Summits Yellow

Viewpoint: Why Google shouldn’t have fired the author of THAT 'anti-diversity' memo

Tyrone Stewart

Tyrone StewartThe spotlight has been focused heavily on equality and diversity in the tech industry this year, and this latest incident has only gone to brighten that spotlight. The lack of females high-ranking jobs isn’t just a problem in tech, but a problem across all industries – it just seems to be the tech industry where the gender gap is most noticeable.

The clear gender gap within the industry cannot be justified with any 10-page memo, and I don’t agree much of what the man, identified as James Damore, said in what he sent out to his colleagues at Google. But I also don’t believe in making rash decisions.

I understand that Google was in-between a rock and a hard place, and would have been put under pressure either way. With the decision the company did make, it has caused heavy criticism from those pleasant alt-right folk. If the opposite decision had been made, you’d expect those on the left of the political spectrum to react in a similar fashion.

Neither of these reactions is why Google shouldn’t have fired the man in question, however.

By kicking Damore out of the company, Google is getting into the territory of censoring speech – something that it has been fighting against, along with most of the tech industry, in the battle to stop net neutrality rules being undone.

To be clear, companies in the private sector don’t have to adhere to the first amendment, the right to free speech, and therefore the software engineer in question doesn’t have a leg to stand on if this is a legal route he chooses to pursue.

In addition, on re-inspection of the memo, Damore shows far more signs of ignorance than he does of sexism – as I was admittedly one of many to accuse him of at first. Even calling the memo anti-diversity, as so many of us have done, may be a stretch. He doesn’t necessarily say diversity is a bad thing, in fact, he starts off the memo by saying: “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes”. Of course, he does then go on to “perpetuate gender stereotypes” – as he was fired for – but usually when someone says they don’t feel a certain way, they end up saying something to put their foot in it.

Damore, indeed, puts his foot in it by stating biological differences between men and women are the reason why there are fewer women in tech. Oh, he also says personality differences play a part – because women like “social or artistic” whereas “more men may like coding”, and women apparently can’t negotiate, along with being neurotic.

So, yeah, it all sounds pretty sexist but he does offer suggestions on how Google can change its approach to diversity to decrease the both the gender and racial gap in tech. He also writes that the memo is based on his view that we should “treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)” – a very contradictory, and slightly ironic, statement after you’ve spent 10 pages telling us that women biologically can’t match up to men. And that the left is the problem due to their “compassion for the weak”, and apparent lack of conscientiousness – but, hey, we’re not tribalising.

Now, taking all of that into account, I’m not entirely sure the, now former, Google software engineer actually knows whether he’s coming or going – hence why I say he shows more ignorance than sexism. He’s trying to do good, but all that comes out is utter codswallop. That’s why I believe it would be better to educate him than to fire him.

We live in a world where people aren’t always willing to hear the opinions of others, something that many have pointed is a major problem with the internet and social media. We only visit the sites we want and follow the people we want to hear from. Damore, himself, mentions the importance of “honest discussion” and that’s where we’re going wrong. In firing Damore, Google has said there is no room for discussion – and discussion is so important.

If you believe somebody is wrong, you tell them why they’re wrong. Educate them. Provide evidence. Show them examples of women that are apparently superhuman because their brains work at a higher biological standard than what they believe is possible – some of these members of the X-Men just so happen to be the bosses of people with these views.

Damore is clearly a very talented software engineer – a job you wouldn’t get at a company like Google unless you were. And to lose a job like that simply because of a misjudged and misguided memo isn’t really the right way to go.

At the end of the day, the tech industry has a diversity problem and the only way to fix it is by hearing from all sides – however much you may disagree with them. And if you ever doubt the world, as a whole, isn’t slowly moving toward being more inclusive: the incoming class to Harvard this fall will be majority non-white for the first time in its 380-year history.