct these. A common assumption by progressives is that an unequal outcome is evidence of unequal opportunity, or unequal treatment. Unequal outcomes between groups are often blamed on outside forces such as systemic racism or sexism. While there is no doubt that bigotry remains a problem, and its historical injustices still impact people, focusing only on these issues will likely misdiagnose and exacerbate conflict.

For example, research suggests that one reason why Asian Americans excel academically is due to cultural values which encourage intense academic effort.3 In contrast, in some communities working hard at school may be discouraged, and those who do so may be punished by their peers. Of course, these differences in culture are influenced by history, and aren’t the sole cause of disparities, but programs that punish Asians, reify race, and perpetuate false narratives do little to solve problems.

To compound this, affirmative action policies at the college level often hurt the groups that they most intend to help, by creating a mismatch between qualifications and requirements. Affirmative action has been shown to lead to higher dropout rates, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), reminding us that policy needs to be evaluated by its outcomes and not by its intentions.

Bias

To promote a fair workplace for all we should, of course, strive to eliminate potential sources of bias, especially in the job application process, but we shouldn’t automatically assume that this will solve all of our problems. For example, in STEM, women are generally underrepresented, but the research is mixed on whether there is positive, negative, or no hiring bias for women, with meta-analyses showing that bias against women is only historical, and a distraction to the real issues women face (such as structural barriers regarding childcare). Today, the assumption of gender bias and preference for equal outcomes over fairness is increasingly common; for example, a gender-blind hiring program for Australian government jobs was halted when it was shown to help men.

Yet even if women in male-dominated careers aren’t helped by race- and gender-blind applications, underrepresented minorities might be. While both women and straight men have a positive bias for women, we generally have a positive bias for the ethnicity of our family.4 Research suggests, though, that we stop noticing the race of others when we perceive that we are on the same “team”. In fact, when groups mix, prejudice lowers if the groups cooperate and have equal status.

Reducing society’s prejudices and eliminating stereotypes are part of the goal of diversity programs. Unfortunately, one of the main causes for stereotypes is observation of group differences. Thus, affirmative action programs which form disparities between groups within an organization can create negative stereotypes that wouldn’t necessarily exist with blind hiring. Research suggests that this also perpetuates social segregation because people form friendships with others of similar skill levels. A possible fix is to provide additional training to reduce disparities, but this may lead to more perceived unfairness, resentment, and segregation if done unevenly.

The minority experience

Another cause of segregation and disadvantage for minorities may be differences between the minority culture and the dominant culture. Increasing representation of minorities may be one way to address this, but it’s impossible to equally represent every group. Programs that normalize and celebrate different cultures can help ensure that everyone feels welcome, but may also reduce group solidarity in the process. Unfortunately, interests often don’t align, majority groups generally prefer minorities to assimilate, but many groups don’t want to lose their identity.

While it’s true that different cultures and viewpoints are correlated with demographics, they aren’t binded to them. Tying race and culture, which many diversity programs implicitly do, leads to some of the anger behind cultural appropriation, feeds white identitarian politics, and perpetuates the myth that all minorities think alike. None of these outcomes appear optimal over the long term.

We should also remember that the focus on race and gender diversity often distracts from discussions about class, which is now a stronger determinant in educational and life outcomes than race.5 Shifting policies to take class and other measures of disadvantage into account rather than race can still increase racial diversity while maintaining fairness and maximizing human potential. I recommend this approach, but also believe that caution should be taken. Policies of beneficence can also have unintended consequences of discouraging personal agency, resiliency, and self-improvement.

Closing

Why do counterproductive programs and misinformation persist? There’s an entire diversity industry filled with books, workshops, and human resource departments that is heavily invested in the value of diversity. The incentives for diversity researchers are also skewed, with publication bias being common. Organizations are scrutinized if their “diversity numbers” aren’t good enough, leading to short-sighted and at times illegal policies. If that weren’t bad enough, questioning these policies is considered taboo (and can get you fired).

One’s stance on diversity policies often just depends on what metric you’re trying to optimize, causing both sides to talk past each other. This lack of dialogue is destructive, creating multimillion dollar programs of marginal efficacy and harmful side-effects. If done well, diversity can be good, but it’s far from the panacea it’s made out to be.

 

You can follow James Damore on Twitter @JamesADamore

 

[1] Diversity decreasing social cohesion also illustrates why conservatives are more often dubious of “diversity”: social cohesion is highly valued by conservatives.

[2] The vast majority of people (conservatives and progressives, minorities and non-minorities) oppose using race or gender as a factor in hiring, promoting, or college admissions, but opinions are mixed on outreach programs.

[3] Asian Americans also bear significant social and psychological costs due to their increased academic effort and expectations, making programs that punish the group for overachieving all the more perverse.

[4] Caveat, the Implicit Association Test used to measure these biases is controversial and it’s unclear how much it measures familiarity or salience rather than preference.

[5] Note, I never actually defined diversity because there’s no agreed upon definition. Intuitively, diversity means more heterogeneity or more similar to some base population. Unfortunately, there’s so many dimensions on which to measure heterogeneity or compare two populations that this is easy to manipulate into meaning whatever is most politically favored. To take a specific example, Silicon Valley has gotten a lot of heat because of its lack of racial and gender diversity, but how diverse can it truly become if nearly everyone is still young, liberal, upper middle class, atheist nerds?

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39 Comments

  1. Sad to say diversity has become something of a fetish; and puritans have emerged who seeks to stifle any criticism of it, or any estimate of its costs.

    And yet, on the other side of the ledger, diversity, including diversity between conservative and progressive views, can stimulate critical discourse. Thereby challenging hypocrisy and conceit, which are truly vicious both in the context of business and morals.

  2. Daniel PV says

    I legitimately didn’t clock onto the author at the start, and I was thinking halfway through this “that google guy would be really interested in this piece”…. get to the end of the article – it was written by him!!

      • Petr Jiřička says

        For me it was the opposite – I haven’t opened a link from Twitter for months, until I saw “James Damore tweeted…” today. James, you are a smart guy, and I like that you’ve clearly done your homework researching the subject.

    • put up or shut up says

      cherry pick some “non-racist real science” to disprove it, by all means…

    • Ian Burns says

      Wilful blindness, intellectually blinkered myopia, would seem to be more your condition, far more so than James’. It is true you could find arguments and evidence to argue in favour of affirmative action programs, in certain situations and contexts they might be a positive move. James point this out, yet you cry foul, how where and why?

      To ignore the obvious fact that the piece above, like the memo, was well researched and intended to stimulate a nuanced discussion worthy of the name shows you to be foolish shallow minded attention hungry troll, ‘there there’ let me throw you a few crumbs.

      Is it not true that, in the name of inclusion and diversity, ‘positive discrimination’ may do as much to harm and reinforce gender and racial stereotypes as it does to ameliorate their influence?

      Is it not true that western Liberalism, with its focus on the right’s of the individual, is in fact failing to provide real equality opportunity to working class children of all races?

      Is not true that your view of diversity will be affected depending on the political lens through with you view it, and that this in turn will be influenced by your personality trait constellation, which to a large extent is symbiotically determined by your biology?

      You could address any of the solid evidenced backed points in the article….make your own point, make a cogent arguments, create dialogue, or go and troll on twitter. Given your anonymity I suspect you are incapable of reasoned discussion because, being ideologically possessed, risking revealing your own position, would confront you with the reality of reasonable discussion, which threatens your fragile outraged based prejudice ridden ego..

    • Yup, call everything you disagree with “racist psuedo-science” without any evidence or any facts to disprove the argument. Hypocrisy much, asshole?

    • Maybe some examples, some details behind your claim? Name one of those peer reviewed papers or narratives that was incorrect and not statistically validated?

  3. Your point about identitarian assumptions tying race to culture is very wise. It benefits no one to do that, and does the work of white supremacists for them. Likewise, Western ideas should not be thought of as ‘white’. They’re seeking a higher objectivity than race. This shuts down the alt-right and the identitarian left in one swoop. Brilliant.

  4. Sergio says

    As much as I disagree with some of the things on this article, I think the economic background diversity is probably the strongest form, specially in countries like the United States, where money is the ultimate privilege.

    I come from a pretty poor background. Had to work though uni and had to drop out when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer during my third year of college, since my family lived day to day and there was simply no money to live on. I left my country once my father recovered to work on my industry since my home country has limited opportunities and I was already behind him on my career.

    Now I am working full time while learning to code and I am just thankful to have a job. I would have done anything to have any kind of opportunities given to people like me, who didn’t have a shot to finish college because of my family situation.

    I am not the only one, growing up in one of the poorest areas in my city you see people like me every single day, most kids I grew with were working since they were 18 to help out their families. And those are the lucky ones, others started drug dealing, and had a way worse life because exclusively of where they were born, regardless of their race or gender.

  5. Johniebegood says

    It’s simple how the board will proceed? Question who is giving who a blowjob here? Relax he and she haven’t filled any short Comings in performance with HR yet so keep UP! The good work. Next agenda who wants her or him or them under the board supervision? When others are left out of most affairs? Can we move forward? Yes Cross roads of ideas, how do we sell this? As the latest greatest movement of involvement in it’s deliveries and cost cutting measure ever to stimulate the work place. Now it’s just fear, fear driven unexceptabl loss. Always have your resume ready as you came looking for a job and they gave you one too steal your ideas, your youth, your eagerness for Penny’s on the Fiat dollar. Fair never existed, only winners and losers. They are nothing without your ideas and understanding.

  6. B Hall says

    I disassembled old radios and clocks as a youngster driven by a huge thirst to understand how things work. In those days, I watched the “Mission Impossible” TV series with a big focus on Barney (Greg Morris) as he created electronic gadgets to help pull off that episode’s mission. I studied electronics in my final two years of high school at the Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin Ohio and was awarded “Outstanding Student in Industrial Electronics 1977”. Immediately following school, I went to work for a local electronics company which specialized in industrial control products (741 op amps galore). Two years later, I was hired by a large telecommunications company where, after 13 years of night school (aided by tuition reimbursement), obtained a BS in EE (magna cum laude). Due to this passion and hard work, I have enjoyed a long satisfying career as a telecommunications engineer(TDM, SONET, ATM, Frame Relay, Ethernet, BITS clocks etc.) Now, as my wonderful career nears its conclusion, I volunteer at the local Boys & Girls club teaching Scratch programming and Raspberry Pi knowledge to interested youngsters.

    Question – How much of my career has been impacted by my gender and/or race?
    Answer – None. It has all been about me and I take full responsibility for that fact.

    As you try to work out my race and gender, you may want to consider that Oberlin Ohio is home to Oberlin College, known for “its significance in admitting African Americans and women” prior to the Civil War along with the fact that Greg Morris was an African American actor in the ‘Mission Impossible’ TV series. However, I suggest you throw these facts out and just think about me.

    • Abu Nudnik says

      “and just think about me” is great. It reminds me of something Morgan Freeman said the other day. Sure, let’s end racism now. “Let’s stop talking about it. I’ll stop calling you a white man and you’ll stop calling me a black man.”

  7. Sparx 832 says

    The Case against Diversity:

    “It is illusory to believe that it is possible to visualize collective wholes. They are never visible; their cognition is always the outcome of the understanding of the meaning which acting men attribute to their acts. We can see a crowd, i.e., a multitude of people. Whether this crowd is a mere gathering or a mass (in the sense in which this term is used in contemporary psychology) or an organized body or any other kind of social entity is a question which can only be answered by understanding the meaning which they themselves attach to their presence. And this meaning is always the meaning of individuals. Not our senses, but understanding, a mental process, makes us recognize social entities.

    Those who want to start the study of human action from the collective units encounter an insurmountable obstacle in the fact that an individual at the same time can belong and — with the exception of the most primitive tribesmen — really belongs to various collective entities. The problems raised by the multiplicity of coexisting social units and their mutual antagonisms can be solved only by methodological individualism.” -Ludwig von Mises

    “The Principle of Methodological Individualism”: https://mises.org/library/principle-methodological-individualism

    Bottom line: Given that no two humans are the same, embracing the ideology of *individualism* as a foundational lens… over embracing the ideology of *collectivism* as a foundational lens… necessitates that diversity is an implicit aspect of *EVERY* social encounter/endeavor.

    Cheers…

  8. The driver for diversity is in the academic literature on innovation. Diversity simply meant diversity of human experience fostering the emergence of unique solutions to problems. In the current realm of Corporate HR, diversity = anti-CIS-white-male and NOT the same as the diversity from that literature and actually counter to it.

  9. Hutch says

    The manner in which you were fired from your position at Alphabet (google) highlighted, at least for me, the fact that we live in an age where true civil discourse is discouraged.

    People no longer feel the need meet an argument with an argument anymore. Even if a person politely places an argument on paper, the majority of people no longer deems it necessary to refute such an argument on paper. I’d even go so far as to say that most people consider themselves above even reading your argument based simply on its assumed subject.

    People will rarely challenge their own bias or even listen to the devil’s advocate argue against their own vested interests.

    We cannot embrace any concept of diversity if polite, rational and supported arguments are simply ridiculed for not meeting some prevailing set of moral standards. This will only stifle progress.

    Had google or its employees actually constructed a written argument against your memo a civil dialogue could have been opened. New ideas could have been explored and people could have potentially gained a new level of understanding. Instead you were held guilty of wrong think and expelled.

    I don’t agree with everything in your memo, including some of the supporting sources. However just reading it gave me exposure to a different perspective and challenged my own bias.

    I sincerely hope that the Courts give you the relief you have sought. I don’t want to be part of a society so devoid of critical thinking that merely presenting a well-mannered argument could result in the loss of a person’s job. No matter what subject matter that argument traverses.

    The costs you have had to endure to present your arguments on diversity and its current means of deployment in corporate culture are greatly appreciated.

  10. “In countries such as Rwanda and South Africa, governments have addressed problems in social cohesion with some degree of success by doing the opposite: pushing their citizens to identify with their nation rather than their tribe, clan, or ethnic lineage. These policies, however, are controversial, and more often favored by majority groups.”

    As a South African myself, this is particularly true – especially the last part.

    What has happened in since ’94 is that the ‘dis-empowered majority’ (Africans, Indians, mixed-race) labelled themselves ‘disadvantaged’, called for ‘reasonable discrimination’ (in a constitution that explicitly prohibits discrimination of any kind) and proceeded to advantage area where unbiased selection would take place i.e. employment, promotion, etc. They then proceeded to remove other racial groups from the disadvantaged list until now only African people remain. They claim to still be ‘disadvantaged’ a full 25 years after Apartheid.

    The kicker? The Constitution has no ‘sunset clause’ on the provisions governing ‘fair discrimination’. Hypothetically, fair discrimination in the terms the majority describe it could continue in perpetuity.

  11. I grew up in a caste based society where reservation for lower/out caste is used as a normalizing measure and i think it sort of worked. Cool thing was that our society was an “experiment to integrate people belonging to various economic bracket’s i.e. High Income Group (HIG’s), Middle Income Group (MIG’s) and Low Income Group (LIG’s) in one community” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayur_Vihar. Needless to say that it took me a lot of time to realize its power (i actually participated in rallies against reservation like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandal_Commission#Protest , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Indian_anti-reservation_protests … ). Now, retrospectively speaking, I feel this exposed me to souls who blunted my caste-ist view and provided an amazing fulfilling life 🙂

  12. As a non business student who found himself in large corporations overpopulated with like-minded business school clones, I always felt diversity should include diverse personalities and educational backgrounds. My complaint with racial diversity programs was that HR people did not go out and find qualified minorities for jobs, but tried to fill them with any minority candidate they could find. That practice led to mismatches in the workplace that were similar to mismatches on college campuses in Sander’s and Taylor’s work.

  13. Joseph Emminger says

    Nice work, James. You’ve bolstered your ideas tenfold since the controversy around your memo erupted. This was very sober and informative.

    I noted one of your links about “acting white.” That phrase brought back strong memories. I’m from Tampa. I’ve grown up and attended school with–dare I say it–diverse groups of people. I encountered this idea at a rather young age, mainly due to my music taste. I enjoyed rock and metal from the time I was 10 or 11, which was mocked by black kids as “white boy music.” In fact, the rockers were so diametrically opposed to the rappers in school that it was sort of a rivalry. In my friend group, we always thought that rap music put people down, and most of us were kids who had been repeatedly put down from a young age, so we resented that. I don’t think any of us perceived it as “black people music,” though. Eminem was still topping the charts in those days. I still remember a time when skinny jeans were a “white boy thing,” too, before Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa made it cool. I digress.

    I’ve never forgotten how the term “white boy” was casually associated with music I enjoyed. I realize now how these experiences have shaped my perceptions around this issue. It’s been apparent to me from a young age how large an effect culture plays on individual behavior, especially in peer groups, due to my experiences in public school.

    I should state in closing, before someone else does, that I’m not implying this behavior is unique to black people. It’s simply demonstrative of the effect culture has on individual behavior.

  14. Helen says

    I think I can convey the diversity “answer” in way fewer words. People prefer to hire their friends (and relatives if it is allowed). It’s human nature to be more comfortable with people who are like oneself. While working in high tech for 35 years as a female with a Ph.D., I saw case after case of men hiring less-qualified men over more-qualified women. While painful to see, it makes perfect sense if you are a student of human behavior. We are primates after all, and individuals of a different gender or cultural background bring with them a certain amount of drama that’s not present when you are “with your own.” You can force a change, but let go of that rubber band you’ve stretched so tightly and it will snap right back into its preferred shape.

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  16. ga gamba says

    I think it would help everyone if female participation in STEM was more accurately defined, such as inorganic and organic STEM. Why?

    The US National Science Foundation reports that women are awarded 57 per cent of undergraduate STEM degrees, but with substantial differences across fields. Women earn the majority of degrees in the life and social sciences, for example women are more than 80 per cent of those pursuing veterinary science degrees and are the majority of credentialed and practicing vets. Women are less than 20 per cent of the degrees in computer science and engineering, sex differences that have held steady for several decades, and even hold true in the Scandinavian countries that have done most to eliminate gender bias from education and culture.

    The STEM debate is primarily about sex differences in educational and later occupational choices in inorganic fields, those focused on understanding non-living things. Seems to me that if science-minded women choose to be 80 per cent of vets, there will be a shortfall in other STEM fields such as electrical engineering.

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  18. Robert Darby says

    Considering that James is a victim of diversity ideology, this is a remarkably generous and fair-minded discussion. I don’t think he is either a conservative or a libertarian, but rather a person with a technical-scientific mindset typical of those who excel in maths and sciences, like the bright engineers I knew when teaching at a university – young guys who thrived on computer games, and who rapidly overtook me after I taught them how to play Bridge. Such people value hard, objective facts over fuzzy theories and intuitions, and they possess the sort of inquiring, inventive minds that gave us steam power, electricity, the computer and Google’s algorithms – quite useful people, really.

    There seems to be a contradiction at the heart of the case for gender diversity. Advocates insist that gender diversity is a good, even necessary, thing; yet at the same time they assert that there are no significant differences between men and women. But if there are no differences between the sexes, how can a mix of genders lead to any substantive diversity? This problem is exacerbated when the same diversity advocates insist that everybody must have the same opinions on gender- and diversity-related issues; this merely results in uniformity of outlook and reliance on stock phrases instead of fresh thinking.

  19. Tables turned, little white boys acting like like babies. Wah wah wah. Life is hard! Right on cue.

    • Let me rephrase your comment for you:

      “I take the value of ‘diversity’ on faith, and my inability to argue against diversity’s potential drawbacks as laid out in this well-researched, amply-sourced essay caused me such cognitive dissonance that I’m lashing out with the online equivalent of a temper tantrum.”

  20. Diversity believers lack clarity even in their frequently used words. Headquarters’ order to murder the persona non grata may be misunderstood or can not be interpret well anyway. I agree with James.

  21. Julieta says

    I don’t think diversity increases productivity, so I agree with the author.
    What diversity does is…forcing us to think BEYOND productivity. People who are very pragmatic and goal-oriented have a hard time understanding this but many of us NEED and CRAVE social acceptance as the ONLY reason to go to work and produce anything.
    Take for example me, a neurotypical female trying to survive in semi-men dominated profession. If I have to look at numbers and a blue screen every day without establishing friendships with various people from different cultures, I will KILL MYSELF! If all people look exactly like me, I will not produce anything all day long. But if I can meet my co-workers and they feed my endless curiosity about how they lived before, and about their background, or traveling, etc…I am willing to put 12-14 hours of hard work per day.
    So to turn this argument around, the majority of the population feels like me…they will never tell you that, OR that don’t have the intellectual capacity to self-reflect on that, but that is the pure animalistic truth.
    So if you are very pragmatic person who is satisfied to do an excellent job without the need to “hang out” with peers much…well, you will be stuck with the majority and the “diversity” thing until everyone is on the spectrum.
    Currently, one out of 23 boys is on the spectrum…so the world might change soon after all…

  22. LFP2016 says

    Well researched, well written, and fair. Kudos.

    My opinion of the author has dramatically increased; my opinion of Google the opposite.

  23. DrBeauGan says

    It’s very clear that Google doesn’t want diversity at all. It wants and is getting conformity. Sure, they hire the approved numbers of minorities, such as women (!) but they have to have the correct attitudes.

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