Diversity and Redfin’s Culture of Dissent

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Image via Flickr/Ramu Pradip

In an email sent to employees over the weekend, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman addressed diversity and Redfin’s culture:

Hi Redfinnians,

For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to discuss diversity, workplace politics and our culture of dissent.

Our Values: Everyone is Respected

At last Tuesday’s company meeting, we denounced the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. Those folks have wounded our country, and sought to terrify Jews at temple, and African-Americans who stand up for their basic rights.

Of course we all need to denounce Nazis. They’re hateful and dangerous. But James Damore, the Google engineer fired after publishing an anti-diversity manifesto, is a more complicated case that we also need to discuss.

Being Against Diversity Programs is Fine, Sexism or Racism Isn’t

Redfin would not have fired Mr. Damore for arguing against a corporate diversity program, as reasonable people can disagree on how best to pursue a diversity program, or even whether to pursue one at all. But we would’ve fired Mr. Damore for basing his opposition on the argument that women on average are less well-suited to software development due to supposedly higher levels of neuroticism and other imputed traits.

That is a sexist, false argument. In America in 2017, we shouldn’t have to debate whether people who tout racial- or gender-based differences in average intellectual ability are sexist or racist. They are. And it makes no difference that the people who make these arguments believe they are stating scientific facts; most every racist or sexist, including the Charlottesville Nazis, believes his or her opinions are fact-based.

Not Just Wrong, But Damagingly So

The problem Mr. Damore’s argument would have created for us as an employer was not that it was merely wrong, but also that it would have damaged our project to create a culture where everyone can be at his or her best.

Anyone who has tried to build a company from a disparate group of males and females, of black and white people, knows that someone who broadcasts racist or sexist statements has made it much harder for us all to work together. That’s why one of Redfin’s values is that everyone is respected.

Redfin Does Not Have an Ideology

That also means we must respect political differences. For the same reason we want to avoid sowing divisions between men and women or black and white people, we want liberal and conservative employees to be able to work together. In our annual survey of Redfin employees, some conservative folks reported feeling silenced by what has sometimes felt like a Redfin ideology on diversity. If you feel that way, I’d like to start the dialog by hearing from you; I promise to listen respectfully.

We should all remember that Redfin does not and should not have an ideology beyond the basic respect for everyone shared by people of all political stripes. This is first because the company does not exist to advance a political agenda, and second because, as a data-driven, innovative company, we’re opposed to ideology on principle. The whole reason people start companies is to overturn an ideology of one kind or another.

Our Culture of Dissent

Our culture of dissent works best with a modest, inquisitive approach to the ways the world can surprise you when you hear both sides of a debate, when you focus on what works rather than what confirms your world view. You can believe what you want to believe in your personal life but we can’t afford to do that in business, when our competitiveness depends on recruiting the best talent.

Fairness to a Group, Fairness to an Individual

It’s fair to argue that diversity programs aren’t aggressive enough, or shouldn’t exist, or take the wrong approach. It isn’t sexist or racist to make those arguments. Using diversity programs to address a long history of unfairness toward a group of people will always create the risk that we’re not being fair now to an individual. Since it’s important to recruit diverse talent and important to be fair, this tension will vex our society, and our company, for decades to come. We can’t and shouldn’t eliminate this tension. So we just have to explore it in a reasonable, empathetic way.

One Redfin

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the same folks who are trying to be provocative or divisive are also eager to be offended or outraged. I’ve heard liberal and conservative folks emphasize differences and grievances based on identity that are exaggerated, reductive and ultimately counter to our project as Redfin’s leaders — and we are all Redfin’s leaders — to unite the company behind a mission to help people buy and sell homes.

How to Speak: Humbly, Curiously

The worst thing that has happened to our country recently may be that we’ve lost the ability to communicate with one another about our differences. That can’t happen at our company. If you have something controversial or unpopular to say, say it, but please say it humbly and curiously, to find out what others think, to determine what works about your idea and what doesn’t, to see if it advances our efforts to be diverse and fair.

How to Listen: Humbly, Curiously

We also want to be careful about how we listen. When someone is brave enough to take a contrarian point of view, we should encourage him or her, rather than waiting to pounce on a poor choice of words. The only speech on this issue that won’t be tolerated is speech that argues different groups of people are biologically different in our ability to think. We’ll make decisions about whom to hire and promote that are sometimes right and occasionally, tragically, unavoidably wrong, then try to decide where we screwed up and how to do better next time.

Finishing the Work We Are In

Our country has been far, far more divided than it is now. In the space of a few years during the Civil War, 620,000 of our own people died over these divisions. And the reason we have healed is because, as President Lincoln once said, we have proceeded with humility and determination:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.

Those ideas still hold true, for a country and a company.

Sincerely,
Glenn

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Chief Executive Officer

Glenn is the CEO of Redfin. Prior to joining Redfin, he was a co-founder of Plumtree Software, a Sequoia-backed, publicly traded company that created the enterprise portal software market. Glenn was raised in Seattle and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Redfin is a full-service real estate brokerage that uses modern technology to make clients smarter and faster. For more information about working with a Redfin real estate agent to buy or sell a home, visit our Why Redfin page.

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