The Path to a Virtuous Workplace is Paved with Do Gooder Intentions

8th November 2017

Basking in the glow of media admiration, business leaders often parade their virtue like shiny sashes. Sleeping rough, ice buckets, earth hour, and more recently same sex marriage, everyone wants to be seen to be good. But scratch the surface and you might just find a workplace culture of intolerance, bullying, fear and loathing.

Notwithstanding sweet sounding mission statements, the culture of business is primarily founded on the personality and behaviour of leaders and most businesses are built on hierarchical command and control systems of work. Staff willingly or otherwise tolerate a certain level of boorish behaviour from their boss in exchange for monetary reward and career opportunities. However, personal beliefs of the chief executive are not always shared by the people that happen to work with or for them. Conscripting whole companies of people in support of personal vanity campaigns treads a dangerous path.

I was drawn to this topic whilst reading of the dismissal of US Google employee James Damore who dared to challenge the diversity zeitgeist. James Damore was dismissed for the Orwellian tinged offence of “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace” He argued that differences in males and females lead to differences in career choices. How shocking.

Visit the Google company home page and you will read all about diversity and inclusion. Here is a direct quote from the Google website: “Understanding bias and its intersection with our workplace–and the communities around us– is crucial to creating change. And sharing those insights is even more important.” James Damore shared his personal insights, whereupon a large group of Google employees demanded his silence. Google management duly dismissed him. So much for diversity of opinion.

In Australia we have the marriage debate. Earlier this year, thirty-six chief executives wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to support a parliamentary vote to amend the Marriage Act. Whether you support change or not, I can’t think of a more contentious topic on which company executives have thrown their corporate weight. The debate can be characteristically described as a social movement advocating change of a political nature on a collision course with religious sensibilities and individual conscience. We have multiple anti-discrimination, workplace harassment and bullying laws that prohibit discrimination based on religious and political opinion. However none of that seems to stand in the way of conscripting entire companies in partisan advocacy and admonishing employees with opposing views.

Another interesting virtue project is the ‘Gender pay gap’ promoted by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and advocated by a coterie of senior business executives known as ‘Pay Equity Ambassadors’. Discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions tops the list of factors the WDEA claims contribute to the gap. Anyone with a a passing interest in statistical analysis understands correlation does not mean causation. WGEA’s preferred measure of equality, Full-time Average Weekly Earnings, tells us absolutely nothing about the reason for differential earnings. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics very carefully explains that AWE is not a suitable measure for determining the causes of differences in average earnings between males and females. But don’t let that get in way of a good news headline and matching suit lapel ribbons.

One might suggest that there is nothing wrong in promoting progressive goals through ‘soft’ social research but one would be wrong. Besides the fact it is dishonest, it undermines the seriousness of the causes that such research purportedly supports. Consequential misallocation of resources and suppression of contrary voices within workplaces is neither good or virtuous. It just makes people resentful. Tolerance of diverse personal traits but intolerance of diverse views is not diversity. It is authoritarianism.