Google delivered an important message by firing its employee for his diversity screed
The company's decisive action shows it's willing to rise to the challenge of combatting sexist attitudes
It's hard to believe that this is up for discussion, but yes: the firing of James Damore, the Google engineer who penned an internal memo attacking the company's diversity initiatives, is 100 per cent justified.
On the surface, his firing seems to confirm the exact situation he criticized in this so-called manifesto, namely that Google had become intolerant of perspectives outside of the oppressive boundaries of political correctness.
But the implications of his screed are far more serious than just expressing an unpopular opinion.
First off, Damore displayed a complete lack of judgement by writing and circulating the memo. He was surely fully aware of the type of uproar it could cause — it indeed stirred up such a storm that Google's CEO had to come back from vacation to deal with the backlash — but decided to publish it anyway, with seemingly little regard for how it would reflect on the company, which has struggled to get more women in technical and leadership jobs.
Google affords its employees more freedom than do most companies, trusting that its hiring process will weed out all those who would use that freedom in destructive ways. So when an employee shows himself capable of such an egregious lapse in judgement — posting something sure to cause massive internal and external uproar — he's gotta go.
Google's code of conduct
Moreover, Damore's memo appeared to violate Google's own code of conduct, which states that, "Googlers are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination." A document that outlines how women are biologically less able compared to men to handle technical and leadership roles is clearly in violation of that expectation.
Even if the post itself didn't constitute unlawful discrimination, it was certainly a masterclass in encouraging biased thinking. Every Googler agrees to follow this code when hired, and the consequences for not following the code are clear: disciplinary action, including termination.
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Beyond just breaking the rules, Damore's document has the potential to erode the psychological safety of the women at Google. Yonatan Zunger, a former Google exec, said it best in his mic-drop response to the document:
"Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? ...You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment."
Most women understand how extremely stressful it is having to work with people who don't think you're capable of doing your job. And for the number of times Damore references the concept of psychological safety in his writing, it sort of seems like he doesn't really know what it even means.
A prerequisite of psychological safety on a team is knowing that your coworkers have your back. It is immediately undermined by learning that your colleague believes you got your job due to diversity initiatives that lower the bar for technical work, rather due to your abilities. Yet that's the message that Damore's screed delivered.
Sending a message
And if none of the above seem like fireable offences, consider this: the tech industry is riding a big old wave of negative publicity due to its lack of diversity and a handful of scandals that have made people question its treatment of the women. To give just one example: in February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler detailed her horrifying experience working at the ride-sharing company. Fowler's account began with her boss allegedly propositioning her on her first day of work, and ended after being berated for speaking up by her manager, her manager's manager and human resources.
Google needed to send the message that sexist attitudes won't be tolerated, and unfortunately for Damore, he made himself an irresistible target.
Cynically viewed, firing Damore is a shrewd publicity move on Google's part that ensures it escapes the heat that Uber experienced from the garbage-fire-bungling of its own PR crisis. And after all, in our era of conscious consumerism, Google probably doesn't want to find out how deep a "delete Google" campaign could cut.
But I like to be a little more hopeful: I think that the zero tolerance approach to the manifesto was meant to send a clear message to the men who genuinely believe that diversity is harming them.
Letting the anti-diversity crusaders know in no uncertain terms that their antics will not be tolerated, not even in the name of free speech, was the right thing to do. Google — and the tech industry as a whole — still has a lot of work to do to ensure fair representation in its ranks, but its decisive action in this case shows it's willing to rise to the challenge.
To read a counterpoint, click here.