Don’t Believe Everything You Read: Why Google Shouldn’t Have Fired James Damore

Don’t Believe Everything You Read: Why Google Shouldn’t Have Fired James Damore

Getting Fired

Did you read the memo? Yes, that memo. It’s the one that James Damore wrote that got him fired from Google. I did. I seriously disagree with Google’s firing of Mr. Damore. Yet, Damore’s varied statements as reported did seem inflammatory and cause for disciplinary action. The only problem is that once you read what he did write, you might come to a very different conclusion.

What did he really say?

Gizmodo identified the email as “a software engineer’s 10-page screed against Google’s diversity initiatives.” Does identifying a problem count as a screed? I don’t think so. Damore wrote:

Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that.

I hardly think a thoughtfully outlined memo that identifies a problem and offers solutions is a screed. Screed implies anger and complaining.

Here’s how Damore discussed the issue:

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Then he added:

I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women … and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination.

Doesn’t sound angry to me.

It might be dangerous to speak truth to power

He further pointed out the obvious:

For example currently those willing to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences.

So telling Google that he wants to increase women’s representation without resorting to discrimination got him fired. Google obviously doesn’t want people speaking truth to power. I would hire Damore in a New York minute. His analysis is thought-provoking and well researched. Google’s firing, and now cancellation of its well-publicized diversity meeting because of email leaks, demonstrates its lack of foresight.

Some reports are misleading

Even The Wall Street Journal can be unreliable. It reported:

Google on Monday fired the employee who wrote an internal memo suggesting men are better suited for tech jobs than women, escalating a debate over free speech at the company.

I didn’t interpret Damore’s email as suggesting that men are better suited for tech jobs than women. I concluded that Damore suggests that some men are more willing to accept the challenges of working in IT than women are.

Here’s what he wrote:

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life. Status is the primary metric that men are judged on4,[sic] pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Yes, work-life balance is a key issue in business today for both men and women. And the research shows how each gender is impacted.

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