The blogs and networks have been buzzing over the past few days with news that a senior software engineer at Google – James Damore – had taken it upon himself to write and post on an internal Google mailing list a ten page memo, explaining his theory on why Google’s efforts to diversify its workforce were not working. In his words, Google’s “politically correct mononculture” had reached the point where efforts to create diversity by hiring and promoting more women (and other under-represented groups) was actually hurting the company. Implicit in his criticism was what seemed like an undercurrent that men were somehow better suited than women for many tech jobs, and that Google was hiring or promoting women over men, even when the woman might not be the best person for the role.
In the course of this memo, Damore made a number of openly sexist and stereotypical comments about women, which many employees of both sexes took great offense to. Most disturbing was his core view, that the reason women did not succeed in tech jobs was “biological”.
For instance, he opined:
- that women were more apt to have a stronger interest in “people rather than things” and that tech was an industry which focused on things
- that women had a higher level of “agreeableness”, which is why they had a harder time negotiating salary
- that women had “higher anxiety/lower stress tolerance”
Finally, he theorized that the reason there were not more women in leadership roles at tech companies was because they did not have the same “drive for status” or to succeed as men did.
Damore also was very critical and dismissive of Google’s diversity programs, training, and other company initiatives aimed at helping women and diverse employees advance.
The memo of course went viral, and was soon circulating outside of Google and all over the world.
Putting aside the fact that Damore’s views were perpetuating stereotypes and that any dialogue with a woman who has risen to a leadership role or managed large projects at work, while also managing a home and family will tell him – a woman’s ability to multi-task, handle stress, and desire for success knows no bounds. However, the immediate question that Google’s senior management had to confront was how to react to this memo. Many employees, male and female, were greatly offended by the memo and felt that it did not accurately reflect the opinions and culture of most people at the company. More fundamentally, many felt that this memo was openly hostile to, and advanced stereotypical views of, women at Google. It also perpetuated the myths and challenges that tech companies like Google face, as they work on bringing more women into senior positions. Moreover, as many who follow this area know, the Department of Labor is currently suing Google for salary discrimination, and there have been rumors of class actions looming against companies in this industry. See Anita Hill, Class Actions Could Fight Discrimination in Tech, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Aug. 8, 2017). Given this backdrop, the company needed a strong response.