Software developer James Damore was fired from Google last week after he wrote a 10-page document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”. In his memo, he argued that the low proportion of females working in tech could at least in part be explained by biological differences between men and women.
Damore has consistently presented himself in subsequent interviews as a man of science and someone who was fired for “the truth.” After being dismissed from his Google role, he set up a Twitter account under the handle @Fired4Truth.
The document was widely misrepresented by the mass media – their headlines kept claiming it was an “anti-diversity” memo, but if you read it fully, you see that Damore doesn’t say diversity is bad. Rather, he criticises Google’s means of achieving a more diverse staff, for example, affirmative-action style quotas and female-only courses.
To give an example of the media distortion, The Washington Post claimed that the memo states that women may be technically unsuited for tech jobs, but Damore never actually said that. Also, the tech news site Gizmodo published a copy of the memo, but they removed all the links and supporting evidence. Was this an attempt to discredit Damore? You can read the full uncensored version of the document here.
This is what Damore actually said about diversity: “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices. . . These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.”
Writing as a woman in IT, I didn’t find James Damore’s document to be controversial. His main point was that there may be reasons why fewer women are interested in coding, not that women are worse. I wonder how many of the people who complained about it actually read it in full?
There are certain things in the memo that don’t apply to me personally – for example, Damore states that on average, women prefer working with other people whereas men prefer working with things. I’m a quiet, introverted person, so I’ve always preferred working with things rather than people. Thus, a job in back-office IT is ideal for me, compared to, say, a customer-facing role. However, I accept that I am unusual in this respect and that a lot of people-oriented roles such as primary school teachers, nurses and caring vocations are female-dominated.
Although most of my IT jobs have been male-dominated, I haven’t felt disadvantaged. When I mention that I am a computer programmer, people – both male and female – tend to be impressed. There are events which promote IT to girls and women, which I think is positive but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of female-only courses. Thankfully, the events in my area are very inclusive. This shows that it is possible to promote coding to girls and women without excluding boys and men.
I think it would be a positive thing if more girls studied IT and went on to work in the tech industry, but you can’t make them do it against their will. Everyone must be given an equal chance to take IT courses but you can’t make anyone follow a particular career path if they do not want to do so. People spend a large proportion of their life at work so it is important they choose a career they think they will enjoy, rather than one they have been pushed into by their parents, teachers or by society’s expectations.
It’s very harsh that someone can lose their job and their livelihood merely for expressing an opinion and this has been a worrying trend in recent years. When someone expresses a view that goes against the accepted norms, there is a media frenzy (both in the traditional media and on social networks such as Twitter) until the person is hounded out of their job. It’s also very concerning that some employees and managers at Google have reportedly created blacklists of staff with whom they don’t want to work, due to ideological differences. It’s a great irony that a company which prides itself on diversity cannot tolerate diversity of thought.