Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the United Soviet Socialist Republics of Google.
Rather, the spellbinding affair to which I refer concerns an internal memo authored by one of Google’s own employees. The subject of this particular memo was the prickly topic of gender differences. Or rather, what the employee in question deems to be innate differences in the abilities and preferences of men and women. In this memo, James Damore (who has a Systems Biology Phd. from Harvard University), focused in particular on the tech industry, wherein women comprise a fraction of the total workforce.
In light of such a discussion, it is firstly worth looking at Google’s own record regarding gender equality and diversity in its tech businesses. And it seems that despite Google’s “programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race,” and “hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates,” the statistics are still shockingly skewed:
Mr. Damore argued that these gender disparities could partially be due to biological factors. Men and women, he argued, have different skillsets that lead them to make different career choices. “Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership,” he says.
However, he was careful to add that, “many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.”
Moreover, he did not deny that societal and internalized biases partly explain why there is gender inequality in the tech sector:
“Implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently… but it’s far from the whole story.”
Mr. Damore then proceeded to list “traits” that he believes either of the two sexes are more likely to possess, citing some respected academic work, such as that of Cambridge Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Simon Baron-Cohen.
Needless to say, Mr. Damore was widely lambasted for his perceived ignorance, needless provocation, and misogyny. And perhaps unsurprisingly, he was summarily fired from Google as of Tuesday morning.
Now, it is not the purpose of this post to focus on the merits or shortcomings of Mr. Damore’s arguments, for these are nearly irrelevant. For what is far more important to focus on is the backlash against this politely worded memo, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with its assertions.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who voluntarily cut his family vacation short in order to deal with this particular “crisis,” issued this statement in response to Damore’s blasphemy.
In it, Mr. Pichai noted that, “we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it,” and that, “it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.”
Yet Mr. Damore was fired precisely for doing just that, presumably because he, “cross[ed] the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
If this isn’t classic double-speak, I don’t know what is. Either Google must be for open debate, or it must not. One cannot be half pregnant.
In a sense, this entire saga almost comically proves Mr. Damore’s point that “dissenting” (read: conservative) viewpoints are not tolerated whatsoever in the left-wing echo chamber of Google. And although liberals pride themselves in being on the “tolerant” end of the political spectrum, it would seem that the contemporary left remains worryingly intolerant of intellectual diversity.
Again, it should be noted that in no way does this post endorse or condemn the viewpoints of Mr. Damore. It merely serves as a defense for him to hold these viewpoints and to freely propagate them among his fellow Google employees. It serves as a defense of free speech and the right for people to challenge conventional wisdom, regardless of whether they are ultimately right or wrong.
“Wait, hold on a second,” one might say in rebuke. “Free speech is not protected by employers and any employee can be fired at any given time if his or her employer deems his/her musings to be hurtful or disruptive.”
Yet a simple thought experiment should be sufficient to dismantle this line of reasoning. Suppose Mr. Damore wrote a similar memo that expressed the opposite opinion, namely that women are better suited than men for tech jobs. Such a memo would have not gone viral, and no offense would have been caused. Mr. Damore would certainly not have been fired.
In other words, Google would not be applying the same standards to different viewpoints, meaning that it would be favoring one type of political discourse at the expense of the other. Viewpoints that unequivocally champion contemporary gender discourse are freely permitted, while those that challenge it can lead to employees being sacked.
But this is merely a symptom of a wider problem within the contemporary political left. Debating opinions seems to not be the priority. What one says is not as important as where one is speaking from. If one is speaking from a position of perceived “privilege” (read: white, cisgendered, men), then one’s opinions seemingly have less merit than those of people who are “marginalized” or “oppressed” (women, transgendered people, black people, and Muslims, for example).
This is wrong. This is an intellectually dishonest and fallacious prism through which to view the world. Opinions and ideas should be openly debated no matter which position they take. One cannot allow one side of the argument to be aired without allowing for the other side of the argument to freely express its views as well. And that is the crux of the issue.