When Corporations Become Parents: The Infantilisation Of Professional Knowledge Workers

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Corporations purchase your labour in exchange for a salary and other defined benefits. Yet skilled professional workers are increasingly demanding that their employers also play the role of a nurturing, identity-affirming auxiliary parent.

Today, on my weekly scroll through corporate networking social media site LinkedIn, I came upon that most annoying of phenomena – the corporate humblebrag.

In case you are unfamiliar, the corporate humblebrag is a status update or article generally written by some cretinous individual who takes excessive pride in their firm (outside of which they have no life) and thinks that their organisation’s craven feats of pandering to the social justice priesthood somehow reflect a deep-seated virtue in themselves.

LinkedIn is chock full of such posts. Just as online pornography is said to account for up to 30% of total internet traffic, so the vast majority of posts on LinkedIn now consist of corporate humblebrags, people trying to ingratiate themselves with their current and future employers and colleagues by conspicuously and repeatedly trumpeting even the most banal of news items about their companies.

The corporate humblebrag which prompts this blog post is particularly bad, and centres on global consulting firm Accenture’s efforts to bring about harmony between world religions – a feat which has eluded the world’s greatest thinkers, theologians and statesmen, but which is apparently all in a day’s work for a modern global professional services outfit.

Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer of Accenture writes:

Those of you who are regular readers have heard me talk about Accenture’s aspiration to be the most truly human organization in the digital age. As we continue to peel back the layers on what “truly human” means, at the heart is helping our people be successful both professionally and personally. And, to be at our best, we need to be comfortable being our true selves and expressing our feelings at work.

Peeling back the layers on what “truly human” means? This is the type of existential question which has consumed humankind for millennia, without resolution. It hardly seems likely that Accenture’s drive to be “the most truly human organization in the digital age” is going to crack the secret of life when the most prominent philosophers, theologians, artists and scientists throughout history have all come up short.

The self-aggrandising article continues:

We started our “Building Bridges” journey last year in the midst of racial unrest in the U.S. Our people told us that it’s stressful when they feel they can’t talk openly in the workplace about things that happen in the world or at home that affect them deeply. It makes them feel like they don’t belong and that perhaps their co-workers are unaware or don’t care about things that are important to them.

Why do I get the distinct feeling that Accenture’s “Building Bridges” scheme is probably only receptive to some viewpoints and perspectives about the racial unrest in America – and that the people being encouraged to speak and rewarded for doing so are those who propagate the current identity politics dogma which dictates that race is not something to be ignored but rather scrupulously and punishingly observed, with everybody seen not as an individual, not as an American but as a member of an oppressed community (or the oppressing white male group)?

Somehow I imagine that were an Accenture employee to stand up in one of these “Building Bridges” meetings and venture the kind of opinion typically made on this blog – that we should be colourblind in our interactions with people and that identity politics only serves to fracture society and create a self-fulfilling culture of passive victimhood – that they would find themselves up in front of HR pretty fast, and out the door escorted by security not too long afterwards. But perhaps I am being uncharitable.

More:

We recently convened a Building Bridges session in New York on the topic of religion. Yes, one of those supposed taboo topics that you’re advised to avoid – along with politics – right?!  Well, the bottom line is religion is important to many of our people. And, it’s critical to foster cross-faith and multicultural understanding and respect. At the very least, it helps us understand the religious observances of our colleagues. But what I really see is deeper connections among our people.

Oh goody, religion in the workplace. At this point, Ellyn Shook hands over to her sycophantic underling Dan Eckstein, head of Accenture New York’s Interfaith Employee Resource Group – which apparently started out as a Bible study group for Christian employees before being hijacked and taken over in order to fulfil the glorious higher purpose of social justice activism.

Here’s Dan, in his own words:

As an observant Jew, I’ve always been passionate about inclusion and diversity, especially the topic of one’s faith at work. After graduating college, it was a challenge to figure out how I wanted to balance my religion and my work. I found myself trying to compartmentalize my work life from my religious life. But it didn’t feel right. I asked my parents, grandparents and mentors for advice. I’ll never forget the story of my Grandpa when he arrived in NY after the Holocaust and surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was a fur matcher and he told me that almost every Friday in the winter he would leave work early to get home for the Sabbath by sundown. When Monday came around he would go back to work and they would fire him for leaving early. As a survivor, my Grandpa taught me to always be proud of who I am and to stand up for my beliefs.

I ultimately decided to wear my Kippa to work because I wanted to be transparent about who I am, and be consistent both inside and outside the office. I feel it represents my true self and is something that I’m proud of. As a leader, I also hope that I am a role model to others, encouraging authenticity.

Fine. That’s all well and good – people should certainly be free to express themselves at work as far as practicable and in line with their role. But then it starts to get weird:

Our Interfaith ERG hosted a Building Bridges session on August 11 where over 100 people packed into the NY office training room to talk about faith at work. We decided to anchor this session around the theme of “story telling.” Everyone has a story, but we’re often so busy or distracted at work that we don’t take time to ask or share.

[..] We ended our session by asking local faith leaders – Rev. Doyeon Park, Brahmachari Karuna, Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Mohammed Al-Mathil and Rabbi Bob Kaplan – to reflect on the day and offer messages around hope, transparency, courage and community. Mohammed Al-Mathil encouraged us to ask questions from a place of respect and to do a bit of homework when coming to conversations about religion. Brahmachari Karuna shared a story of his father, a Human Resources leader, who seeks to find points of beauty in other religions, which helps to spark conversations with colleagues to explore commonalities and points of beauty across their different faiths.

It’s amazing that anyone in Accenture’s New York office finds time to align boxes in PowerPoint, sit on 3-hour client conference calls or just do some good old fashioned smoke testing on a new SAP deployment when they are all so busy learning about other faiths and affirming one another’s chosen identities.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The same culture now pervades nearly every large company with offices in major world cities or key industry hubs – any place where college educated knowledge workers gather in high concentration. For example, it is now almost compulsory for corporations to conspicuously endorse Pride Month and acknowledge it with a veritable festival of sponsorships and office activities.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this – if executives want to engage in corporate virtue-signalling then this is their choice. But these forays into social activism inevitably come down hard on one specific side of the debate, with little tolerance for those with differing views – even if they are conscientious and upstanding employees.

For example, this is what the Head of HR Strategy for one multinational firm had to say on LinkedIn about the recent Google Memo saga, in which developer James Damore was summarily fired for publishing a frequently and deliberately-misrepresented memo calling for Google to look again at the policies through which it aims to increase diversity:

Inclusion and diversity can be a prickly topic, although these issues don’t need to be sticky if handled in an appropriate manner. A great example set by Google’s CEO following the engineer’s ‘anti- I&D manifesto’. Having sent a clear email to all employees, he fired the employee in question and returned from his holiday immediately to take time to discuss the topics further with Googlers. Bravo for great leadership, mirroring words with actions. #strongleadership #diversity #inclusion

How then is an employee of this corporation who happens to agree with James Damore’s perfectly reasonable argument supposed to feel when it becomes clear that their own Head of HR strongly supports the firing of people such as themselves simply for failing to agree with the prevailing social justice groupthink; that every kind of diversity is encouraged in their firm, except for ideological diversity?

More to the point, why is it now necessary for our employers to continually nurture and affirm us as though we are needy toddlers? Why do we look to the corporations we work for to be our moral lodestar, a source of emotional support and a powerful auxiliary parent to adjudicate every petty interpersonal dispute that may arise between us and our coworkers?

When you work for a company you are selling them your labour – manual, mental or sometimes emotional – and in exchange you get paid a wage or a salary. That’s the sum total of the relationship that should exist between employer and employee in a capitalist system, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want to go back to the Victorian days where wealthy industrialists took it upon themselves to watch over the moral fibre of their workforce, regulating speech, recreation and behaviour in purpose-built company towns.

Of course people form important professional connections and bonds of friendship with colleagues, and employees are required to buy into whatever company culture exists in the various ways that it manifests (at least if they want their careers to prosper), but this still falls under the remit of labour. And the corporation has traditionally only been interested in nurturing such relationships to the extent that they help the employee perform their job and improve their skills (and consequently the value of their labour) – through training and intra-company networking events, for example.

I won’t deny that it is nice when corporations take sensible measures to improve the wellbeing of their workforce and increase employee engagement – and there are a whole range of ways to accomplish these goals, from bonus systems and employee reward schemes to the nature of performance appraisals and even small token gestures like free fruit or snacks for staff. I have personally benefited from many such initiatives in my own corporate career. But again, these schemes were designed to incentivise me to stay with the company or to work harder, not to fill in gaping holes in my psyche.

Yet apparently thousands if not millions of well-educated and gainfully employed people look to their employers – huge corporations which ultimately often have little allegiance to either their home country, country of operations or indeed their employees – to help realise their potential as human beings. That’s just plain creepy.

And note also that this is a mental affliction which only seems to affect middle class workers in the creative, tech or professional service industries. You don’t get minimum wage burger-flippers at McDonald’s demanding that the corporation “peel back the layers” of their humanity or otherwise validate their existence and identity at every turn. The relationship is purely transactional – they show up for work, put in a shift, go home and get paid. The same goes for retail work, semi-skilled clerical work and those in the service industries.

(In fact the only organisation where such intimate involvement in the private lives, personalities and identities of their staff seems remotely appropriate is the military, which in order to make people into effective warriors and leaders must essentially deconstruct and rebuild people from the ground up during basic training, with very different boundaries of privacy and intimacy to other private or public sector employment).

In other words, this phenomenon or corporate coddling is something that upper middle class professional knowledge workers are bringing on themselves, not something which is imposed upon them (as one might have imagined from following the Google Memo saga). It is no longer enough for corporations to provide a water cooler, cheap coffee and a relatively consistent ambient air temperature – now rank and file employees are effectively demanding that their employers pander to their every emotional need as well, be it support with their sexuality, gender identity, religion or any number of other issues which are best tended to in one’s own personal time.

I must say that I find this trend fascinating and repellent, in equal part. I genuinely struggle to identify with the kind of mindset that would prompt an intelligent, driven employee to organise an interfaith religious symposium for their office, or to facilitate a training workshop in LGBTQ+ allyship on company time – other than the obvious excuse of wanting to avoid the tedium of doing real, actual value-adding work (which I totally get).

If I were still working in a large professional services firm with one of these gung-ho HR departments, I would sooner that they fire everybody with the word “diversity” in their job title and raise my salary by a couple of quid than be continually validated in my identity as an trans-class, mixed-race, semi-privileged cisgender heterosexual male by some gimlet-eyed, Kool-Aid drinking corporate apparatchik. But apparently I am in the minority.

Admittedly, LinkedIn isn’t the best gauge of these things, being populated mostly by fellow corporate Kool-Aid drinkers who share endless posts about how “proud” they are that their firm won some industry award for sustainability in toilet paper consumption. But there are clearly enough people who value – nay, demand – being condescended to in this way by their employers that large firms are willing to pull out all the stops and treat their employees like the children they apparently yearn to be.

Perhaps I am a grouch and an outlier on this, and I would certainly welcome the input and perspective of anybody who works in corporate HR or one of these diversity or employee-nurturing workstreams. But to me, this trend is just another casualty of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, not to mention a symbol of the relentless infantilisation of Western society, with grown adults in prestigious jobs now seeking to regress back into coddled childhood, one insipid LinkedIn status update at a time.

 

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Exhuming McCarthy: Corporate Social Justice And The Google Memo Saga

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A software engineer at Google published an internal memo questioning the current diversity strategy and warning that the company was becoming an ideological echo chamber where dissenters felt intimidated about expressing their views. Google immediately validated these concerns by firing him.

One wonders exactly what Google would have to do before senior executives at the company are forced to admit that their corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil”, is little more than a bitter joke.

The company has been in the headlines the past few days thanks to a “scandal” precipitated when software engineer James Damore published an internal memo questioning Google’s approach to diversity in the workplace.

Entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, the memo alleges that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership”, before pointing out that a free discussion cannot take place because:

“when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.”

The memo goes on to consider various non-bias related causes of the gender gap in tech. At all times, James Damore is at pains to emphasise that he is not suggesting that all men or all women share the various traits under discussion, merely that there are indisputably different distributions of preferences and abilities between men and women which might account for some or all of the gender representation gap in the industry. Damore emphasises that “many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions”.

Damore then goes on to propose a number of potential ways to reduce the gender representation gap without relying on methods that could be described as affirmative action, including a genuine embracing of part-time work, rewarding cooperative as well as competitive behaviour and striving to make it more socially acceptable for men to free themselves from expectations of the male gender role:

Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles.

Read the whole memo here – it is only ten pages in length, and quite unlike the monstrous manifesto that it has been portrayed as by a hopelessly biased media.

As it happens, I agree with some of Damore’s premises but not his conclusion. I was swayed partly by this article by Josh Barro in Business Insider, which posits that if there are indeed natural gender imbalances in tech because of differences in aptitude and interest, it still behoves corporations to guard against the possibility that hiring managers, expecting that women will be less suited for certain roles, then subconsciously discriminate against female candidates.

Barro explains how this phenomenon might manifest itself:

  • A widespread assumption that “most” of the good job candidates will be men may lead to stereotyping in the hiring process, with hiring managers more likely to assume that men are good candidates and overlook qualified women.

  • Women may self-select out of the field because they internalize the stereotype that it is “for men,” and the stereotype may also make men overconfident in their fitness for the field and more inclined to pursue employment in it.

  • A male majority in the field is likely to be excessively self-reinforcing, as research shows that hiring managers tend to use the qualitative and “culture fit” aspects of hiring to hire candidates who resemble themselves, and most of the hiring managers in a male-dominated field will be men.

  • As seen in several high-profile cases in Silicon Valley, male-dominated management structures may foster cultures of pervasive workplace sexism and harassment that drive women out of the field.

Barro goes on to explain:

The memo misses this entirely, jumping from a claim that gender differences in interests and aptitude “may in part explain” the strong male skew in Google’s engineering groups to a conclusion that specific efforts at Google to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minority candidates are counterproductive and should be ended.

For example, the author complains about “hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.” That is, he’s upset that women candidates get a second look when men don’t.

But this is something you would absolutely want to do to prevent a phenomenon described above: hiring-manager biases and stereotypes leading to a lopsidedness by gender in hiring that exceeds the actual lopsidedness by gender in the qualified candidate pool. It makes sense to be extra certain that women who got screened out were rejected on the basis of qualifications and aptitude, not something else.

These are sound points, some of which I did not stop to fully appreciate when originally penning my response – I’m glad that I waited 24 hours and did some wider reading before hitting “publish” on this.

Of course, there was no such reflection and nuance to be found in the mainstream media, whose reporting might well leave you thinking that Damore had rewritten Mein Kampf for the 21st century and published a bitter screed attacking women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

CNN certainly took this hysterical approach:

“Aren’t biologically fit for tech jobs”? CNN should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant misrepresentation, if only they still had the capacity to feel shame. Of course, James Damore actually said no such thing. One can agree or disagree with the various premises and conclusions in the memo, but on the whole it was a thoughtful, measured and articulate reflection on a very topical issue. Rather than firing him, Google should have been proud to employ somebody who raised the issue respectfully with the aim of improving the company.

But apparently the memo has taken a grave psychological toll on Google’s “woke” and sensitive workforce. Now we hear that several female Google employees apparently failed to show up to work the following day because they were too distressed about the contents of the memo.

From NPR:

Another software engineer who used to work for Google, Kelly Ellis, says some women who still work at the company stayed home on Monday because the memo made them “uncomfortable going back to work.”

Seriously? What reason had they to feel uncomfortable? The memo was the creation of one employee – an employee who was publicly chastised by Google’s Head of Diversity, who hinted strongly that the memo “crossed the line” and violated the company’s code of conduct – and who was later fired from his job. It is hardly as though Google had suddenly been invaded by a swarm of alt-right campaigners or men’s rights activists. The corporation is overwhelmingly and publicly set against Damore’s position, to the extent that they excommunicated him for his beliefs.

The only person for whom Google proved to be a hostile work environment here is James Damore. And the only reason for any employee to stay home from work claiming distress was to parade their conspicuous victimhood and revel in their own (largely) imaginary oppression.

When I was eleven years old and in my first year of secondary school, I was queuing for the school tuck shop when some massive neanderthal of an inbred fifth-year kid shoved me out of the line and called me a nigger. And yet somehow I managed to board the school bus and show up to class on time the next day. And I was a child. Now these are intelligent, grown-ass women working for one of the most prestigious firms in the world, and we are supposed to believe that they are so fragile, so wounded by a MEMO of all things that they weren’t able to do their jobs. Again, I ask: are you for real?

This is why I say that social justice is a cancer on society. A cancer. Not just because it suppresses the free speech rights of ideological dissenters and creates a truly chilling atmosphere in which a significant portion of the population is cowed into sullen, fearful silence for fear of losing everything if they dare to express themselves reasonably and honestly. Not just because of that, but also because the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is turning fully grown adults with jobs, mortgages, credit cards and often kids of their own into little more than oversized, perpetually vulnerable babies. It poisons the body politic and fractures society into separate warring special interest or “victimhood” groups, all jostling for attention, sympathy and affirmative action. Social justice activism is corroding our society from within.

There is no good reason for anyone to be traumatised by the Google memo, even if they disagree with its contents. One can disagree with the either the premises or the conclusion of the memo’s main argument, but it should be possible to have a civil discussion without acting as though real physical or mental harm has been done by the mere expressing of an opinion.

Anybody smart enough to work at Google should be capable of articulating a response to the “offensive” memo if they disagree with it strongly enough. Moreover, they should actively welcome the opportunity to debate these ideas so as to win over more supporters. That’s how social causes have traditionally advanced themselves, often with great success and rapidity.

But now this is apparently too much of a burden. Now the regressive Left is unwilling to do the hard work of argument and persuasion, preferring instead to push the “fast forward” button and speed ahead to an imagined time when everybody agrees with their social justice dogma. And since this ideological consensus does not yet exist (and God willing never will), the Left must instead artificially enforce it by clamping down on contrary opinions and making dissenters feel so fearful that they simply cease to express themselves.

David French makes this very point in the National Review:

The primary victims of this new culture of groupthink are social conservatives and other dissenters from identity politics. In field after field and company after company, conservatives understand that the price of their employment is silence. Double standards abound, and companies intentionally try to keep work environments “safe” from disagreement. Radical sexual and racial politics are given free rein. Disagree — and lose your job.

It takes a person of rare constitution and moral courage to speak up. And that’s precisely how the far Left likes it. After all, what value is there in disagreement? They’ve figured out that elusive path to racial, gender, and sexual justice, and disagreement only distracts. It does worse than distract. It wounds.

But take heart, conservatives. It’s not all bleak. After all, the government is highly unlikely to persecute you for your speech. And if you want to succeed in cutting-edge businesses or enjoy equal opportunity in the academy, you do have one good option. You can shut your mouth.

You can shut your mouth. Which is precisely what the social justice brigade wants to happen – we have recently seen reports that various employees at Google are maintaining personal “blacklists” of other staff with whom they will refuse to work or consider for promotion because they have supposedly failed to publicly embrace the diversity agenda with sufficient enthusiasm.

One such boastful threat reads:

“While Google appears to be doing very little to quell the hostile voices that exists inside the company, I want those hostile voices to know:

I will never, ever hire hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don’t care if you are perfect fit of technically excellent or whatever

I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I’ll communicate why to your manager if it comes up.”

“You’re being blacklisted by people at companies outside of Google. You might not have been aware of this, but people know, people talk. There are always social consequences.”

And it’s not just Google. I logged in to LinkedIn the other day to check my notifications and was immediately barraged with tens of status updates from various connections working at a variety of large corporations, bragging about all of the amazing things that their firms are doing to celebrate Pride month. Now from a personal perspective I have no problem with that. But if I was a social conservative who takes seriously the responsibility to treat everybody with respect but feels unable to endorse certain social movements for religious reasons, I would be very nervous right now.

Why? Because more and more, employees are exhorted to make explicit their “allyship” of various designated identity groups, or otherwise endorse the aims of the broader social justice movement. We saw this in Britain last week with the National Trust furore, where volunteers were prohibited from serving in customer-facing roles unless they agreed to wear Pride ribbons (eventually the National Trust backed down under public pressure).

The bar has been moved. Mere tolerance is no longer sufficient – increasingly we must be seen to actively affirm and celebrate every lifestyle choice, gender identity or dubious fad which falls under the auspices of the social justice movement.

This is incredibly dangerous. The idea of our employers becoming auxiliary parents to us is as insidious as the idea that the state should play this role in our lives. In fact, the current moves by many corporations to enlist their employees as agents of social change on top of their day to day responsibilities is incredibly paternalistic, almost like something out of the early Industrial Revolution, when benevolent (or not so benevolent) industrialists housed their factory workers, provided for their basic welfare but also carefully regulated their leisure activities and social lives to uphold moral standards.

As I wrote yesterday:

Whereas a decade ago one could reliably find leftists railing against the power of corporations and the supposedly unfair, coercive power balance between employer and employee, now those very same leftists are screeching that big corporations are not doing enough to indoctrinate their employees with the new social justice dogma.

Of course, vesting corporations with such power is in fact highly dangerous and quite likely unconstitutional, particularly when lawsuits start to emerge where employees allege that their employer has pressured them to violate their own conscience when it comes to matters outside the workplace.

If this trend continues, we will soon reach a point where social conservatives, social justice agnostics and anybody else who fails to actively affirm progressive dogma becomes as unwelcome in the corporate world as those suspected of communist sympathies were in 1950s Hollywood. That is the direction in which we are headed.

The rejection of truth in favour of total ideological conformity. Groupthink, paranoia and blacklists. McCarthyism is being exhumed and reanimated before our eyes in the year 2017 – this time not by anti-communists, social conservatives or the religious right, but rather by the so-called progressive Left.

 

 

UPDATE: 9 August, 23:00 BST

Curiously, nobody ever seems to ask why the male to female ratio is so skewed in other professions such as steelworking, mining, forestry or construction, careers which are often less glamorous, more dangerous and entail greater physical labour. It is almost as though gender equality activists tacitly admit that there are in fact differences between men and women which make one or other gender better suited (though by no means exclusively drawn) to certain careers. And if we accept this in the case of physical labour, why not also with mental labour – other than the fact that to even ask the question is now considered heresy?

And why do we only care about diversity in high-status non-manual jobs? Could it possibly be because the world of social justice largely consists of a self-appointed priesthood of middle and upper-middle class people talking exclusively to one another about their First World Problems and busily confirming their own biases, while working class people are too busy trying to get by to worry about whether their employer is sufficiently nurturing of their chosen identity?

 

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