Working in a team is always challenging. With the increasing mobility of engineers and of people in general this is making team work even tougher. Engineering companies are inevitably employing professionals from an array of nations, creeds and walks of life. Most groups - let alone those with a broad diversity – will find they don’t always see eye to eye.
At world renowned engineering company Tesla, in the United States of America, 100 African-American employees (of 33,000 employees globally), have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. They claim it has become a “hotbed for racist behavior” and has created a workplace where harassment is rife.
An excerpt of the complaint reads:
“Although Tesla stands out as a groundbreaking company at the forefront of the electric car revolution, the standard operating procedure at Tesla is pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination.”
It claims too that the age-old and contemptuous term for a black or dark-skinned person in the US has been bandied about within the company.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, took to the in-company email system to address the claims being made and warned employees, in a down-to-earth manner, to proceed with caution in future:
“Part of not being a huge jerk is considering how someone might feel who is part of a historically less represented group. Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, in which case, you should apologize. In fairness, if someone is a jerk to you, but sincerely apologizes, it is important to be thick-skinned and accept that apology.”
The class action lawsuit follows a spate of job cuts at the company - Tesla recently let 400 employees go at once. The cuts come amidst a tight production schedule, as Tesla tries to meet their targets of their Model 3 electric vehicle.
The employee, who reportedly filed the class action suit, was terminated in October after reporting the racial issues to the Human Resources department and Musk himself.
Historically in engineering, there is a sizeable gap between the numbers of men versus women employees; this is aptly called ‘the gender gap’.
This year, James Damore, a software engineer working for Google, was fired for his seemingly politically incorrect views on why the gender gap in tech industries exists.
He wrote a ten-page document describing his view of sexism within Google. He explained that “not all of the male-female disparity in tech” was the result of sexism. He assigns the disparity to the fact that men and women are inherently different.
The leaking to the media of Damore’s document (designed as an internal memo) has resulted in a war of words between those of different political leanings. Having been subjected to internal diversity programs at Google Damore campaigned for the review of these methods; Google’s management did not take the criticism well, and let Damore go.
The Vice President of Diversity for Google, Danielle Brown said:
“Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
Upon hearing of his firing, the secret information publisher Wikileaks offered Damore a job.
Diversity in teams is not all bad – when managed well these work groups offer many benefits. The input from an array of cultural backgrounds and a mix of genders can inspire and drive innovation. Local market knowledge and insight can also give a company a competitive edge and therefore boost profitability. Analysis of teams with dissimilar nationalities and a healthy blend of men and women has found these groups to be more productive and to perform more efficiently. And interestingly, drawing employees from a culturally diverse talent pool increases a business’ ability to attract and retain the best people.
Hull, Dana. “Tesla Is a 'Hotbed for Racist Behavior,' Worker Claims in Suit.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 13 Nov. 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-13/tesla-a-hotbed-for-racist-behavior-black-workers-claim-in-suit.