In late July, former Google engineer James Damore circulated “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” a contentious memo into an internal Google server, spurring left-wing fury over his alleged thought crimes.
The memo was posted as Google fights a wage-discrimination investigation by the Department of Labor, which claim that women are being paid less than men in the same positions. In his 10-page memo, Damore decried Google’s hiring process, in what would soon be known as the “the anti-diversity memo”:
“While discrimination exists . . . 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 and tech in leadership,” said Damore. “These differences aren’t socially constructed because they are universal across human cultures, the underlying traits are highly heritable, biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males, and they also often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone.”
Damore later went on to claim that “women have a stronger interest in people than things”, and that “extraversion is expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness” leading to a higher “agreeableness.” Damore elaborated, pointing out that women typically report higher anxiety than their male counterparts, before establishing that “we need to stop assuming gender gaps imply sexism.” The memo also claimed that in general men drive more for status, so inherently, they have more of an interest in higher stress, higher paying, life absorbing jobs.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by claiming that the memo “advanced harmful gender stereotypes,” and promptly fired Damore for allegedly violating Google’s Code of Conduct.
Responses to Damore’s memo were somewhat mixed. Christina Cauterucci, a Slate writer and self-proclaimed “hard femme,” unleashed a volley of vituperative rhetoric claiming that the memo “reeks of misplaced frustration,” “diminishes the emotional impact of microaggressions,” and “aligns with white supremacist viewpoints.”
On the other hand, Debra Soh, a sexual neuroscientist at York University, took issue with Cauterucci’s piece, claiming that, “No, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science.” Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University, focused on the scientific aspect of Damore’s piece, writing in Quillette Magazine “the author of the Google essay on issues of diversity gets nearly all of the science and implications exactly right.”
Damore’s arguments essentially revolve around one key point (one that I happen to agree with): inequity does not necessarily mean inequality. Advocates for gender equality in the workplace religiously quote studies that claim women earn 82 cents per every dollar a man earns, and while I’m sure that there are cases where women are paid less simply because of their gender, I vehemently disagree with the notion that women are “oppressed” in the workforce. According to the American Enterprise Institute and NPR, graduates of eight out of the top ten highest paying college majors were over 80 percent male (computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, information technology, civil engineering, and management informations systems). It’s possible that some of this could be attributed to stigmas surrounding women in STEM fields, but I think it is intellectually dishonest to claim that that is the sole cause of these differences.
Regardless of my viewpoint on the causes of workplace inequity (if it even exists on a large scale) I concede that Google has the right to fire Damore. While the First Amendment prohibits the government from impeding upon the free speech of its citizens, these same prohibitions do not extend to private employers.
Many conservatives have idolized Damore as a free-speech martyr, and while the veil of political correctness and Orwellian thought crimes currently besiege our First Amendment, this is not one of those cases. I don’t take issue with the legality of Damore’s firing.
As I researched for this column, I used Google Chrome. I’m writing this piece on a Google Doc. “Googled” has become a verb accepted in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Google is in 100 countries. Our school emails live in Google, and Google feeds information to billions of people around the world. Google processes about 40,000 search requests every second, translating to 1.2 trillion searches around the world, every year.
Google’s influence spans further than eye-popping statistics and personal anecdotes. It’s a well-established fact that Google monitors our searching. Most of the time, it’s for benign yet amazingly irritating reasons; Those ads for cute strapless dresses that keep appearing on the side of your google searches after you spent 3rd period indulging in the newest chic trends, those thousands of Judge Judy videos that pop up in your YouTube feed because one time in ninth grade you were tricked into watching one, or in the rare, helpful case, an Amazon prime link to the AP Euro study book Ms. Szolodko’s been recommending you buy since the first day of class (you googled it after the first day of class but consequently forgot about it until the week of the first test.)
We’ve all trusted that Google’s search algorithms won’t restrict our access to certain platforms (child pornography and other atrocities obviously excluded), or nudge us in a “better” direction, but what happens if they do? What if Google’s message changes from a platform created to allow the free movement of information to a platform dedicated to combating “harmful stereotypes?” Where does it stop? Don’t misinterpret; this would be a problem on either side of the political aisle, and if someone at Bing is fired by the CEO for writing a memo decrying “mansplaining,” I would be furious. I’m not concerned about Damore’s free speech rights, but rather, I’m concerned with censorship, especially from a company like Google.
By firing Damore, Google’s is broadcasting that it is averse to opinions differing from that of its own corporate mindset, setting a bad example from one of the world’s biggest companies. Today’s influential entities need to promote free speech, not publicly deny it. Who knows who or what company will follow Google’s example? Google’s actions will give me some hesitation the next time I type “Google” into my browser. 1984 was a warning, not a guide.