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Many Perspectives on the Google Memo

TempA Google software engineer's memo has further split conservatives and liberals in the workplace. The most divisive part of the 10-page, so-called "manifesto" seems to be the argument that biology partly explains why fewer women are in technology jobs. James Damore was fired following controversy about the memo.

Here are a few highlights of the situation, particularly as they relate to communication:

The Engineer's Point of View

Damore argued in his memo that Google's diversity programs need to be reworked. Titled, "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," the memo suggests Google de-moralize diversity, stop alienating conservatives, confront Google's biases, stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races, have an open and honest discussion about costs and benefits of diversity programs, focus on psychological safety instead of just race/gender diversity, de-emphasize empathy, prioritize intention, be open about the science of human nature, and reconsider making Unconscious Bias (Google's training program) mandatory for promotion committees.

His argument about empathy and claims that women are more neurotic than men seem to be perceived as most hurtful. Damore responded to his termination in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

Women in Tech's Point of View

A computer science lecturer at Stanford acknowledges that the memo cites some peer-reviewed studies. But she identifies fives reasons the memo is offensive to women in tech: fatigue (tired of hearing the arguments and feeling dismissed at work), resisting the divide-and-conquer strategy (women won't feel better if they aren't "average"), Google isn't average (yet Damore cites studies of averages), race is argued alongside gender (but Damore cites no research), and contradiction (he says he values diversity yet criticizes all of Google's programs).

In sum, women argue that technology is a challenging field filled with bias. The memo only hurts women's attempts to be valued and included in the workplace. 

Google Leadership's Response

Google leadership had a right to terminate Damore. The question is whether this was the best  decision. By posting his memo and given the subsequent conversations, Damore may have created a hostile working environment for Google. In an email to staff, CEO Sundar Pichai wrote, "portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." The VP of diversity, integrity, and governance—just two weeks on the job—wrote an email with her own perspective.

You can read more about Google's decision process here.

Conservatives' Point of View

Conservatives see this situation as emblematic of what Damore argues: that conservative voices are silenced. Damore called Google "cult-like" for its unwillingness to consider other points of view. Damore has filed suit against the termination. New York Times opinion writer David Brooks wrote that Pichai should resign for terminating Damore. 

Image source.

Discussion:

  • From a perspective strictly of persuasion (or argumentation), what did Damore do well in his memo, and where did he fall short? What could he have done differently in this situation?
  • To what extent do you agree with Damore's arguments? What are his strongest and weakest arguments?
  • Did Google do the right thing in firing him? What are the arguments for and against his termination?