Google fires the engineer who wrote that viral memo criticizing its diversity efforts

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Google has fired the employee behind a controversial memo on gender diversity that went viral inside the company, and across Silicon Valley and much of the world’s tech industry.

The author, who has been revealed to be Havard PhD graduate James Damore, confirmed to Bloomberg that he has been terminated from his role as an engineer at Google for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

Google did not confirm the firing. A spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company “can’t comment on individual employee cases.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut short his summer family holiday following responses to the memo. In a company-wide email, he told staff that “much of what was in that memo is fair to debate… however, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” The email from Pichai– reproduced in full at the bottom of this post — did not say whether Damore would be fired for writing it.

The timing of the saga is not good for Google, which was hit by a lawsuit in January to obtain compensation data, ending up with a snafu over gender pay discrimination.

The ten-page memo started out as an internal document criticizing Google’s diversity programs that is reported to have been widely shared by employees. It then leaked out into the public domain over the weekend, with Gizmodo posting the writing in full. Among the most controversial parts, Damore argued that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50 percent representation of women in tech and leadership.”

He also argued that women are more neurotic than men, and that this is a factor in their employment.

“This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs,” Damore wrote.

Danielle Brown, who recently took the job of vice president of diversity, integrity and governance at Google, wrote a company-wide response to the emergence of the memo which stated that it is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

“I had hoped to take another week or so to get the lay of the land before introducing myself to you all. But given the heated debate we’ve seen over the past few days, I feel compelled to say a few words,” Brown said in her address to Google staff.

Damore has been roundly criticized for the content of what he wrote, which is seen as perpetuating views that are responsible for the continued gender imbalance in tech, but some have raised concern that the engineer has essentially been fired for voicing his opinions. This news — and topic — is sure to burn on for some time, so expect to see more soon.

Sundar Pichai’s email to Google staff:

Subject: Our words matter

This has been a very difficult few days. 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.

So please join me, along with members of the leadership team at a town hall on Thursday. Check your calendar soon for details.

— Sundar

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