If you didn’t know that Google recently fired senior engineer James Damore after his controversial diversity manifesto went viral, now you do.
It didn’t bother me that it happened. That Damore wrote those things, or felt a certain way. I live in the world. I know there are people who don’t believe in strategic diversity management. They don’t believe that companies, that any entity should devote its time or resources to help close the gaps between the sexes. That’s a fact.
What bothered me was the people who support James Damore, who feel he’s been wrongfully dismissed, are using this as a case for the protection of free speech. Yes, it is Damore’s right to speak his mind. No matter how pathetic or ill-conceived I found his message, this is America. Free speech is not for some, it’s for all who live and work here.
He has the right to free speech. What he does not have the right to do is force his opinions and beliefs down other Googlers throats. Nor does he have the right to endanger Google’s brand without its permission. That’s where the freedom of speech argument breaks down. When Damore took it upon himself to share his manifesto, or even to write it at all, he crossed a line that his company does not have to accept.
It would be one thing if Damore worked for himself. Then, this news would have gotten a tweet from me, not more than 1,000 words. But when you work for other people, you’re subject to their rules, to their ideology. That’s implicit in you accepting their money come payday. If you don’t? They have the right fire you. Our individual states detail the hows and whys differently, but in our society, that’s basically the game.
In theory, that’s okay with me. When I worked for other people – even now that I work for myself – I’ve been cautious about things I write or post for public consumption because I understand this part of the game. Reputations are real. Causing offense can cause you or your company to lose money. Therefore, if you aren’t willing to get fired for your opinion, don’t make that opinion public, period.
I read the manifesto. I didn’t understand all of it. That’s not unusual given the piece was written from an internal employee perspective; I don’t work at Google and never have. But I think the real reason I didn’t understand some of it is because it’s carefully edited double talk crafted to disguise the fact that Damore’s pissed Google is devoting time and resources to correct – or to even give the appearance of correcting – the imbalances within its infrastructure.
In the piece he throws out phrases like “shaming into silence” and “psychological safety.” I hear that kind of crap a lot when the “majority” takes issue with the “minority” raising its collective voice to protest inequitable treatment. It’s why Colin Kaepernick has no job. He dared to take a stand, or in his case, a silent and very elegant knee, in protest, and now he’s being punished, financially silenced.
It’s extremely effective. The NFL has effectively muzzled any other player who might have done something similar. Or, at least made them think twice before daring to buck the system. It’s crappy, unfair and tragic, but I won’t say the NFL is wrong to do it. It’s their right. Just as it’s Google’s right to get rid of someone who publicly states that gender gaps in tech are exaggerated or just when it’s in the midst of wage discrimination litigation.
Even as Damore makes true statements like “Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company.” And, “People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us”, his talk of “Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech” shows a marked partiality for biases that deny women equitable treatment. Why else would he suggest that behavioral, psychological or societal differences between the sexes are a credible explanation for the gender gap in tech?
Really? Okay. Even if that’s true, what next? Me liking old school hip hop is a good enough reason to give a man who likes country music 30-plus more cents on the dollar? Come on, now. Just because something is the way it is doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave it that way. Damore wants to “De-emphasize empathy.” He writes that “being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.” Being emotionally unengaged also allows the powers that be to ignore inequity under the guise that emotional women are bad for business.
Since Damore has filed a formal complaint with the US Labor Relations Board, there’s been talk of him suing Google and winning. I hope Google uses all of its considerable might to crush this dude. And yes, this is the very same blog where I hoped that Google came up a loser in the legal stakes, and while both issues involved women in tech, for me, the same company does not equal the same opinion.
Your self-interest is showing, Kellye. Yup. And? I’m all for Google losing and losing big if it means that women everywhere win. But if Damore was to win a lawsuit against Google for wrongful dismissal or whatever legal chicanery his attorneys come up with, man. It’s not that Google would lose, or women would lose, everyone would. It would mean that any semi-literate man with a gripe against equality and diversity would be able to leak his thoughts and not only shake the foundation of a giant, one man would have enough power to change the fate of women in the workplace everywhere, forever.
A legal win for this man wouldn’t be a blow for those who seek to repress free speech. It wouldn’t be a blow against the big tech giant attempting to subvert the will of the little guy, a David and Goliath scenario damn near as old as time itself. A win for this man would mean a huge loss for diversity and inclusion in general. It would be a win for a conservative ideology that subverts entire groups of people in an attempt to maintain an antiquated power structure.
A win for this man means saying okay to a hostile work environment where it’s okay for anyone with an idea – regardless of gender, race, or any other dimension of diversity – to say what they want, in great, silly details, whenever they want. A win for this man would essentially mean that a company must allow an employee the freedom to endanger its reputation, its brand, its mission, to insult potential talent pools as well as huge customer demographics.
And while I am an employee advocate from way back and a huge fan of freedoms of all kinds, when it comes to the workplace, I’m also a fan of not letting the animals run the circus.
Google was right to fire James Damore. The company canceled a town hall scheduled to discuss the incident, likely to get its collective thoughts together. That’s cool. This is serious enough to take the time not to come off half-cocked. I will be watching with interest to see what happens next.