way out” by Sjoerd Los

August 8, 2017; New York Times, Bloomberg Business, and Newsweek

Those who feared that Google would shelter the author of “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” from the consequences of his anti-diversity manifesto can rest a little easier. Bloomberg Business and the New York Times confirm that software engineer James Damore has been fired.

Following the initial flare on social media, Google’s VP of diversity, integrity and governance, Danielle Brown, wrote a memo in response. One section of that memo gave some stakeholders pause:

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

Many in the blogosphere interpreted this section as a sign that Google would walk back its commitment to diversity in the name of preserving free speech and keeping those at Google who agreed with Damore comfortable. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in a message sent last night, emphasized that Damore’s firing was for violating the code of conduct at Google and not for his views, which he characterized as, in part, up for debate.

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.

Meanwhile, as one could predict, Damore has set about making himself a modern martyr for the online audience. A money-raising effort has been established on his behalf on the alt-right crowdfunding site WeSearchr. He has become the latest cause célèbre for Breitbart News, and has even been offered a position at WikiLeaks by Julian Assange in a tweet. Conservative pundits have seized upon Damore’s story as an example of the censorious left going after someone for having politically incorrect beliefs.

Call it a wash: Damore loses his job, and women at Google have one fewer coworker who believes they are biologically incapable of succeeding at theirs. However, stakeholders in the community don’t get the relief of knowing that Google came out fully behind a strong stand for diversity in tech, and those who capitalize on cultural divisions have a new toy to bat around.—Jason Schneiderman