Yesterday, the internet lit up with a flame-war of epic proportions over an internal memo written by James Damore, a Google engineer with a Harvard PhD, who wrote at length about workplace diversity. The memo was the type of statistical analysis one could expect from a dispassionate engineer irritated by a lack of clarity in why fewer women choose to participate in his field, attempting to quantify it beyond the vague assumptions favored by corporate PR. He offered various reasons and explanations for why this could be the case, and offered to discuss the memo further with anyone interested in doing so. For writing this thoughtcrime, he was fired. Google’s CEO claims the memo violated its Code of Conduct. You can read the CEO’s statement here, which stresses that his views were “Not OK”.
These views are consistent with those of Google’s Eric Schmidt, who recently rejected the idea advanced in a Q&A that any right of center views need to be considered part of the bucket of “diversity” favored within Google. As I noted at the time:
Note the response from Eric Schmidt, who rejects the idea that anyone disagreeing with him politically could be operating from a position of ‘science-based thinking’. The level of diversity and inclusiveness welcomed by Google is precisely as much as is needed to achieve their corporate aims. ‘You’ll also find that all of the other companies in our field agree with us’ – yes, we know.
You see the same tone advanced by Danielle Brown, Google’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance, who insists the memo’s gender assumptions were “incorrect”.
Gizmodo calls a Google engineer’s leaked internal memo about the company’s diversity initiatives an ‘anti-diversity screed.’ Recode calls it ‘sexist.’ Most major news organizations frame it in similar terms. The memo has gone viral. (Update: Google has fired the author for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes.’) In reality, the problem is that a senior software engineer, perhaps unwittingly, admitted to pondering three of the most scandalous thought-crimes of contemporary American society.
The first was to propose that a meritocracy might be heathier for a company than bean-counting race, ethnicity, and sex. The second is pointing that ideological diversity matters. The third, and most grievous of all the wrongthinks, is suggesting that men and women are, in general, physiologically and psychologically different from each other, and thus they tend to excel at different things.
Damore’s memo, which reads more like a nerdy, middle-of-the-road collection of factoids than a political screed, points out that the male-female gap in employment at Google may not be entirely the result of discrimination against women, although he explicitly acknowledges that some female engineers may face discriminatory barriers.
The memo includes such crimethink nuggets as ‘women, on average, have… a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men,’ and that men have a ‘higher drive for status.’ These observations have been confirmed in numerous social science studies. He even goes on to suggest ways Google could make its culture more appealing to women without forced, affirmative action-style diversity programs, such as trying to make software engineering jobs more collaborative and people-oriented.
Matthias Shapiro, who has been in the tech industry for quite some time, went off on Twitter about what he sees going on. “Google thinks it is invulnerable, outside the power of government. That’s partly b/c the GOP has been so pro-business. Maybe it’s time to end that.” We shall see, but this is consistent with the overall arc toward anti-thoughtcrime pressure we’re seeing within the tech sphere – a group of corporations hundreds of millions of people trust with their most significant data.
So for the sake of argument, let’s set aside the case of Damore and his memo and consider a different case, a potentially clarifying hypothetical I hope you consider the next time you hear anyone from Google, or from any other firm, put forward their happy talk about diversity.
Say you have a fellow applying to job at Google today. He is of South American descent. His background is in chemistry. He is well-read, globally experienced, speaks seven languages. He is a popular candidate among many team members for a highly competitive job, and he is particularly interested in rebuilding the bonds of community around the world.
Yet there is a hitch: Upon a review of his social media history, it turns out he holds some problematic views. While his economic and foreign policy views are left of center with some unconventional exceptions, his views on issues like abortion, marriage, and transgender issues are downright unacceptable at a place like Google.
He is even found to have said that the idea children can select their gender is a “terrible” form of “ideological colonisation” backed by “very influential countries”. He blames big donors for implanting this idea: “Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money.” And this wasn’t long ago, it was just last week. Can you believe anyone would say something so backward in 2017? He makes a Neanderthal like James Damore look positively progressive!
Yes, I suppose this example is not particularly subtle. But the point is, Google’s diversity rules mean they couldn’t hire The Pope. Do they think it’s a problem? Should we?