Google Needs Two Cultures to Address Age Discrimination and Diversity

A Google logo
Photo: AP Photo

Google has been back in the news in the past week about its diversity—or rather, its lack of diversity. Last Thursday, Google released its 2015 demographics, updating diversity numbers made public two years ago in response to public pressure. (That pressure was possibly kicked off by a blog post by then-Pinterest software engineer Tracy Chou.) The numbers weren’t good then, and they haven’t gotten much better: Women now make up 19 percent of the technical workforce, up one percent from 2014 and two from 2013; Hispanics make up 3 percent and African Americans 2 percent—those numbers haven’t budged.

The stats released gave no age demographics; separately last week, a motion to begin the process of turning a pending age discrimination suit against Google into a class action lawsuit was filed in a federal court. The lawsuit pegs the median age of a Googler at 29, and, if certified, the class action suit would be open to anyone over 40 who interviewed in person for an engineering job since 13 August 2010.

Google has some ideas about how to increase diversity, and they are a good start. Last month, for example, the company moved the organization Black Girls Code into its New York City building.

I’ll admit up front that I haven’t a clue how to increase racial diversity at the company. But as a woman over 40, I have some ideas about age and gender diversity.

Google, if you truly want more women and more seasoned workers, you need to intentionally develop a split personality.

You understand, excite, and empower young men. I know a couple of 20-somethings interning with you this summer. They are working insane hours, long weekdays and weekends, and they love it. Before they joined your workforce, they spent every possible minute they could working on their own computing projects, and life at Google is even better than they could have imagined: they are working on projects that are not only fascinating, but potentially will be used by millions of people, not just a couple of friends.

The fact that you feed them and give them a social life with people who are just like them is the icing on the cake. One of their parents told me, “If I could, I would surf all the time. For my son, coding is like surfing, and it turns out he can have a life in which he can do it all the time.” For these coding kids, the Google culture is magic, and you shouldn’t change a thing.

My friend says he would surf all the time, but, really, he wouldn’t, even if he could make a living at it. Because he has friends who don’t surf; he has an elderly parent who needs attention; he has a wife, and kids, and an older house in which things break. He’s like most people: As they get older, their lives get wider and more complicated. And even if your company is willing to feed them and do their laundry and change the oil in their cars, they can’t work all the time.

So Google, that is your challenge. How do you continue to excite and challenge (and feed) the young people who come there because all they want to do is code, but also make the company a comfortable home for the people who love technology, but have—or want to have—a wider life? How do you make it OK—indeed, make it a positive thing—to not work 24/7? How do you send the message that your experience, perspective, and your life outside of work is valued?

I don’t have the answer. But it’s certainly time to start asking the questions.

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