Speed Reads


Google engineer who wrote controversial gender memo says he was fired

On Monday afternoon, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to employees saying that parts of a controversial internal memo written by a senior software engineer that went viral outside of the company over the weekend "violated our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." On Monday night, the author of the document, James Damore, told Bloomberg that he had been fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes." Google did not confirm the news, saying it doesn't comment on individual employees, but did not dispute it.

The memo, widely read inside Google before Gizmodo published the entire 10-page document on Saturday, is essentially an argument against efforts to hire more women for engineering and tech jobs without first changing the internal culture of Google to better fit innate biological gender differences. It contained some pretty broad generalizations about women and men that the author argued were due to biology and evolution, and said conservatives inside Google felt they couldn't discuss such issues as affirmative action openly without fear of shame or punishment.

That Google then fired him will surely been seen as confirmation of Damore's concerns by some critics, but human resources experts say Google had no good options. According to Google's own figures, 31 percent of its workforce and 20 percent of its technical staff are female, and managers would have a hard time assigning the memo's author to collaborative projects, especially in mixed-gender teams — a point a senior engineer who recently left Google, Yonatan Zunger, made in a widely cited Medium post. "Had the employee not belittled women's skills, I assume, he would not be let go," veteran tech reporter Kara Swisher said at Recode. But "one thing is clear, the memo has become radioactive at Google."

"The author had a right to express their views on those topics — we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions," Pichai wrote in his note, adding that the author raised touched on some "important topics." At the same time, he said, "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.'"