A male software engineer at Google, James Damore, wrote a 10-page memo in opposition to hiring practices that consider racial and gender diversity in tech, arguing that women were unable to do the same kind of work as their male peers. Days after it was circulated throughout the company andÂ leakedÂ toÂ the press, he was fired.
Now many journalists, activists, and even politicians are arguing that he was unfairly punished for expressing his ideas, with some going so far as to say the employee was banished for â€śthought crimes.â€ť
In this case, Damoreâ€™s thoughts were that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech in a number of ways and that women deserved their current status.Â In his anti-diversity screed, the software engineer decided to list personality traits that he says women have more of. Here is one:
Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
He also wrote that women have â€śhigher agreeablenessâ€ť and â€śextraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness,â€ť and that this is why women tend to have a harder time negotiating salary. He does not acknowledge that research showsÂ again and againÂ there is a social cost for women who negotiate for higher salaries.
In addition to saying that women will always have these specific qualities that prevent them from advancing in their careers, he flat out writes, â€śWe need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.â€ť
He also wrote, â€śHowever, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices.â€ť He listed mentoring, programs, and classes â€śonly for people with a certain gender or race.â€ť
Men from all sides of the political spectrum weighed in to argue that he should not have been fired.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted out a National Review article with the headline, â€śGoogle Fires Employee Who Dared Challenge its Ideological Echo Chamber.â€ťÂ Julian Assange condemned the decision as â€ścensorship.â€ťÂ Tim Miller, co-founder of the America Rising PAC, said Damore is being banished for â€śthought crimes.â€ťÂ Jeet Heer, senior editor at The New Republic, said the engineer should not have been fired for his ideas.
The engineerâ€™s decision to write a 10-page memo, which he clearly spent a good deal of time writing, and then share that memo, is an action, however, not merely a thought.
In a Medium post,Â Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee,Â explainedÂ why the memo was enough to create a hostile workplace environment and thus warranted termination.
Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldnâ€™t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.
ResearchÂ showsÂ that frequent and less intense but unchallenged sexist discrimination and organizational climates were similarly harmful to womenâ€™s well-being as more overt but less frequent acts of sexism, like sexual coercion.Â Heer suggestedÂ demotionÂ as an alternative to firing but no matter his position, Damore would have some power over his co-workers since Googleâ€™s performance review processÂ allowsÂ peer reviewers to give feedback on job performance. This includes employees who are junior to them.
Viewed this way, the decision to fire Damore was not censorship. It was a decision to protect women from a hostile workplace environment. Google prioritized the well-being of its workers and the companyâ€™s overall success over one manâ€™s career.
Like most of the tech industry, Google employees areÂ predominantly white men. In April, the Department of Labor accused the organization of â€śextremeâ€ť gender pay discrimination and pointed to evidence of â€śsystemic compensation disparities.â€ť Diversity statistics the company released last month revealed that 69 percent of its employees are male and 31 percent are female, but when it comes to technical roles, only 19 percent of the positions are held by women.
This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.