May Days: Inspiring Hope and Innovation

Dean C. Garfield photo

Google’s publication of its diversity transparency report this week is the perfect culminating occurrence to a month where we commemorated and experienced many reminders of our strength, humanity, and vigilance as individuals and as a nation. This month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision where the Supreme Court declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional; we honored those who fought and died for our country on Memorial Day; and now, we mourn Dr. Maya Angelou, a revered American poet and activist.

These occurrences in May affirm our American instinct to confront struggle with strength and innovation.  In the midst of the civil rights movement or whenever our armed forces were called to war, it would have been easy to capitulate to the weight of the moment.  Instead, like Maya Angelou, and the culminating line in her poem, “Still I Rise,” our nation has consistently chosen to rise, rise, rise.

Google should be commended for following these precedents and for pioneering a new level of transparency on diversity hiring. Dealing with issues of diversity is never easy.  That is particularly true in the workplace. For so long the normative paradigm has been to embrace being “color blind” which is often translated to mean ignoring race.  But perhaps, we have reached the moment where we can both abhor discrimination and embrace diversity. Perhaps we have reached the point where it is just as relevant to talk about my time at Middlebury or Princeton as it is to discuss my brownness: both experiences inform who I am but are not dispositive in defining me. To quote Dr. Angelou again, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

The first step toward progress is often confronting the challenge head on. We have learned at least that much from the Brown decision, the sacrifices made by our outstanding military men and women, and the wisdom of Maya Angelou. Google’s decision to be transparent and take on its diversity challenges will help us to do just that. 

There is much work to do to improve diversity in the tech sector.  Google’s report revealed that it is a company, like most in Silicon Valley, that is dominated by males (70 percent of its workforce) and lacking people of color (just two percent are black and three percent Hispanic). That said, I have no doubt that given the dynamism of our industry we will embrace Google’s leadership and begin to confront and discern how we can change the tech workplace in the same ways that we have transformed our country and our society: through our strength and innovation.            

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