About the Google Memo: Legal Imperatives, Moral Imperatives. Oh, and History, Statistics, and Facts, Too.

August 10, 2017

By now, we are all aware of former Google employee James Damore’s internally published manifesto complaining of a company culture of shaming that suppresses legitimate discussion about discrimination against women working in technology.

In his memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” Damore asserts that There are fewer women than men working in tech, not because of bias or discrimination, but because females are physiologically different from males and, as he sees it, often just not suited to science, technology, engineering or math careers. On the one hand claiming that he values diversity and inclusion, he also argues that left leaning organizations – suffering from the ills of compassion and a search for justice – unfairly discriminate against white males to achieve the goal of equitable employment of women and minorities.

Damore’s memo purports to rely on “facts and reason” to prove that left-leaning biases demand acquiescence to policies that promote women (and minorities) to the detriment of men. But it is not just leftie rhetoric that does or should drive us to the goals of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Those goals are our moral imperative, now deeply embedded in state and federal laws. And the real facts reveal that we are, sadly, far from meeting our societal imperatives, moral, legal, cultural, and familial.

Approaching the Issues As a Parent

Does Mr. Damore have daughters? Sons? If so, what will he tell them as they grow up and become working adults? Here’s what we feel every child should be told and believe:

  • Women and men are equally capable of working in jobs that involve science, technology, engineering, and math. Period.
  • Women and men are not, in any way, physiologically or mentally different when it comes to doing a good job. Period.
  • All companies, in the tech industry or elsewhere, must provide equal opportunities for women at all levels. Period.
  • There are laws in place that ensure companies do not discriminate against women with respect to hiring, promotions, and compensation. Harassment, sexual or otherwise, directed against women in the workplace is not only against the law but morally wrong. Period.

Might hiring a qualified woman displace an arguably equally qualified man? Of course, but that doesn’t mean the woman shouldn’t be considered, or that unfounded assumptions should be made about how her “femaleness” might impact her ability to do her job. Or that employers shouldn’t strive to remedy indisputable problems in the workplace, including pay inequity, implicit bias, microaggression, harassment, intimidation, and marginalization, through policies that encourage inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, and diversity.

Working to even the playing field is not just a legal imperative. It is a moral imperative and every person – man or woman – should work to meet those imperatives without lashing out at those who seek justice.

Actions, Reactions & Rationales

Google did the right thing in terminating James Damore. In an email to all employees, the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, said that while Google encourages freedom of opinion, the memo went further “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Of particular concern to Mr. Pichai was that the memo suggested “a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work,” which he said was “offensive and not OK.”

Some have criticized Damore’s termination, arguing that he shouldn’t have lost his job simply because he expressed an opinion – as unfair and uninformed as that opinion was. Some have gone so far as to say that it shows women the path to job success “lies not in coding but complaining to HR.”

This kind of misguided thinking misconstrues the issue. Free speech is important, and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

But Damore went further than merely expressing his beliefs. He wrote about it and circulated it to his entire company. In addition, his memo made patently false assertions and discriminatory comments about the role of women in the workforce. By writing that memo, he essentially told all women at Google he did not think they belonged at the company because they were not capable of the work. That is not merely stating an opinion – it is declaring, publicly, that he will likely discriminate against any woman he works with or supervises because he doesn’t think they can do the job. And he encouraged others to jump on his bandwagon.

It’s not something Google could or should tolerate as a company, and terminating Damore was the only answer.

More Than a Few Good Men

Damore does not by any stretch represent all men at all companies in Silicon Valley, in the tech industry, or elsewhere. Many men in leadership positions are doing a good job of ensuring women have equal representation. They hire and train women, support them so they succeed, promote them into the highest ranks, and above all, treat them fairly with dignity and respect. But Damore’s views – and the fact that they have passionately gained traction in some circles – illustrate entrenched problems in the tech world.

It is truly frightening to see that so many people actually believe that women don’t succeed because they don’t have the skills, competencies, drive or desire, especially in tech, medicine, the law, financial services, and other industries that developed almost entirely around men and the way they think and bond and interact. This has led to a “bro culture” that structurally excludes women. Men go for drinks, to the gym, or to the golf course and form reciprocal relationships that move them up the ladder. If women are not invited – either by choice or accident – they are not given the same opportunities to advance.

Progress Takes Effort

Women must be given work opportunities, business development opportunities, mentorship opportunities and skill development opportunities. People and companies must work, and work hard, to make it happen.

That is our legal imperative. That is our moral imperative. We cannot tell our sons and daughters anything else.

Photo credit: Flickr/Robert Scoble

(*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.)