Self-driving cars, balloons that beam Internet service to previously unconnected citizens below, immortality—these are the farsighted, high-risk pursuits that Google calls its "moonshots." But another one of its wildly ambitious projects isn't classified as such, and falls a lot closer to campus: curbing workplace discrimination. The company, which has roughly two male employees for every female employee, has spent three years making data-based revisions to its hiring and promotion processes.
No company—and certainly no tech company—has figured out how to dissolve the unconscious biases that govern human-resources decisions. And even if Google found a proven fix for its diversity problem, change would still come slowly. “At our rate of hiring, if we wanted to move to 50-50, we'd have to hire only women for something like the next four, five, or six years,” says Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google. “To have a meaningful change in the numbers and representation is actually going to take a while because it turns out it's illegal to only hire women or only hire African Americans. So it's going more slowly than I'd like, and more slowly than we'd like."
Since 2012, Bock’s division has been studying unconscious bias and experimenting with ways to get employees to reflect on their preconceptions. “Those of us who are raised in a cultural context have the same associations. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or in science or in liberal arts,” Brian Welle, the director of people analytics at Google, has said. Drawing heavily on social-science research, including a landmark 2003 study that found that white and black job candidates faced vastly different standards, Google’s team has become convinced that the key is getting people to admit their own biases before making decisions.