Why Google engineer's sexist memo should be slammed outright

James Damore had criticised the tech giant for its hiring policy.

 |  5-minute read |   11-08-2017
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James Damore, the 28-year-old engineer who was fired by Google on August 6 for penning a "sexist memo" that outlined "biological reasons" behind the prevailing gender gap in the tech industry, has now hit out at his former employer for "shaming him" for his views. The manifesto has led to great outrage, with many speaking for and against the author's position.

The manifesto has also led to the media's attention being directed towards the great gender divide that exists in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry – 7:3 in the favour of men.

Over the past few years, some of the bigger players from the industry have taken steps to change the status quo in the sector, which has often been likened to "an all boys club".

Google has been among the companies at the forefront of trying to bring about this much-needed change. 

It has initiated programmes to improve diversity and close pay gaps between men and women. However, as it turns out, its efforts have not been appreciated by all, with a few voices even calling them misguided attempts at fixing a problem that needs no tinkering. 

'Google’s ideological echo chamber'

One of these voices is James Damore, who kicked up a storm with a controversial 10-page memo criticising Google for its hiring policy. In the document, which was initially circulated among Google employees and meant for internal consumption — and eventually surfaced on the web — Damore blamed the Mountain View based tech-giant for its push to increase the number of women at the workplace despite them not being "best suited for jobs" in the tech industry because of their "obvious genetic differences".

The memo, titled "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber" argued that men are "biologically better fit" to work in the tech industry and mansplains "why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership."  

Google, which has in the past has battled charges of discrimination against female employees, has been blamed by Damore of essentially trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

In his rant, Damore claimed that great injustice is being done by pushing women who are “directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas" towards job profiles that they are biologically not suited for.


The backlash

On August 8, two days after the leak of the memo, Google announced that it had decided to fire the engineer for his sexist remarks. In a staff email, Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said Damore’s memo violated the company’s code of conduct and does “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

However, that understandably did not quell the outrage on social media over Damore's "sexist" rant. What followed saw even Google employees take to social media to slam the engineer for his obvious sexism. 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki – one of Google's highest ranking female employees – pointed hout how Damore's memo highlights the sexism she and others in the tech industry have faced for years.

In an op-ed published in Fortune Wednesday, she said the memo was yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science." 

The error in Damore's way

Even as there was backlash from all quarters, Damore stuck to his guns and in separate interviews to Bloomberg TV and a popular YouTube channel claimed how he felt "betrayed" by Google, and accused of being intolerant of differing views. He did not stop there, however. In this new rant, he compared his work at Google where he earned in excess of $162,000 a year, plus other perks and benefits, to "forced labour in Soviet Russia."  

As days went by, it became increasingly clear that Damore's "sexist manifesto" was not the rambling of a perverse mind, but rather a reflection of a sentiment shared by more than just a minority. 

Though every opinion deserves to be respected and debated upon, what's to be understood is that the basis of any such dialogue should be responsible.

As is clear by an elementary reading of Damore's memo, it is written in a language of discrimination that should, under no circumstance, be acceptable as it serves no productive purpose. 

By terming women as beings hard-wired for only a certain set of jobs, Damore and his ilk are getting trapped in their very own "ideological echo chamber", which is blinding them to the realities of the 21st century. 

The sane voices from across the divide need to understand that by peddling Damore's perverse sexist argument, they are not only attempting to dictate terms to almost half the population of the planet but, more importantly, discouraging them from entering domains that need the best minds available to take the human race forward. 

The 21st century is the age of information, and the need of the hour is to put our best foot forward and find solutions to our problems.

For the fast-paced tech industry, which prides itself in quickly adapting to and embracing change, it has already taken long enough to right the wrongs of the past.

But now that it has finally woken up to its responsibility, why not just let it do what can't wait?

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Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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