The Washington Post boldly declared that it said women were “genetically unsuited for tech jobs.” CNN said that it claimed “women are not biologically fit for tech roles.” Time Magazine said it was an “anti-diversity tirade. Gizmodo called it a “screed,” as did The Atlantic. Vanity Fare went with “anti-diversity manifesto.”
The “it” I keep referring to was the controversial memo drafted by a Google employee, criticizing the company’s internal policies on bias and diversity. A memo that got him fired.
Those headlines I just shared with you should scare the living hell out of you. Not because you should be scared of the memo, but because absolutely none of those descriptions of the actual memo itself is accurate.
James Damore, the author of the memo, never said that women were genetically unsuited for tech jobs. He never even implied it. Nothing resembling that statement was contained in the memo.
Nor was the memo anti-diversity. Quite the opposite, the memo was attempting to make the point that Google’s obsession with uniform opinion was squashing diversity of thought and perspective.
Like most people, I read the media accounts of the memo, and assumed the author was a sexist pig, making a tired and long debunked claim that women do not have brains that are suited to logic, math, and coding. Or that he had taken one too many diversity trainings and had blown his top over affirmative action hires.
Imagine my surprise when I actually read the memo.
My first shattered expectation was in simply reading the text, and realizing this was not a knuckle-dragging, woman-hating troglodyte.
The author started working at Google in 2013, after he had spent time as a researcher at Princeton, Harvard and MIT. He graduated in the top 3 percent of his class at the University of Illinois with a degree in molecular and cellular biology, and got a master’s degree in systems biology at Harvard.
His education showed in the writing, which was technical, highly sourced, nuanced and containing a rather impressive vocabulary.
Which brings me to my second shattered expectation. As I read the memo, I realized that he never once said women were unsuited for tech jobs, but was rather saying that certain aspects of tech jobs, and the Google culture, were in a general sense unappealing to many women.
Furthermore, he seemed to believe that gender differences necessitated systemic changes to the company if Google wanted more women to work in tech jobs.
For example, Damore has an entire section devoted to “Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap,” and in that section he makes a specific observation: “We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.”
He goes on to state that on average, women are more cooperative than men are, and as such, to help women thrive in tech jobs and to inspire more to want to participate, Google should take steps to allow those who demonstrate cooperative traits to thrive in the company.
What a woman-hating apostate.
Throughout the document, Damore seems to go to extreme lengths to reinforce two key points. The first is that the statements he makes about what characteristics are generally observed in each gender are not universally true, and that all people, of all genders, exhibit these characteristics in a wide range, but that in the aggregate some things are more true of one group, and less true of another.
The second is that there is no value judgement to any of this. There is nothing in the memo that claims any level of superiority, or inferiority. He is seeking to open a dialogue about other factors — besides racism and sexism — that he believes are the root cause of underrepresentation of certain groups in the tech industry.
The media, for their part, couldn’t have cared less about the nuance. They likely didn’t even read the memo. All that mattered to them was a salacious and tacitly false headline that attached nefarious sentiment to Damore, and his memo, because it can get them clicks and readers.
Ironically, Google, and the media, proved his ultimate point. Damore had criticized Google’s “politically correct monoculture” that he believes is “shaming dissenters into silence,” and stated that in writing the memo, he wanted to initiate an “open and honest discussion.”
People are now intimidated into silence, with a single perspective of thought being brutally enforced, and no dissension or disagreement being allowed.
In firing him, Google proved that their fidelity to diversity ends when it is diversity of thought. In lying about him and his memo, the media proved that those intimidated into silence are right to stay quiet.