Why this Google employee was fired for his report on women in tech

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Moya Crockett
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A Google employee who wrote a vitriolic internal memo criticising the company’s diversity policies has been fired.

The incendiary note, written by former Google engineer James Damore, went viral over the weekend. Over 10 pages, Damore accused the tech company of ignoring the views and values of its conservative employees, and suggested that the lack of women in technology and leadership positions could be attributed to biological differences.

He also argued that Google was engaging in “discriminatory practices” by trying to “achieve a more equal gender and race representation”, and called for less empathy in the workplace.

Damore confirmed that he had been fired on Wednesday morning, Bloomberg reports. In an email, he said that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.

The engineer’s internal report was initially only circulated among Google employees, before being leaked and published online. In it, Damore claimed that the characteristics of the “average” woman meant that Google’s attempts to get more women into tech were fundamentally flawed.

Women, according to Damore, are naturally “gregarious” and “agreeable” rather than “assertive”. He added that women are less able to tolerate stress than men, and that they are predominantly interested in “feelings and aesthetics”.

These traits could mean that women have “a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up and leading”, said Damore. He attributed the low numbers of women in coding and “high stress” jobs to their neuroticism and disinterest in “ideas”.

Damore recommended some ways that the gender gap could be reduced at Google without ‘discriminating’ against men. These included “making tech and leadership less stressful” so that women would be more inclined to pursue careers in the industry, and “allowing and truly endorsing” part-time work.

However, he suggested that it was a waste of time to try and increase gender diversity in all areas of the tech industry. Since many tech jobs are fundamentally solitary, Damore argued that it was unreasonable for Google to expect “people-orientated” women to thrive in areas such as coding.  

“There may be limits to how people-orientated certain roles at Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise,” he said.

Damore also slammed affirmative action-style programmes – set up to help women and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds into tech jobs – as being discriminatory towards men and white people.

In a note to Google employees, the company’s CEO Sundar Pinchai said that sections of Damore’s memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace”.

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” said Pinchai.

Danielle Brown, Google’s new vice president for diversity, integrity and governance, also issued a statement to staff in which she condemned Damore’s report.

“We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company,” Brown said. “We’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

In a statement, Damore said that he would be “exploring all possible legal remedies” for his dismissal. 

Damore’s memo comes at a bad time for Google. The company is currently facing a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Labor, alleging that it systematically discriminates against women. Google has denied the charges and says that it doesn’t have a gender pay gap, but has refused to share full salary information with the government.

Images: iStock / Rex Features / Getty


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.