I’ve spent the last month or so trying to work out if I should [cry laughing emoji] or [sad cry emoji] at the car crash going on at Google about equality. They’ve managed to move out of the cross fire of tech journos now, thanks to the new CEO at Uber and the shiny new iPhone X.

But, for those who missed it, here’s a very brief recap: the US Department of Labor thinks Google may be systematically underpaying women. That’s quite an accusation.

And one which Google, the company that records revenues of $3,225 PER SECOND (with a profit of $658 on that figure), claimed it was too expensive to investigate. Apparently collecting the payroll information they had been asked to hand over wasn’t financially viable.

Yes, Google the tech company that had a mission statement to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful couldn’t find an efficient way of collecting data…

For some reason, this part of the story made only minor ripples in the news pond.

This Department of Labor’s case was driven, partially at least, by the fact that Google only has 30% female employees and only 20% when that’s narrowed to just tech roles. What made the ripples into a big splash was when an employee, the now infamous James Damore, wrote a manifesto about his view of biology to explain why Google should be OK with this figure.

Now Mr Damore is an ex Google employee, his views on equality in the workplace have been thoroughly and elegantly debunked and the debate about Silicon Valley’s equality issues has been headline news around the world.

Equally good news

This is almost entirely good news. The media, in whatever form that takes, has always taken a prominent role in holding business to account. That Google and other tech companies are squirming while their staff numbers and pay packages are combed over by journalists is a good thing.

If it’s in the headlines, you can be sure that it’s being discussed at a high level and action should follow, even if it’s a little slow.

While the tech giants are navel gazing, hopefully the media focus on inequality will filter down to all companies and start a renewed focus on the divisions in the workplace. Why? Because, amazingly, it’s still an issue in 2017, it’s good for business and it’s something that’s been left unchecked for too long. Let me share some stats to illuminate my point.

The Times (of London) recently published some stats on racial and ethnic diversity in UK business that should make most people sad, angry or both. Some of the headlines are:

>Only 6% of management jobs in the UK, that’s less than half of what you’d expect, are held by minorities.

>At FTSE 100 companies, the figures are even worse, with only 1.5% of directors from an ethnic minority.

>An ICSA survey demonstrated that the number of organisations rating their board as ethnically diverse has declined from 34% to 22%.

This isn’t just a British issue either. Back to Google, their own data shows they employ just 2% of people from an African American background (1% in tech roles), compared to the almost 13% in the US population.

But, in my opinion, the worst stat of the lot that The Times has quoted, is that 42% of companies said gender diversity had become a barrier to progress on race equality.

Excuse me, what?

Another way to read that is that 42% of companies found it impossible to focus on more than one type of inequality at once.

Extrapolation of data can be dangerous, but this type of stat makes me believe many companies pay lip service to stamping out inequality – focusing on one issue to show they’re doing a good job – rather than actually trying to solve the problem.

This is not divide and rule

To be absolutely clear, this isn’t a call for companies, tech or otherwise, to reduce their efforts to improve gender equality. This isn’t a bitter black man protesting he’s getting it worse than women. Far from it.

It is an absolute scandal that companies still manage to hide behind prejudices and laziness. James Damore’s blog might not represent Google’s policy on gender equality, but we’d be crazy to think that his views aren’t held by a number of people within the company.

And that same thought process still permeates the debate about other forms of inequality. With race, for example, I know some people reading this will be thinking if the talent was there in the ethnic minority community, it would have got the job already.

But you’d need to go and dig out Sir John Parker’s review for the UK government, which discredited that view. The problem, Sir John found, was more to do with a lack of imagination on the part of the recruiters rather than a lack of talent from the ethnic minority population.

There is no need for this debate to be a divide and rule issue. It’s not women OR minorities. It’s both. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s about everyone.

In the UK, people with a disability are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those without a disability. While 19% of gay, lesbian and bi employees have experienced bullying at work.

The stats make it sound like we’re just not a very nice bunch of people.

We should be welcoming people based on their ability, not how they look, sound, where they were born, what school they went to, who they like holding hands with, what they do on a Sunday morning or anything else.

It’s good for your business

The economic benefits of having a diverse workforce and leadership have been proven in many studies.

Facebook’s managing unconscious bias programme contains a bundle of stats about diversity leading to increased workforce productivity, while another study shows a more diverse leadership team could be worth £24 billion to the UK economy.

I’ve no idea how they work these figures out, but they certainly sound impressive.

What Damore’s post started was a debate about equality, that has lifted the lid on how companies deal with these issues.

It’s also showcasing that stone age attitudes still exist in the workforce too. Damore’s attempt to compare gender diversity to Santa Claus in a series of tweets is unfortunate, if we’re being charitable, or offensive, if we’re being honest.

 

However, out of the darkness comes light. The debate is good, because it shines a light on the work companies are doing (or not doing) to help sort out diversity issues in their companies.

Marketing and diversity

While watching the fallout from the Google scandal and munching my way through popcorn, it was comforting to think I’m much more enlightened than the Troglodyte Damore.

Until I started thinking about a marketing strategy I worked on for a client a few years ago and realised I’d been making statements like – this is something we should target at women.

Was that clever segmentation or lazy stereotyping? The difference between the two comes down to one word: data.

Luckily, in the above-mentioned instance, I had a shiny presentation full of facts and figures that supported my assumption. But, to be honest, I’d jumped to the women will love this conclusion and found the data to support my hypothesis. I can still hear the grunt of disgust from my Research Methods professor, who is currently 3,000 miles from where I am.

And I’ve sat in enough coffee-and-cake-fuelled marketing meetings over the last 15 years to know that I’m not alone in making that sort of decision, where the conclusion is found and then the science is done afterwards to prove the decision.

We all have some form of bias, conscious or unconscious, that affects our decision making and using data to help reinforce that bias is comforting, but misguided. Stereotypes, left unchallenged, can take root as prejudice and in marketing we walk a fine line between using them to help sell stuff and reinforcing idiotic beliefs.

I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to suggest that lazy marketing assumptions are somewhere along the same scale as Damore’s poorly informed/pre-historic thoughts. They are a long way away from them, but definitely on the same continuum.

As marketers, we’re now able to tap into huge amounts of data that we can use to make decisions. The bad marketers will continue to ignore it, the good will use it to reinforce their assumptions, while the best will use it to shape their decisions. I know which group I’m working hard to be in.

Andi is the Founder and Strategy Director of Eximo Marketing.


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