I read the so-called “Google Manifesto.” It forced me to think about the case for diversity and equal opportunity for historically underrepresented groups. I thought about my own straight, white, American male “privilege.” And I thought about my dad.
I love my dad. And we differ in our political opinions. I’m a lifelong Progressive. He’s voted Republican for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, in my moments of frustration, I think to myself “Geeze! He was born into some of the most fortunate or privileged conditions for anyone in the world!” For example,
- Born in the United States in 1934 (not born in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or Hiroshima)
- From a stable, blue-collar family with two loving parents (not a “broken home”)
- Catholic (Catholics have faced some discrimination, but not as much as Jews or atheists)
- Attended good Catholic grade school, high school, college and law school.
- Straight (not gay or closeted gay)
- Male (with huge advantages throughout global society, especially in prior decades)
- White (lots of systemic advantages)
Yes, my dad is a naturally intelligent person, with good emotional intelligence, and has worked hard all his life. (He’s a lot like Warren Buffett — but without the billions of dollars.) My wonderful parents have done everything in their power to set up all of us four children for success. For me, for example, they made it possible that I:
- Came from a stable middle-class family in a safe, suburban neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska
- Attended an excellent grade school and an outstanding all-boys Jesuit high school
- Got good-paying summer jobs during college, thanks to connections through my high school
- Received a fine education at the University of Iowa, which allowed me to study in Vienna. Thanks largely to my ability to speak German, I won a Fulbright scholarship and studied (for free) at the Universität Tübingen for a year.
- Got a job as an English teacher in Frankfurt for two years. I did not earn a lot, but thanks to my parents, I did not have any student loans to force me to work at higher paying but less interesting jobs. I was able to save my Deutschmarks, move to Spain, work in another low-paying job as a business journalist, and then eventually get accepted to business school at Stanford — positioning myself as a unique, risk-taking, cosmopolitan, hippie, Bohemian from Nebraska. (Stanford has always cherished the weirdos.)
I’m not trying to brag about how great I am. Instead, I’m saying that no matter how resourceful, kind and hard-working I’d like to think of myself, so many of my “successes” have been the direct result of being born lucky. I’m extremely grateful to my mom and dad for working hard and giving me these tremendous opportunities. They helped deal me a great hand in the card game of life, and I’ve done my best to play that hand as well as possible. I also know that there are many people who’ve been dealt even better “hands”, and today they’d be happy to land a minimum wage job at Walmart.
Following my graduation from Stanford, I used my connections to get hired at Yahoo in 1997, as employee number 258. This was just in time for me to participate in and profit from the dot com boom. I’ve worked at amazing companies in Silicon Valley ever since.
In the process, I’ve been able to build many high-performance teams in disruptive industries. Most of the people I’ve hired have been female. Most of them have been people of color — Blacks, Native Americans, Indians, Hispanics, and Persians. Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese-American. Refugees and immigrants. Children of immigrants.
I’ve managed Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and evangelical Christians who do missionary work for their churches.
I’ve given jobs to Bernie voters. Hillary voters. Trump voters.
Straight. Lesbian. Or Questioning.
I did not hire for the sake of diversity. I always hired the “best” people for the job. But I tried to be open-minded that people who were very different from me could be the “best” people for the job.
Despite what labels I might put on these individuals, almost all of them did great work. They’ve gone on to have tremendous careers. They prove that this “diversity” is what makes Silicon Valley powerful. This diversity is what makes Silicon Valley amazing.
Most of the people I’ve hired had the opportunity to attend outstanding universities in the first place. This was part of what gave them a shot at getting a good job and working hard to succeed. So diversity initiatives in our schools, governments and companies is an attempt to level an exceedingly un-level playing field. Or as a classmate of mine at Stanford once said: “Straight white males have benefited from their own version of affirmative action for 300 years in this country.” Many of us straight white American males hate to admit this reality, because we love to give ourselves credit for our success in this land which claims to be a meritocracy.
But as the writer E.B. White noted, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” There are a lot of “self-made men” in Silicon Valley. I suppose I’m one of them.
I am not ashamed or guilty of the facts that I cannot control — that I was born a straight white male into a loving middle-class American family in 1963. But at least I can recognize my good fortune – and appreciate and admire the struggle that others face. I do what I can, where I am, with the resources I have – to help less lucky people succeed as well. That includes supporting diversity initiatives at places such as Google. Or me conducting this upcoming workshop for the Girls in Tech non-profit.
As my fellow-Omahan Warren Buffett once said, “If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.”
Do you agree with me? Disagree? Am I missing something here?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for having an open mind!
Copyright 2017 by Jim McCarthy. All rights reserved.