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It has been interesting to read about the contretemps at Google, where a software engineer’s internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts as misguided, and suggesting that women are biologically less able to perform certain technology-based roles than men, has gone public, creating new employee concerns about the climate there at a time when the company is dealing with a federal probe into whether it routinely pays women less than men.

It all got a lot more intense this morning with the report that James Damore, the software engineer who wrote the original memo, has been fired by Google.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company email that the company memo had violated the company’s code of conduct and crossed the line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” He added, ““The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’”

Gizmodo, which originally made the memo public, characterized it this way:

“In the memo, which is the personal opinion of a male Google employee and is titled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,’ the author argues that women are underrepresented in tech not because they face bias and discrimination in the workplace, but because of inherent psychological differences between men and women. ‘We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,’ he writes, going on to argue that Google’s educational programs for young women may be misguided.”

In the memo itself, Damore wrote that Google’s left-leaning “political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.”

The author also argues that people on the left who deny biological differences based on gender are as bad as those on the right who deny climate science, and that there should be an effort to “de-moralize” the diversity issue - those who disagree with the company’s diversity policies should not be seen as immoral.

And it goes on and on.

Subsequently, Google’s newly appointed VP of diversity, Danielle Brown, offered a statement and rebuttal, saying, in part:

“Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender … Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul … 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.”

However, that level of tolerance didn’t last long, and Damore now confirms his firing. He also tells the New York Times that he believes his firing is illegal and will be seeking a legal remedy.
KC's View:
To be fair, Damore didn’t say that women couldn’t have any role in the tech business. He just suggested that they were best suited to giving birth to actual male engineers.

(Just kidding. Too soon?)

In the Axios story about the controversy, it is noted that “this comes just weeks after several male venture capitalists were accused of sexual harassment toward female tech entrepreneurs, and that was on top of allegations of gender discrimination at Uber. In the course of a summer, Silicon Valley's reputation has devolved from progressive meritocracy to sexist cesspool.”

The writer was, of course, being sarcastic … pointing out that “all of these incidents reveal a dirty secret about America's technology industry: It is comprised of people who live in America. As such, it is prone to many of the same cultural flaws inherent in other industries and communities. Sexism. Racism. Intolerance of dissenting views, let alone interest in debating for the sake of greater knowledge. It's something we forgot in our rush to venerate the new masters of the universe. Would we have even batted a collective eye if the Google memo had been written by someone working in Wall Street, or at a Fortune 500 manufacturer?”

It is, the Axios story says, just time for tech to have its moment “in this unwanted spotlight…”

I think that’s all true. I must admit that I have enormous trouble with the idea that some people are biologically better able to be engineers and scientists because of their gender…I think people have the right do think that way, but they do not have the right to block women from achieving what they want to achieve because of views that I would define as archaic.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I think. It matters, in this case, how Google is culturally constructed. And the powers that be there seem to view this guy’s opinions as archaic, too … hence his firing.

I have no idea whether the company’s actions are legal or not, though I must admit to looking forward to reading about how this case unfolds and writing about it from time to time. Google will argue that this is not retribution because of his politics or political incorrectness (which some will try to make it) as much as it is a necessary reaction to his apparent believe that anyone with a vagina cannot do his job as well as he can, simply because he has a penis. That’s not exactly a helpful attitude to hold in any workplace.

What if he had argued that African-Americans were biologically less capable of performing in certain tech jobs? Would that be a firing offense?

This almost certainly will create a fascinating conversation in the public square, not to mention workplaces around America, about diversity and tolerance.