Google – August 7, 2017

Mountain View, CA

James Damore, a former senior software engineer at Google, was fired on August 7 for violating the company’s code of conduct by circulating a memo in which he criticized Google’s hiring and training practices that are intended to increase diversity within the company. He argued in the memo that there are biological reasons for the gender disparity in the tech industry, and he also claimed that the company reinforces ideas and beliefs held by a large number of its workers. After being fired, Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and is currently pursuing legal action against Google.

Key Figures

James Damore started working at Google in December 2013. According to a profile in The Guardian, he excelled in his work at the company and was promoted to senior engineer in early 2017. He wrote the memo in June and sent it in early July to the organizers of Google’s diversity meetings. He did not receive a response, so he began circulating the memo to internal forums and mailing lists within Google. On August 5, Vice reported that the memo had gone “internally viral,” and later that day Gizmodo published the memo in its entirety.

Danielle Brown is Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. She previously worked at Intel before being hired by Google in late June 2017. On August 5, she issued a response to Damore’s memo, stating that Google did not endorse his views.

Sundar Pichai has been CEO of Google since August 2015. On August 8, he sent a memo to Google employees stating that he supported the rights of employees to express their opinions, but that this memo expressed harmful stereotypes.

Further Details

In January 2017, the US Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Google after the company allegedly failed to hand over its data concerning equal pay for its employees. On April 7, The Atlantic reported the department had found that Google’s labor practices involved “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” The Guardian reported that Google is 69% male and that in the tech industry overall, only 20% of jobs are held by women.

In his memo, Damore wrote that the “overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left,” and that Google was “shaming into silence” dissenting views on diversity that created “an ideological echo chamber.” He then discussed possible non-bias-related causes of the gender gap in the tech industry. He wrote that “[w]omen generally have stronger interest in people rather than things,” “women generally [have] a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading,” and “neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance) … may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report” and “to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs.” Damore then laid out potential solutions for increasing the representation of women in tech, including making software engineering more people-oriented, making tech and leadership less stressful, and allowing men to be more feminine. He criticized Google’s “discriminatory practices” like a “high priority queue and special treatment for ‘diversity’ candidates,” “[p]rograms, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race,” and “[h]iring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates.” The memo concludes with Damore giving Google advice to “demoralize diversity,” “stop alienating conservatives,” confront its own biases, be “open about the science of human nature,” and stop the restriction of programs and classes to certain genders or races.

In Danielle Brown’s response to the memo, she wrote that she “found that [the memo] advanced incorrect assumptions about gender,” that Google did not endorse the views Damore espoused, and that Google employees “must feel safe sharing their opinions.” “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,” Brown wrote.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a response to Google employees on August 7 after news broke of Damore’s memo. Pichai wrote that he supported the rights of Google employees to express their views, but that “portions of the [Damore] memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” He continued, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects ‘each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.’” He stressed that some Google employees were hurt by the memo, and he acknowledged that other employees were questioning whether or not they could express their views in the workplace after Damore’s firing. He also acknowledged that many of Damore’s concerns had merit. “[Many] points raised in the memo — such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all — are important topics,” he wrote.

After the backlash against his original memo began, Damore added a paragraph at the beginning with the heading, “Reply to public response and misrepresentation.” In that paragraph, Damore wrote that he values diversity and inclusion, that he is not denying sexism exists, and that he is not endorsing stereotyping. “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,” he wrote.

He added that he had received personal messages from fellow Google employees who expressed gratitude to him for raising the issues he discussed, and who “would never have the courage to say or defend [his views] because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.” Wired reported that leaked internal messages showed some Google employees supported Damore’s ideas. Motherboard reported that a Google employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that some employees disagreed with what Damore was saying, but believed he should have a voice, and that a few expressed that they agreed with Damore’s views and thought he was brave. Another employee said, “The fact that colleagues are calling for him to be fired—on very public forums—proves his point that there is an ideological silo and that dissenting opinions want to be silenced,” reported Motherboard.

On August 11, Damore wrote an op-ed titled “Why I Was Fired by Google” in The Wall Street Journal. He said he had engaged in discussions with some of his peers after he circulated the original memo internally in early July, but that he was mostly ignored. Once the memo went viral, Google’s human resources department and Damore’s superiors received emails from individuals who demanded “censorship, retaliation, and atonement.” He accused upper management of shaming and misrepresenting his views, but acknowledged that the management couldn’t do otherwise because “The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views.” He concluded by writing that Google was walking “blindly into the future” by ignoring issues raised by its diversity policies.

After his firing, Damore did two interviews with Stefan Molyneux, a right-wing YouTube personality, and Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto psychology professor known for his controversial statements regarding gender and who also has a large YouTube following. Damore told Molyneux that Google was hypocritical for firing him and that conservatives in the company feel the need to “stay in the closet.” He told Peterson that he had declined to speak to mainstream news outlets because he believed they would “twist whatever I say towards their agenda.” The Guardian reported that at Peterson’s behest, Damore began doing more interviews with other right-wing YouTube figures, including Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos.

Outcome

Damore files complaint with NLRB over firing

On August 8, Damore filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Wired reported that Damore hired Harmeet Dhillon, a prominent San Francisco Republican, as his attorney to explore legal action against Google. This action could potentially involve other ex-Google employees, the article reports.

Damore speaks out

In an interview with The Guardian, Damore said that he was frustrated that he had become associated with the alt-right because of the memo. “Journalists and commentators were incentivised to distort facts to generate outrage,” he said in the interview.

External References

The Department of Labor accuses Google of gender pay discrimination, The Atlantic

Google on anti-diversity manifesto: Employees ‘must feel safe sharing their opinions,’ Motherboard

Google’s new diversity chief tasked with moving the needle, USA Today

Exclusive: Here’s the full 10-page anti-diversity screed circulating internally at Google, Gizmodo

Internal reactions to Google employee’s manifesto show anti-diversity views have support, Motherboard

Internal messages how some Googlers supported fired engineer’s manifesto, Wired

Segregated valley: the ugly truth about Google and diversity in tech, The Guardian

Why I was fired by Google, The Wall Street Journal

‘I’m not a sexist: Fired Google engineer stands behind controversial memo, The Washington Post

The engineer Google fired over diversity memo has filed a complaint with federal labor officials, Business Insider

The Google employee who wrote the controversial Google manifesto was fired after CEO Sindar Pichai called it ‘not OK,” Business Insider

‘I see things differently’: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo, The Guardian

James Damore case could spawn more legal headaches for Google, Wired

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

December 1, 2017