But the firing of former engineer James Damore also opened the door to potential headaches, as Google and other tech firms confront the reality of workforces with very little diversity. Damore is a white male, the demographic most prominent in a U.S. tech industry that is under pressure to diversify its ranks.
His dismissal sent a strong statement to proponents who want to see more women employed in tech, but Damore made clear that Google would face consequences for its actions. Damore confirmed in an email that Google fired him for “perpetuating gender stereotypes,” and that he’s “currently exploring all possible legal remedies,” Bloomberg reports.
Damore tells The New York Times that he has a “legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does.”
Damore also notes that before Google fired him he turned over a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Google’s top management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He also says that it was “illegal to retaliate” against an N.L.R.B. charge.
In addition to his remarks about women, Damore’s memo talks about how Google is intolerant towards ideologies that do not mesh with its left-leaning biases and questions its diversity initiatives. Miriam Rivera, the former deputy counsel at Google, laid out the potential resistance to diversity efforts that the firm and tech industry as a whole faces.
“The incident underscores a problem that is endemic at Google and much of the tech world--not only do tech companies often fail to create a diverse workplace, but they have a culture where employees feel empowered to claim that efforts to strike a balance puts them under duress,” Rivera writes in a commentary for CNBC.
Just under 70% of Google’s workforce are men, while 31% are women, Rivera notes. Women hold only 20% of engineering jobs and only a quarter are managers. Overall, the workforce is 56% white, 35% Asian, 4% Latino and 2% African American.
Google also is currently dealing with a U.S. Department of Labor investigation on allegations that it pays its women employees less than men. Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended his employees’ rights to express themselves, “and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate,” he notes. But he also makes clear that an employee’s right to express themselves does not mean they can violate the firm’s code of conduct.
Damore’s memo suggesting “a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to [technical] work is contrary to Google’s basic values and to the Code of Conduct,” Pichai says. “The whole blowup at Google underscores that tech companies are not diverse workplaces and efforts to foster diversity lead to conflict that, poorly handled, leads to backlash,” Rivera writes.
Erica Baker, a former software engineer at Google, says what took her aback is that Damore was comfortable enough to publish his memo, Slate reports. “What about the company culture sends the message that sharing sexism and racism will be accepted?” Baker asks. “Do we want this to be an environment where racists and sexists feel safe and supported to share their views?”
Damore also claims that Google’s diversity practices fall short, and he is right, notes April Glaser, Slate’s technology writer. However, “not in the way he thinks.”
“If Google was actually serious about fostering a diverse workplace, the company wouldn’t tolerate the kind of sexism and racism that was broadcast by the engineer in the first place,” Glaser writes. “What women could ever work alongside a colleague or anyone who supports him knowing they think women are less biologically suited for the job? That sounds like a horrible place to work.”