Google fires anti-diversity engineer

While CEO Sundar Pichai has emphasised the importance of employees feeling safe to express their views, Google has fired the engineer responsible for the internal memo arguing that biology is the cause of gender inequality in the tech industry.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Google has fired James Damore following the engineer's controversial internal memo arguing that gender inequality within the tech industry exists due to the biological differences between men and women rather than sexism.

According to Reuters, Damore said he was fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes".

Reuters added that Damore had said he is looking into legal remedies and had submitted a charge to the United States National Labor Relations Board prior to being fired -- with the engineer adding that "it's illegal to retaliate against an NLRB charge".

In a note to employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the past week has been "a very difficult time" for the company, as the memo had impacted Google employees who felt "judged based on their gender".

"Portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace," Pichai wrote on Monday night US time.

"To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.

"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'."

Pichai, who said he will abandon his holiday plans to return to work this week, added that some employees are now also "questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace" after the memo's author had accused Google of being an "ideological echo chamber" with a "left bias".

"People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo -- such as the portions criticising Google's trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and under-served groups are sufficiently open to all -- are important topics," Pichai added.

"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 engineer had last week responded to Google's efforts to change its white male-dominated culture by posting the internal memo.

"I'm simply stating that 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," the memo said.

Google Diversity, Integrity, and Governance VP Danielle Brown had responded to the memo in a company email on "Affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion -- and healthy debate".

"Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organisation, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender," Brown wrote.

"It's not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes, or encourages. Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate.

"We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we'll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul."

Google VP of Engineering Ari Balogh, who Damore reported to, added that while feeling free to express viewpoints is important, it should not come at the expense of pushing "harmful assumptions".

"Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it's safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way," Balogh said.

"But in the process of doing that, we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way.

"That is stereotyping, and it is harmful."

With AAP

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