James Damore exposed intolerance at the tech giant, expect Google to learn the wrong lesson.
Some interesting developments in the case of James Damore, the Google Senior Software Engineer who now is a former Google Senior Software Engineer. He was fired after Google reacted badly to Damore’s memo challenging explanations for the relative lack of women in software engineering.
The memo was grossly misrepresented as being anti-diversity and anti-female in both the mainstream and tech media.
The most senior Google executives joined in that tactic. One of the worst posts was by the CEO of Google’s YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, who used her daughter as a prop to attack Damore:
Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question. “Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?” …
Some of those responding to the memo are trying to defend its authorship as an issue of free speech. As a company that has long supported free expression, Google obviously stands by the right that employees have to voice, publish or tweet their opinions. But while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender. Every day, companies take action against employees who make unlawful statements about co-workers, or create hostile work environments.
For instance, what if we replaced the word “women” in the memo with another group? What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author? I don’t ask this to compare one group to another, but rather to point out that the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.
I thought about all of this, looked at my daughter and answered simply.
“No, it’s not true.”
Damore had a good response to Wojcicki’s argument, stating (correctly) that she was attempting to divert from the actual substance of his memo and using guilt by association as a tactic. He made that point in this interview with Ben Shapiro:
Damore repeated the point in this Bloomberg interview:
Damore also took to the Wall Street Journal to explain, Why I Was Fired by Google
I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.”…
In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.
Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.
Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.
I doubt any of this will change Google’s culture. If anything, given the attitudes and public statements of senior executives, the wrong lesson will be learned.
The lesson learned will be that the echo chamber needs to be even tighter. The price to be paid for disagreeing has been set.