Google fires employee behind anti-diversity memo – CNET

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai says the author of a controversial memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts violated the company’s Code of Conduct.

James Martin/CNET

Google has fired an employee who penned a controversial memo that argued biology prevents women from being as successful as men in the tech industry.

James Damore, the Google engineer identified as the memo’s author, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes,” according to Bloomberg, which reported the news late Monday.

Google representatives declined to comment on the report, citing employee confidentiality.

Earlier in the day, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the memo’s author violated company rules by penning and publishing the controversial memo. The wording of Pichai’s memo to workers seemed to suggest the employee’s actions could result in dismissal, something people inside and out of the search giant have been calling for.

“Portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” Pichai wrote in a memo to employees. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Pichai’s memo, titled “Our words matter,” addressed the controversy that erupted over the weekend following the publication of a manifesto written by a senior engineer that criticizes the company’s efforts to improve workforce diversity and its “left leaning” bias. The employee’s 10-page memo went viral after being posted to an internal network, sparking outrage among Google employees.

Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the employee argues that women are underrepresented in tech not as a result of bias and discrimination. Instead, “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” the memo continued.

Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, told The New York Times he believes his dismissal was illegal and would “likely be pursuing legal action.” Before his firing, Damore said he submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board charging Google’s upper management with “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Damore said.

The controversy comes as Silicon Valley companies grapple with how to increase workforce diversity in an industry dominated by white men and permeated with corporate cultures that seem biased against women and female engineers. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies now regularly release diversity reports, highlighting low percentages of women and minority employees, with few moving up the management chain.

Here’s Pichai’s memo to staff:

This has been a very difficult time. I wanted to provide an update on the memo that was circulated over this past week.

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. 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.”

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.”

At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, 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. The author had a right to express their views on those topics—we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.

The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree—while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct. I’d encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same.

I have been on work related travel in Africa and Europe the past couple of weeks and had just started my family vacation here this week. I have decided to return tomorrow as clearly there’s a lot more to discuss as a group—including how we create a more inclusive environment for all.

First published, Aug. 7, 6:49 pm PT.
Updates, 10:30 p.m. PT and then Aug. 8, 6:56 a.m. PT: Added more information about Damore and added full text of Pichai memo.

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”

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