Over the past couple of days, we’ve witnessed one of the world’s most respected employers, run into some rough weather with an employee. Earlier this week, a Google employee put up a memo, which obviously became meat for media outlets across the globe.
In a 10-page memo that was accessed by Gizmodo, James Damore wrote a critique and discussion on diversity policies. The resulting turbulence has brought about an increased interest on the topics of gender equality, diversity, and freedom. There are aspects of what Damore put in his memo that comes across as objective. There are aspects in it, that many would disagree with. Most importantly, there are just two stakeholders that had the responsibility of ironing out the creases – Damore the employee, and Google the employer.
The Google response
Since the long memo by Damore that went viral raises several points, some based on his individual bias, and some on his perceived bias, he also expresses an openness to discussion. From reports of the memo (which adds the term potential firing in it) to the moment when he got fired, it was all wrapped up in a matter of two days.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai did write an internal memo to employees. Reproduced in a post by Recode’s Kara Swisher, the memo begins with Pichai saying, “First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.”
In this instance, there was opportunity to engage, and communicate more effectively the initiatives that Google is taking on to repair the rather disjointed state of men and women in technology. Given the clout and influence that Google enjoys, it’s in a state of great responsibility to correct the wrongs. Since Google ‘doesn’t comment on individual employees,’ we’d never know for sure if there were reasons in addition to the memo that played a role in his sacking.
There’s definitely a lot more to the topic than we currently know. And reading Pichai’s memo to Google employees, he’s just wound up his family vacation to return to Mountain View, and engage in a town hall with Googlers on Thursday. Such is the gravity of the situation, and impact that it needs to be addressed by the Google leadership.
Women in tech
From Marissa Mayer to Sheryl Sandberg, and Meg Whitman to Virginia Rometty, technology has seen women rise and shine. Despite odds, challenges, biases and hurdles along the way. Forbes compiles a list of powerful women in technology.
In emerging countries, challenges are as fundamental as access to quality tech education. In evolved markets, it includes bias at the workforce and career progress that’s arrested due to an environment riddled with stereotypes. ALSO READ: Google’s sacking of ‘anti-diversity’ employee is right under the circumstances
We’ve all heard men of authority in our country speak out about women and their roles. Quite a few of them have left our jaws dropped. There’s been outrage as well. Thanks to women who’ve been taking up engineering, there have been a significant number of women working in the IT industry. But what’s disappointing is that according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), between 2004 and 2011, the Indian economy at a healthy seven percent; but the share of women in the Indian labor force fell from 35 percent to 25 percent. According to the Monster Salary Index, Indian men earn 25 percent more than their female counterparts.
The gender debate in tech
Hindrances that women in technology face in seeing them rise, and truly stand with men as equals have been a topic of discussion for years now. And this is a topic of discussion in the Silicon Valley as well.
Marissa Mayer and other successful women stand out for their profiles at Google and recently, Yahoo. But there are thousands of women who face discrimination. And when I read the memo written by the Google employee, I felt it brings to the table what people “on the other side” think. In a debate, there are individuals with divergent views.
For instance, if we consider the US administration that has been inviting tech leaders for discussions. There have been instances such as immigration where the leaders and the administration have differing points of view. But in the larger interest of the US economy, there’s a middle ground that seems to be well charted.
On the topic of gender equality, there is reason why this memo opened up such widespread discussion. I believe the virality of the post, and the fact that this was a Google employee, brought to attention the hurdles to an equal society.
The memo erred
The first line of the employee’s memo is hopeful. He begins by saying that he values “diversity and inclusion”. He states that he’s “not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.” After wandering for a bit about population distribution and political biases, Damore says, “People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document.”
He goes on to add, “Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company.” The above sentences give an impression that Damore is rather moderate in his view, and very open to healthy debates on the topic of diversity. In isolation, it seems unfair to use words such as misogynist while referring to him.
It’s when he gets into physiological differences between the sexes that it appears he’s digressing from the core debate. He also adds factors such as the ability to deal with stress and the extraversion and introversion leanings between the sexes. That’s where I lose him. Unless he’s a qualified medical practitioner, he just doesn’t come across as the expert to comment on differences between men and women.
Damore later adds pointers on non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap. The last point of which says, feminism has made great progress to free women from the female gender role. He suggests that if men are allowed to be more ‘feminine’ then the gender gap will shrink. But again it’s the last part of that suggestion is where he digresses again. He says that men would then leave “tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.” No, Damore, if you started out with equality, and an openness to it, all of this was unnecessary.
Later parts of the memo calls for Google to stop alienating conservatives. Now this is where the debate gets into politics. In fact, reading it leaves me confused whether it really is a gender debate or a political one. The two topics are so intertwined in the US right now, that it’s difficult to isolate one’s views on personal matters to political affiliations.
To sum it up, there was an opportunity to treat a topic as sensitive as diversity with inclusion and conversation. But it’s not easy. As Pichai puts it, Googlers are split between feeling judged based on their gender, to some who feel their freedom for expression is clipped. Either way, I hope this isn’t the end for the widespread conversation on gender equality. It’s an opportunity for Google to communicate, engage, discuss, debate and educate everyone it can, considering differing points of view that exist, in a topic as diverse as diversity itself. If there’s any company that has the ability to do so, it’s Google.