Everything You Need to Know About the Google Memo

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August 10, 2017

Pictures comparing the Google memo to Martin Luther's 95 Theses were found circulating on social media sites. Image from @UncleChangNYC via Twitter

Over the past week, the now infamous Google memo has consumed news outlets and social media. Penned by James Damore, a senior software engineer who had worked at Google since 2013, the ten-page document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” criticized political biases within the company and the tendency for “honest discussion about these biases… [to be] silenced by the dominant ideology.”

The memo’s claim that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership” sparked outrage.

It is generally accepted by scientists in psychology and neurology that on average, there are significant biological differences between the sexes. However, many readers took offense with what they saw as a sexist stereotype of women and an argument for women being unsuited to working in the tech industry.

In the memo, Damore attempted to clarify his stance and avoid the issue ahead of time by writing, “note, I’m not saying that all men differ from 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.”

An image from “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” used to explain how the average of a population distribution is not necessarily descriptive of all of the population.

The memo also discussed ways to increase women representation in tech without resorting to discriminatory practices such as programs only for people of a certain gender or race and hiring practices with lower the bar for “diversity” candidates.

On Saturday, August 5, Gizmodo was the first to publish the full contents of the memo outside of the company, opening up the document to public scrutiny.

Later that day, Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity and Governance Danielle Brown responded in a statement to employees that was made public by Motherboard. Brown condemned the viewpoints presented in the memo, saying that it “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender.”

On Tuesday, August 8, Google CEO Sundar Pichai also sent a note to employees saying that portions of the memo violated Google’s Code of Conduct by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.

“The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic,’” wrote Pichai.

The controversy comes at a time when Silicon Valley is already under heavy scrutiny for gender discrimination. In April, the U.S. Department of Labor started an inquiry into Google’s alleged discrimination against women in the form of systemic compensation disparities. In February, a blog post by a former Uber employee described her experience with sexual harassment and the company’s culture of silence.

Bloomberg reported later on Tuesday evening that the author of the memo has been fired, as well as revealing his identity to be James Damore. Damore told Bloomberg and various news outlets that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes” and that he is “currently exploring all possible legal remedies.”

Damore’s divisive document has attracted the public’s condemnation as well as support. At the time of this article, a fundraiser has collected $31, 080.00 in donations towards financial and legal assistance for Damore. Supporters are also planning protests at Google offices across the United States to be held on Saturday, August 19.