Google sacks engineer over memo defending gender bias

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Internet giant Google has fired the male engineer at the centre of an uproar in Silicon Valley over the past week after he authored an internal memo asserting there are biological causes behind gender inequality in the tech industry.

James DamoreJames Damore, who penned the 10-page document titled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’ which went viral over the weekend, confirmed his firing to Bloomberg and Reuters, stating in an email that he was terminated for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes’ (See: Internal memo takes a swipe at Google’s diversity policy).

Damore’s post discussing topics involving gender and diversity went to the extent of saying that women in the same position as men were paid less not due to any bias but because of inherent psychological differences between the genders.

Over the last weekend, Motherboard reported the story which was followed by Gizmodo, which published the entire 10-page document.

Damore said he was exploring all possible legal remedies, and that before being fired, he had submitted a charge to the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing Google upper management of trying to shame him into silence.

“It’s illegal to retaliate against an NLRB charge,” he wrote in the email.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc based in Mountain View, Calif, said it could not talk about individual employee cases.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai told employees in a note on Monday that portions of the anti-diversity memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace”.

Pichai has cut short his vacation and along with his leadership team, he will be addressing Googlers on Thursday in a town hall meeting.

It was not immediately clear what legal authority Damore could try to invoke. Non-union or “at will” employees, such as most tech workers, can be fired in the United States for a wide array of reasons that have nothing to do with performance.

The US National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers, whether they are in a union or not, the right to engage in “concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection”.

Debate over the treatment of women in the male-dominated tech industry has raged for months. Claims of persistent sexual harassment in the ranks of Uber Technologies Inc and of several venture capital firms led to management shakeups.

Management at the largest tech firms, including Google, have publicly committed to diversifying their workforces, although the percentage of women in engineering and management roles remains low at many companies.

Google is currently defending itself from a lawsuit from the US Department of Labour which is alleging that the company systematically discriminates against women. At such a juncture, employing a person who just published a 10-page document promoting discrimination is obviously problematic.

As expected, the points mentioned in the manifesto did not go down too well with a lot of Google employees. The newly appointed vice president for Diversity, Integrity and Governance at Google, Danielle Brown, also sent out a memo to staff or ‘Googlers’ on the issue. “Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul,” said Brown.

Damore asserted in his 3,000-word document that circulated inside the company last week that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture” which prevented honest discussion of diversity.

The engineer, who has a doctoral degree in systems biology from Harvard University, according to his LinkedIn page, attacked the idea that gender diversity should be a goal.

“The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and … these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” Damore wrote in the memo.

He quickly received support in conservative media outlets. On Breitbart News, once run by Steve Bannon, now chief strategist to President Donald Trump, commentators overnight discussed whether to boycott Google and switch to services such as Microsoft Corp’s Bing.

According to Google’s 2017 diversity report, while the overall women to men ratio is 31:69, in the technology and leadership roles, the gap becomes even wider. While there are 20 per cent women in tech in Google in 2017 as compared to a mere 17 per cent in 2014, only one in four women hold leadership roles. In terms of racial diversity, over 50 per cent are White, a consistent figure for every year since 2013.

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