A Google engineer who set off a firestorm of controversy over the weekend with a ten-page internal memo, in which he denounced the company’s diversity initiatives as discriminatory and claimed that women’s underrepresentation in tech was partially a product of biology, has been fired, Bloomberg reports:
James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote the note, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” He said he’s “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.” … Earlier on Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent a note to employees that said portions of the memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” But he didn’t say if the company was taking action against the employee. A Google representative, asked about the dismissal, referred to Pichai’s memo. …
Still, some right-wing [political] websites had already lionized the memo’s author, and firing him could be seen as confirming some of the claims in the memo itself – that the company’s culture makes no room for dissenting political opinions. That outcome could galvanize any backlash against Alphabet’s efforts to make its workforce more diverse.
(Damore has also said he is exploring his legal options for challenging his termination, and we take a look at how that might play out here.)
The bombshell memo was a code-red emergency for Google’s leadership, particularly its HR department and its new diversity chief Danielle Brown, who responded to it on Saturday. Pichai noted in his memo, which Recode’s Kara Swisher passes along in full, that he was cutting short a family vacation to return to Mountain View and hold a town hall meeting with other leaders on Thursday. He also emphasized that Damore’s memo was out of bounds not for expressing unwelcome political views, but rather for disrespecting his female colleagues and creating a hostile work environment for them:
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A senior software engineer at Google set off a firestorm last week with a ten-page letter circulated on an internal mailing list that quickly went viral within the company. In a memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” which Gizmodo has published in full, the employee argues that men predominate in software engineering because of biological differences between men and women; that Google’s diversity and inclusion efforts reflect an “extreme,” “authoritarian,” and “leftist” ideology; and that employees who express conservative political beliefs or different viewpoints on the merits of diversity are shamed into silence. Motherboard’s Louise Matsakis, who broke the story on Saturday, reported that the letter was widely condemned within the Google community, but has also raised questions over how many men at Google—particularly in leadership positions—share the author’s views on gender:
The 10-page Google Doc document was met with derision from a large majority of employees who saw and denounced its contents, according to the employee. But Jaana Dogan, a software engineer at Google, tweeted that some people at the company at least partially agreed with the author; one of our sources said the same. … “The broader context of this is that this person is perhaps bolder than most of the people at Google who share his viewpoint—of thinking women are less qualified than men—to the point he was willing to publicly argue for it. But there are sadly more people like him,” the employee who described the document’s contents to me said. …
Motherboard has independently confirmed with multiple Google employees that the document is being widely shared among many of the company’s software engineering teams: “If I had to guess, almost every single woman in engineering has seen it,” the current employee told Motherboard; a separate current employee told me it was being actively read by many employees.
The explosive emergence of this letter presents the first major challenge for Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown, who was only just hired at the end of June. In a statement sent to all Google employees, Brown reasserted the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, gently criticized the letter for advancing “incorrect assumptions about gender,” and disputed the assertion that Google is intolerant of minority political viewpoints: