The clinically butthurt at Google have struck again. This time, getting a guy fired for writing an otherwise reasonably argued essay about Google's diversity programs - more specifically on male/female diversity efforts within the company.
Setting the stage
About a week ago I happened to catch a story on Motherboard regarding a sensational, sexist document written on an internal platform used by Googlers. I was curious in that the article was long on conjecture but largely short on content. The author of the Motherboard article failed to obtain a copy of the content. It sounded serious, but I was skeptical as the story wasn't much more than hearsay. I was flumoxed as to why the "story" was printed. But the spark was laid.
Then on Saturday, Gizmodo published a copy of the "Anti-Diversity Screed". Color me surprised - the "screed" was a reasonably well-argued comment on Google's diversity programs, intent on identifying blind spots in the diversity programs and offering a couple of suggestions on ways to consider existing diversity policy while checking for ideological blind spots.
The waves of criticism started rolling in. The author of the essay, James Damore was calling women "inferior", "neurotic", "incapable". Then another curious argument - the essay was uncited and had nothing to back up its claims. The fire was now lit.
Move forward a couple of days and come to find out - the essay did have citations and even graphs. Gizmodo just happened to conveniently leave them out - you know, because the 10 page document was so long and they wanted to preserve a few bytes. But too late, the press was beginning to fan the flames aggressively at this point.
Cue Outrage Machine
Twitter blew up. YouTube blew up. The traditional news outlets blew up. Google's brand new Czar of Diversity jumped into the fray, cutting the essay's author down to size by failing to let Googlers, who weren't in-the-know about the specific article she was discussing, read it and all but promising retribution (bolding added):
I’m Danielle, Google’s brand new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. I started just a couple of weeks ago, and 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.
Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, 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. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.
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.**
That's Danielle Brown, Google's fresh, new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance
Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, offered some encouraging words on how Google needs to be a place open for discussion and minority opinions should be protected:
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.
Then they fired him.
But Wait, It Gets Worse
From a psychological standpoint, the scientific literature tends to find that women tend to be a bit more neurotic compared to men (neuroticism is one of the Big Five). From a scientific standpoint, this isn't too controversial. But all of those critics of the essay's author decided he was claiming women were too neurotic for tech. I wouldn't bring this up, but then NPR reported this:
Another software engineer who used to work for Google, Kelly Ellis, says some women who still work at the company stayed home Monday because the memo made them "uncomfortable going back to work."
It is as if these people who decided they just couldn't bear to work the following day, coming down with a false case of butthurtitis, went out of their way to prove the point made in scientific studies showing women to be more neurotic.
Go Read It
Now that I've come all this way, I want you to go read it. You can find Damore's piece here.
The Main Takeaways
Taken from the TL;DR section:
- 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
- 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.
Now Damore might not be correct - or - at least not to the extent he may have posited in reference to women in tech. But that wasn't the point. The point was to open dialogue and reveal those little blindspots we all fall into and how these blindspots can be detrimental. There may be better ways to achieve better outcomes that leverages each individual's interest in a way that gives an organization a better outcome.
Nowhere in the content did Damore "advance incorrect assumptions about gender." Assumptions weren't made - references to scientific observations about differences between sexes were included.
Sundar Pichai seemingly couldn't be bothered to apply reading comprehension as he both outright stands up for Damore's right ot speak up while leaving the veiled threat of action based on a non-violation of the Code of Conduct.
Youtube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, spilled ink (or bytes) reinforcing her inability at reading comprehension. She completely cast a false light on Damore's piece and then sucker-punched him by using her daughter as a prop, followed by sliding an inconspicuous race card into the mix. What Wojcicki's daugher should really take away from this is her mother wants her daughter to think inside of a box and never crawl out of it, never question, never be curious - just be a victim. Shameful.
This level of corporate stupidity isn't just at Google. Sabrina Parsons - CEO of Palo Alto software, piled on with the mischaracterizations - failing to realize that Damore was instinctively fighting against the systems that create the sexism she's experienced.
It Ain't All Bad News
Many evolutionary biologists have stepped up to the plate, offering reviews of Damore's piece, largely absolving him of wrong-doing and largely praising him for actually researching the subject matter. (Quillette)
Other reviewers have been dissecting the science to get at the root of Damore's claims (Heterodox Academy)
Peter Singer even points out Damore's largely correct at the New York Daily News
At the end of the day
Google, and a shitload of news outlets, and a shitload of executives, and a shitload of journalists, owe a huge apology to Mr Damore. What was a plea to come to the table for an open, honest discussion, turned into a giant shaming party based on a failure of reading comprehension. And it turned this guy's life upside down for trying to do the right thing.