Google memo: What exactly does it say and how has the tech industry reacted?
An internal memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” written by a senior software engineer James Damore today (July 8) led to his dismissal after public outcry.
The document criticizes the company’s measures to promote gender and racial diversity in the workforce and prompted outrage online after it was shared.
It came just two months after Google was accused of routinely paying women less than men in comparable roles in an investigation by the US Department of Labor.
What points does the memo make?
In the first paragraph, Damore wrote: “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”
“If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem,” he continued.
He went on to makes the following points:
- Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
- This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
- The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
- Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
- Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.
Reactions to the memo
Damore himself reacted by saying: “Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to Google employees which read: “Portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace… 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.’”
Danielle Brown, Google’s vice president of diversity, integrity, and governance, also responded to memo with an internal letter.
She pointed out: “Like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
Google employees displayed varied reactions on Twitter with some claiming the document showed open discrimination, others argued it did not because it was accurate.
In an Atlantic op-ed, Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost made the point: “The Googler’s complaints assume that all is well in the world of computing technology.”
In a Medium post, Yonatan Zunger, a former privacy engineer at Google, wrote: “Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender. Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering. And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.”
CNN contributor Marc Randazza said: “I mostly disagree with him, though I think he makes some good arguments — but that is beside the point. I categorically oppose the notion that if you have an opinion that deviates too far from that which is considered to be ‘politically correct,’ then the appropriate punishment is that you should lose your job — and preferably not be hired anywhere else, either.”
Brian Feldman from NewYork Magazine also said: “It’s important to recognize how widespread this sensibility is because it’s important to understand that sexism in the tech industry is not only carryover sexism from the rest of society: It’s a consequence of a series of myths and stories that programmers and engineers tell themselves and each other.”