Google Fires Au­thor of Anti-Di­ver­sity Memo

Damore’s 10-page me­moran­dum ac­cused Google of si­lenc­ing con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal opin­ions

The Economic Times - - Around The World - MARK BERGEN & ELLEN HUET

Al­pha­bet Inc’s Google has fired an em­ployee who wrote an in­ter­nal memo blast­ing the web com­pany’s di­ver­sity poli­cies, cre­at­ing a firestorm across Sil­i­con Val­ley. 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.” The im­broglio at Google is the lat­est in a long string of in­ci­dents con­cern­ing gen­der bias and di­ver­sity in the tech en­clave. Uber Tech­nolo­gies chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Travis Kalan­ick lost his job in June amid scan­dals over sex­ual ha­rass­ment, dis­crim­i­na­tion and an ag­gres­sive cul­ture. Ellen Pao’s gen­der-dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit against Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & By­ers in 2015 also brought the is­sue to light, and more women are speaking up to say they’ve been side­lined in the male-dom- inated in­dus­try, es­pe­cially in en­gi­neer­ing roles. 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 rep­re­sent ative, a sked about the dis­missal, re­ferred to Pichai’s memo. Damore’s 10 -page me­moran­dum ac­cused Google of si­lenc­ing con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal opin­ions and ar­gued that bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences play a role in the short­age of women in tech and lead­er­ship po­si­tions. It cir­cu­lated widely in­side the com­pany and be­came public over the week­end, caus­ing a furor that am­pli­fied the pres­sure on Google ex­ec­u­tives to take a more de­fin­i­tive stand.

Af­ter the con­tro­versy swelled, Danielle Brown, Google’s new vice pres­i­dent for di­ver­sity, in­tegrity and gov­er­nance, sent a state­ment to staf f con­demn­ing Damore’s views and reaf­firmed the com­pany’s stance on di­ver­sity. In in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion boards, mul­ti­ple em­ploy­ees said they sup­ported fir­ing the au­thor, and some said they would not choose to work with him, ac­cord­ing to post­ings viewed by Bloomberg News.

“We are un­equiv­o­cal in our be­lief that di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion are crit­i­cal to our suc­cess as a com­pany,” Brown said in the state­ment. “We’ll con­tinue to stand for that and be com­mit­ted to it for the long haul.” Fol­low­ing the memo’s pub­li­ca­tion, mul­ti­ple ex­ec­u­tives shared an ar­ti­cle from a se­nior en­gi­neer who re­cently left the com­pany, Yonatan Zunger. In the blog post, Zunger said that based on the con­text of the memo, he de­ter­mined that he would “not in good con­science” as­sign any em­ploy­ees to work with its au­thor. “You have just cre­ated a text­book hos­tile work­place en­vi­ron­ment,” he wrote. He also said in an email, “Could you imag­ine hav­ing to work with some­one who had just pub­licly ques­tioned your ba­sic com­pe­tency to do your job?”

Still, some right-wing 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 gal­vanise any back­lash against Al­pha­bet’s ef­forts to make its work­force more di­verse.

In her ini­tia l re­sponse to the memo, Brown sug­gested t hat Google was open to all host­ing “dif­fi­cult po­lit­i­cal views,” in­clud­ing those in the memo. How­ever, she left open the pos­si­bil­ity that Google could pe­nalise the en­gi­neer for vi­o­lat­ing com­pany poli­cies. “But that dis­course needs to work along­side the prin­ci­ples of equal em­ploy­ment found in our Code of Con­duct, poli­cies, and an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion laws,” she wrote.

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