Advice for Google: Don't Fire Men...Convert Them!

Will Marré

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Although I understand why Google fired the engineer who wrote the creed blaming women for their own lack of opportunities in tech companies, cultural values are vital to long-term corporate success. People that don't embrace them are a drag on the strategic velocity and organization needs to be successful.

But I wonder if it might have been much better to suspend the wrongheaded writer to see if he was open to new ways of thinking, about new ways of working, that enable all humans to contribute their gifted talents and their developed skills in networks of creative collaboration.

First of all, let me clear up some of the controversies that are going on about the Mars and Venus theory of gender differences and equal opportunity in the workplace.

There are some women activists and even a neuroscientist, Daphna Joel, who insists that since there are only tiny physical differences between men's and women's brains, we should not speak of gender differences in thinking styles, cognitive attention, or even emotional intelligence. In other words, men and women are not only equal, they're pretty much exactly the same. The problem with this argument is that it's not true.

The proponents of the we-all-have-the-same-brain theory use the "strawman" fallacy to come to a conclusion that it is true, but beside the point. To win an argument people often misrepresent the argument by creating a strawman statement that they can easily refute. Their strawman fallacy is they are trying to prove that men and women's brains are not biologically different, which IS absolutely true. Then they promote the idea that both men and women can excel in any field. Women can become top scientists and engineers, and men can become fashion designers and sociologists. Well duh...of course, that's true. But that is not a smart way to consider gender differences.

There are cognitive gender differences that are true. Last week I spoke with Dr. Ragini Verma, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who uses a precise brain imaging process called diffusion tensor imaging, DTI, to map the actual neuro networks of individuals. This enables brain scientists to see how people have constructed the mental highways in their brain that they most frequently use to respond to the outside stimulus and problem solve. She used this on nearly 1,000 subjects, about half men and half women. Half the subjects were children and teenagers and half were adults. This is what her results look like.

Dr. Verma's conclusion is that since brains are not fully mature until we reach the age of 25, there is a lot of mental road building going on as we grow up. She noticed that the neural networks of teenage boys and girls 13-17 begin to show strong divergence. Verma is clear that the differences in men's and women's neural networks is not binary. It is absurd to believe that all men think a certain way or all women think a certain way. But it is useful to understand that there is a gender-based distribution in which most men develop what she calls "front to back" neural connections where most women develop "side-to-side" neuro-connections. This fact impacts how people process information and make decisions.

Her research simply confirms, over 100 years of sociological and psychological research, that when men and women are faced with the same stimulus, most men react in ways that are predictively different than most women. That's simply a fact about men and women in general. Individuals, of course, vary across the entire spectrum. There are plenty of men who are holistic thinkers and plenty of women who are more linear.

What's most interesting about Dr. Verma's research is the possible impact of social influences on men and women as their brains develop. It is certainly fascinating that the gender differences in neural networks become pronounced in adolescence. So this might be due to the flood of estrogen and testosterone and some of it might be due to the cultural expectations we reinforce in young men and women.

In my work, I have found it helpful to work with gender and neurological experts to understand how workplace cultures tend to favor typical male strengths.

However, my conclusion is that this is a terrible weakness that must be overcome if we are going to create enterprises that focus on value creation for customers and psychologically healthy workplaces for employees.

I have encountered some female activists who insist that any differences between men and women workplace strengths will be used as a rationale to limit women's opportunities. I understand where they are coming from because that's exactly the thinking promoted by the Google engineer. He proposed that women are too emotionally fragile to do the hard, long, mental work software engineers are required to do. That's just silly. Evidently, he never saw the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of African American female mathematicians who figured out how to get our astronauts back from space without burning up in the earth's atmosphere. Maybe he was unaware that Dr. Grace Hopper invented Cobol, the first user-friendly business computer software. Or maybe he didn't know that mathematician Ada Lovelace pioneered the use of mathematical algorithms that became the basis of the computer programming.

But for me, all of that is beside the point. Of course, women are whip-smart and learn anything and do anything men can do. What's important now is to value the scientific fact that most women have developed neural networks that give them distinct advantages in thinking versatility, which enables them to consider the merits of Alternate Decisions, and their impact without having their brains blow up, Social Intelligence, which helps women include and engage people with different viewpoints, and above all, Creative Collaboration, which is an advantage enabling teams to work together in ways that actually save time and money. Of course, not all women are good at these things and not all men are bad at them. What's true is that these abilities are exactly what's needed to avoid catastrophic cultural meltdowns, similar to what happened at Uber recently.

Today, most organizations are greatly handicapped by their 20th Century authoritarian cultures that promote people into leadership because they thrive in an authoritarian environment. In 1990, there were 7,000 major public companies in the U.S. Today, there are less than 4,000. Thousands of businesses have literally evaporated through acquisitions because the acquiring companies have so little cultural intelligence they could not value new thinking, new methods, or even new markets.

So, what I would say to the young engineer recently fired from Google is that first, women have proven they can do anything your arrogant brain can. And second, it's also true that men and women ARE generally different. The difference that women bring is exactly the difference that organizations need to thrive in our brand-new hyper-connected world. So quit whining. Quit criticizing. Start listening. You might learn something . . . and get back to work!