Male Engineer Fired by Google over a Viral Memo Saying Women Are ‘Biologically’ Less Likely to Succeed in Tech
Emily Crane and Jennifer Smith, Daily Mail, August 8, 2017
The male Google employee who was fired after penning a controversial 10-page internal memo claiming that women were ‘biologically’ less likely to succeed in the realm of technology is now exploring legal options.
Software engineer James Damore was terminated by the company on Monday for violating the company’s code of conduct.
In a statement, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said: ‘portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.’
Pichai said he was cutting his family vacation short in order to return to Google headquarters and deal with the aftermath of Damore’s essay on gender.
In a note emailed to Google employees on Monday, Pichai said employees have a right to express themselves but ‘to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.’
Damore, who had worked at the tech company since 2013, confirmed to both Reuters and Bloomberg via emails that he had been fired.
Damore later told Reuters he was exploring all possible legal remedies and that before being fired he had submitted a charge to the US National Labor Relations Board accusing Google upper management of trying to shame him into silence.
‘It’s illegal to retaliate against an NLRB charge,’ he wrote in the email.
It was not immediately clear what legal authority Damore could try to invoke. Nonunion or ‘at will’ employees, such as most tech workers, can be fired in the US for a wide variety of reasons that have nothing to do with performance.
The US National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers, whether they are in a union or not, the right to engage in ‘concerted activities’ for their ‘mutual aid or protection.’
Damore’s controversial 3,300-word manifesto—which was first published by technology news site Motherboard on Saturday—has divided opinion since it went viral on social media.
Damore, who graduated from Harvard in 2013 with a doctoral degree in systems biology, had noted that women could not get ahead at Google because of biological differences.
It prompted backlash from Google’s new head of diversity, Danielle Brown, who denounced the memo in her own note to staff.
She said the memo ‘advanced incorrect assumptions about gender’ and did not display a viewpoint ‘that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages’.
Many have argued that the engineer’s memo was proof of the sexist, male-driven structures that Silicon Valley has become known for in recent months.
Others said Damore’s concern that the company was too left-leaning was legitimate. Some also claim he is the voice of many conservative employees who are too scared to speak out against Google’s politically correct policies because they fear they will lose their jobs.
Brown was hired in June to help steer the company as it tried to improve gender representation across its departments after falling under heavy scrutiny.
In her statement on Monday, she did not address whether Damore—who had not been named at that point—would face any disciplinary action as a result of his memo.
News of his termination emerged late Monday night.
Brown said Google fostered an open environment where all views are welcomed so long as they align with the company’s Code of Conduct and anti-discrimination laws.
‘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,’ she wrote.
In his 10-page document, the Damore explained his belief that the company is blind to inevitable differences between men and women and says that staff are trained to think a that lack of diversity is down to discrimination when sometimes there are other factors to consider.
‘At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership,’ he wrote.
‘Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.
‘On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways.’
Among the perceived differences is that women are have ‘a stronger interest in people rather than things’ which he said explains ‘why women prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.’
Men, he said, are more prone to jobs like coding ‘because it requires systemizing’.
Damore wrote that women were generally ‘more prone to neuroticism’ and that this is why there aren’t so many females in high-stress jobs. The software engineer has not been identified.
‘We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.’
Among the biggest problems, he said, was that staff who do not agree with the company’s approach to the issue are told keep their ideas ‘in the closet’.
‘Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies,’ he said.
Later he added that conservatives were an increasingly marginalized minority.
‘Conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
‘At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases.
‘Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices,’ he said.
At the end of his memo, Damore suggested ‘non-discriminatory ways’ to reduce inequality, writing: ‘Women on average are more prone to anxiety.
‘Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits.’
He suggested that the company should do away with programs which cater to a specific minority in order to stamp out discrimination.
The engineer faced a barrage of outraged complaints on Twitter after his memo was published online.
Much of the outrage came from Google employees who disagreed with his stance. Other critics said the man deserved to be fired for his opinion.
But there were also messages of support for the engineer who some hailed as the voice of many within the company.
Others, whether they agreed with his opinion or did not, said his arguments were proven right by the company bosses’ admonishment of what he said.
Prior to him being identified publicly, Damore told Gizmodo: ‘I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.
‘When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions.
‘If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.
‘Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.
‘This needs to change.’
On Monday, Ari Balogh, Google’s VP of Engineering, commended the engineer for speaking out but said the company ‘cannot allow stereotyping’.
‘Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way.
‘But, in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.
‘Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said,’ he wrote.
[Editor’s Note: Several scientists have noted the scientific validity of the Google Memo.]