On Tuesday, we learned that Google software engineer James Damore had created a new Silicon Valley firestorm with his 10-page internal memo. The 10-page memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” suggests, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.” As he explained, because of biological differences, women are simply less suited to tech jobs and to leadership roles.
The memo was leaked to journalists over the weekend. By Tuesday morning, media outlets reported that Damore had been fired “for perpetuating gender stereotypes.”
Google and other Silicon Valley tech companies have acknowledged a gender-disparity problem and publicly committed to hiring more women employees. Progress to date, however, has been slow. Seventy percent of Google’s tech-sector employees are male. Google is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for allegedly paying women less than men. The company has denied the charges.
Code of Conduct violation
Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded to the controversy on Monday with a company-wide email. He said Damore violated the company’s Code of Conduct by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.
“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
We agree. It’s almost unbelievable that an entirely new generation of men — Generation X — are still engaging in these behaviors.
Damore accused Google of fostering an ideological echo chamber because of its liberal leanings and emphasis on training to eliminate unconscious bias. “Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.” You can find the complete manifesto on Gizmodo.
Google likes to consider the company a haven for free speech, with internal employee forums that include open discussions on pretty much every conceivable topic. Perhaps that is why Damore felt comfortable sharing an offensive post.
Some defend employee’s actions
Damore has his defenders. Breitbart News commentators discussed boycotting Google and switching to Microsoft’s Bing.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange publicly offered Damore a job. “Censorship,” he said on Twitter, “is for losers.”
Damore is reportedly assessing his legal options. We predict he won’t find much recourse in the judicial system.
U.S. law protects free speech from government restrictions. But it does not protect free speech at work. What’s more, Damore’s freedom of speech wasn’t silenced; in fact, it went viral.
Damore had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board before Google fired him. The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from interfering with “concerted activities” for their “mutual aid and protection.” Damore says he wrote his memo to encourage inclusion of more diverse ideological viewpoints at Google. But what he did was to disrupt the workplace. In fact, Pichai canceled part of his vacation to deal with the fallout. It may be hard to argue that Google fired him in retaliation for his NRLB charge.
Perhaps more telling, a Google spokesperson noted to Fortune magazine that if Damore’s memo had focused on race rather than gender, there would be less criticism over the decision to dismiss him.