James Damore and the Memo of Controversy

After publishing a memo about his thoughts on diversity on an internal discussion board, James Damore has been fired from  Google. He’s been making the rounds online, talking about his memo, diversity, chess, and his thoughts on Google’s actions. The memo, much like everything else these days, has been very divisive. Damore has been labeled a sexist  due to the comments made in the memo. Free speech advocates have come to his support, disgusted that a man lost his livelihood over his opinion. So what is James Damore? Is he an anti-diversity bigot or a victim of political correctness? The only way to find out that answer is to go to the controversial memo itself.

memo 1

I pulled this version of the memo from medium.com. It has a foreword responding to the public reaction to the memo. Mr. Damore sounds reasonable here. He says he’s speaking for more than just himself. Others at Google share the same opinion. Though we will never hear from them after the firing of Mr. Damore. I agree with him here. Diversity in the workplace is a very hot topic. People shouldn’t be afraid to vocalize their opinions as long as they are professional and not inflammatory.

Memo 2

This introduction is intriguing to me. How he will substantiate his claims he’s making? Free and open discussion is a valuable part of the human experience. He mentions differing traits in men and women may contribute to lack of equal representation. A bold claim, but that isn’t advocating for the removal of women in the work force.  He sounds okay here.

memo3

He hedges his claims on the bottom, by mentioning that he doesn’t know much outside of perspective. And he claims he himself may be biased and is open to discussing his position. He is correct in that social sciences, media, and the tech field skew to the left of political spectrum. I’m not seeing anything worth being fired over.

memo 4

I don”t know if I agree with his right and left political breakdown. It’s very broad and basic. I have to agree with him that we have a culture that shames people into silence. But that is on both sides of the political spectrum. Colin Kapernick kneeled during the National Anthem and now cannot get a job in the NFL. He’s not the best quarterback, but he’s better than others that currently have jobs. He’s been blackballed for his comments on touchy subjects much like how James Damore has been.

memo 5

Biological differences do exist between men and woman. This is very well-documented. Sexual dimorphism is observable in the human species.  But to look at biological differences and apply them to women in the modern tech field is a huge jump. I don’t know what he could be thinking of here. Is he saying that women are lacking in something to be successful or that they are biologically programmed to dislike working in the tech field? He will have to have strong evidence to support either claim.

memo 6

And this is where Mr. Damore got himself into trouble. His first citation is a Wikipedia link. Not the most credible of sources. My understanding of the first bullet is that he is claiming women are more social creatures than men and prefer to work with people than isolated in rooms with computers. I don’t find that to be necessarily a fallacious claim, but doesn’t sufficiently explain the lack of women in the tech field. There are women who work in that industry and they’re as social as any other woman.  Author needed to dig deeper for an explanation. He needed to speak to female coworkers and ask them why they got into the tech field. This would allow him to understand more of why women enter and better understand why some women may not.

Bullet number two is a similar half-truth. It has been noted that women have difficulty obtaining raises, but you can’t claim that women wanting to be liked is the sole explanation. He’s jumping to conclusions. There can be other reasons for why women don’t get or don’t ask for raises. Could that be true on average? Maybe. There is also no citation for this claim.

The third bullet point is just ignorant. Women work high stress jobs. The majority of nurses are women and that is a very high stress position. He didn’t do enough research or think about the positions that women hold in our society. He’s acting like women just prefer to work as secretaries and not ask for raises because they want to be liked and can’t handle stress. Third bullet puts a sour taste in my mouth.

memo 7

Mr. Damore jumps again to a conclusion and states that we should stop assuming sexism is solely responsible for the gender gap. I wouldn’t go that far. Sexism is likely a part of the reason for gender gaps. It is not wholly responsible, but it is an element.

I agree that some men take on high-paying positions for status, but others do enjoy their work. Not every CEO is just in it for the status. What’s odd to me about that paragraph is that he both claims that men take on jobs for status, but then lists a bunch of low status jobs that men work. If status drove men, then why would they be garbage collectors? He throws out this work-related death stat, but I don’t feel that is relevant to this discussion.

memo 8.JPG

His top suggestion is the best one he makes in this list. But that doesn’t only pertain to women, that can apply to all people. Finding a way to add more socializing into coding can make it a more appealing field to work in. But this does not explain why women would not want to be leaders in the technology if they are already within it. Those women are interested in coding. This would be more for women outside of the technology field.

I don’t see how point two is relevant to his claims. A woman who is good enough to get a job at Google has a spirit of competition within her. Those jobs are not handed out. If they’ve made it that far, they should want more once they are in the company. What needs to be focused on is how many women desire to be leaders and why they do. What is preventing them from becoming leaders? If they aren’t any, let’s ask women why they don’t want to be leaders. We can’t assume that they have less of a drive for competition. His link about education is not relevant to this discussion.

memo 9

Suggesting that women cannot handle leadership positions due to stress is where he got into trouble and what drove Google to fire him. It’s a sexist assumption that women shy away from  positions because they fear the stress. It’s what did him in.

Work-life balance is a good topic to bring up, but his suggestion is for women to work part time. How is this a reasonable solution? How will they pay their bills? Why is he assuming it’s simply too much for women to handle a full-time technology job?

Now his last point here invalidates the entire paper. The crux of his argument is that biological traits are responsible for women not succeeding in the tech field. These traits are innate and universal across cultures. It’s a nature over nurture argument. Now he’s saying men need to be allowed to take on more feminine traits by society. That’s a nurture over nature argument. If men’s traits and desires can be changed through societal influence, why can’t the same be true for women?

memo 10

Did Google state that they were going to try and hold back others who worked extra hours or took on more stress? He’s afraid that will happen and have disastrous consequences. What has led him to this fear? As far as I can tell, Google is doing great work as a company?  What disastrous consequences is he talking about? What evidence does he have that something terrible is going to happen?

The first bullet-point I agree with. Mentors and classes should be open to anyone who needs help regardless of gender or race. If people are excluded because of their race even if they are white, that is wrong. Help should be available to everyone who can benefit from it.

What special treatment for “diversity” candidates is he speaking of? I clicked the link for his lowering the bar comment, but it leads to a private forum. Had there a controversial hiring of a “diversity” candidate? He creates an us vs. them mentality with his use of  quotation marks. How does he know that these “diversity” hires aren’t just good enough to work at Google? Is every non-white man hire a diversity hire? He’s not accepting for what they can do. If he has a personal experience of working with someone hired to meet a diversity quota who could not do the work, then he should provide that as evidence.

memo 11

He hasn’t had much evidence of his own. This memo has been the kettle calling the pot black. He calls social constructionism a myth but earlier he had mentioned that society needs to allow men to be more feminine. Did I misread that? I agree that the gender wage gap is a myth. In this paragraph I sense frustration. Like some “diversity” candidate got hired through a program and he felt that they hadn’t worked hard to get that job. And he’s afraid it’s going to mess up Google.

memo 12

These are his concluding thoughts. People are biased towards women due to a biological need to protect them. Men are disposable and cannot voice gripes about their gender issues without being shamed. Society believes differences between genders is due to men oppressing women, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. However society ignores the pains of men and spends its resources on helping women.

Is he wrong here? I share some of the same sentiment. Very difficult for men to discuss gender issues without being negatively labeled. I don’t know if that comes from biological bias towards women. From what I’ve seen, it’s because one side believes their opinions are morally correct and to oppose them is to be evil. They have very black and white thinking on issues where it may be more complicated. A good example of this would be Donald Trump voters. It is easy to label all Trump voters as evil racists, but that is not the case for all of them. Some people voted for Obama and then switched over to Trump. That was why he won the election. So within his voter-base were people who were not evil racists.

Men as the disposable gender is a subject that intrigues me, but I don’t feel it has much place in a memo stating that biological differences between men and women are responsible for a lack of women in the tech field. We aren’t discussing war. People are sitting around in a room punching code. What does it matter if men are disposable in this context?

If what he says is true and society does favor women, why doesn’t society give them more positions in the lucrative tech field then?

It’s kind of sad that he writes about people afraid of being fired for their comments and that men are labeled misogynists for discussing gender issues because that’s exactly what happened to him.

memo 13

Google does not sound like a fun place to work if this gentlemen thinks it is a psychologically unsafe environment. It is very concerning that he believes this. What have they done to make him feel unsafe at work?

memo 14

memo 15

He wants people to be treated as individuals but has said we should create programs for women because on average they are more agreeable, more anxious and less driven for status. That’s not treating people as individuals.

Diversity in the work place will remain a moral issue so long as people are discriminated against because of who they are and how they were born. That will not go away.

I agree that conservatives who are reasonable and professional should not be alienated.

Programs that exclude others based on their race shouldn’t exist in the workplace. They should be open to everyone.

“Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as
misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the
homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.”

I wouldn’t equate trying to get girls jobs as the same as believing women should be violently murdered and sent to prison at the same numbers of men. People just want women to be well-off and to have a chance to make a good living like any of the men in the field. Very strange comparison.

Criticism of the diversity programs should be permitted. Google ought to have an anonymous suggestion box where people can leave comments without risk of repercussions. This can help to improve their programs and allow employees to feel psychologically safe.

Open discussion is very important to Mr. Damore. Google should have a forum for this. He makes Google sound like a terrifying place to work where the wrong opinion can get you thrown out the door. When you speak up, you are shamed into silence.

But why would we deemphasize empathy? We need that to understand how to better get women into the field? We should rely solely on numbers in that case. We have to get straight to the people. Numbers only tell a part of the story. The methodology behind the numbers have to be examined. When analyzing human behavior, we should pay attention to the individual’s emotions.

The science of human nature isn’t an exact science. I’ve read many psychology books and many of them state that there are failings in their findings and more research needs to be done. You can’t apply the findings to the general population. I just finished a psychology book called The Dark Side of Close Relationships. In one of the last sections in the book, they come to the conclusion that social rejection may do more harm to a person’s well-being than social acceptance does good. But the study accepts that there are limitations to the collection of the data and the responses of the subjects involved in the research. So while the information suggests one thing, it’s possible it may be another.

I do not believe Mr. Damore deserved to be fired for this memo. He has a passion for the subject and speaks for others who are afraid to speak themselves. He is ignorant on some fronts and draws conclusions without substantial evidence. I believe Google could have worked out a solution. If many employees feel that the work environment is psychologically unsafe, that cannot be conducive to being productive. Google takes diversity very seriously so they should have allowed Mr. Damore, female coworkers and leaders to have a discussion on his views. It would be an open forum where they could each learn more about each other’s perspectives. Allow the women to respond to his memo and set him straight on where they believe he is wrong. Let employees give feedback on how they feel about diversity and how they feel about Google’s current practices.

Mr. Damore’s points on work-related deaths and society favoring women over men would best be left to another paper discussing the position of men in contemporary society. I do not read any maliciousness behind his words, but I do sense frustration.  I understand why Google fired him. His memo brought a negative light onto the company but I wish they hadn’t. By firing him, they could be contributing to a psychologically unsafe work environment that Mr. Damore describes. They should have found a way to work with him and see where they could make changes.

 

 

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