Controversial Google sacking shows hypocrisy and discrimination still plague the tech industry
Google CEO fires employee who wrote memo last week criticising its diversity initiatives, just as it battles an embarrassing wage discrimination investigation which shows it pays women less than men in comparable job roles
Google fired an employee who wrote a memo last week criticising its diversity initiatives.
No, it is not the same mission statement that Tom Cruise conjured after a restless night in Jerry Maguire.
But, like the film it immediately unravelled the career its author, who has added fuel to the bonfire of hypocrisy and discrimination plaguing the tech industry.
This week, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, tried to decisively end the controversy over the memo that went viral and that was threatening to engulf his company.
He fired the employee and writer James Damore. This placed all the stakeholders into the middle of one of Silicon Valley’s most heated debates.
The ten page memo, entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” comes as the company battles an embarrassing wage discrimination investigation by the US Department of Labor, which has discovered that Google consistently pays women less than men in comparable job roles.
Damore’s paper accuses the company of creating an “ideological echo chamber” where honest debate on sensitive issues is outlawed because of political correctness. His own, contentious position: that biological differences make men more suited to engineering and leadership positions in the tech industry than women.
That stirred up plenty of ad hominem attacks in the media. Read the memo yourself to understand what he is really trying to articulate.
He opens by saying, “I value diversity and inclusion, I am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”
He adds, “If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem,” and “Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”
Forcing diversity is a regressive idea. Google has created several of its own discriminatory practises: programmes, mentoring and classes only for people with a certain gender or race; a high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates.
All create their own confirmation biases.
The hypocrisy exists because of the temptation of huge financial gains, and a quasi-religious faith in the hyper-capitalism espoused by Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter Ayn Rand in today’s tech industry, which has become as venal and self-regarding as 1980s Wall Street.
It has wrought a vulgar, macho generation with no care for any principles beyond self-interest- all vainly wrapped in a disguise of progressive liberalism.
I believe in feminism. But I also want people and employees to be free to express inaccurate views, even lies. Damore probably should have sought guidance on how to express his views internally. Yet, Google prides itself on having multiple channels for employees to express opinions and grievances. He should not have lost his job.
Google may have been within its legal rights to fire him. But whether it was the correct moral or ethical decision for a company that thrives on creativity, inventiveness and free thought is certainly in question. The CEO made the wrong call.
The issue could have been readily dealt with by open debate, as should be reasonably expected in a civilised society and a scientifically based organisation. Where bigotry lies often occurs when you scream “bigot” against anyone that disagrees with you.
Damore says, “I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).” He is only attempting to bring reason to and frame a debate.
Stifling debate is dangerous. Science demands intellectual combat and argument – and all the difficult questions that flow from that dynamic. Denying debate is denying science.
Google’s CEO must reckon its corporate goal where, “part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions.”
It will affect Google’s ability to innovate. Your most creative people are often offensive and nihilistic because they are prone to controversial thoughts. Innovation isn’t pretty.
Misguided and suffocating political correctness reminds me of the struggle faced by the early 1960s Jewish-American comedian and satirist Lenny Bruce. He was an influential pioneer of vulgar stream-of-consciousness sexual fantasies comedy about sex and religion sprinkled with jazz commentary.
He paved the way for future, outspoken, counter culture-era comedians like George Carlin and Louis C.K. His landmark trial for obscenity is seen as an important case for freedom of speech in the US.
Bruce was heckled by audience members during one of his profanity laden performances.
He paused his act and retorted, “You think what I do is offensive and obscene – joking about men and women having sex? I’ll show you real pornography. Why don’t you look at those pictures of the people of Hiroshima after we dropped the atomic bomb? Now that is true pornography.”