Recently an internal message between googlers raised a lot of media attention and discussions about diversity as an issue in IT and computer science departments. We all kind of know that these discussions will not go away soon because lack of diversity in certain fields (racial and gender) is an issue. I didn’t even read the message because the quoted sections in news was enough to make my mind: the author of this memo needs learn more about complicated aspects of the issue. The false argument directly linking biological differences with social status is not just wrong, it can hurt people. Then after Google fired the guy. I read this article in the Atlantic, which convinced me to take a look at the full-text memo (the Gizmodo link above).
I came to this conclusion: This former-googler (28yrs James Damore) crossed some lines and his words hurt a group of people, at the same time I believe he was treated unfairly by the media and his former employer. Frankly, I believe firing him was the easiest option for Google but not the best. It seems to me they wanted to get rid of attacks from media. The message by the VP of Diversity in Google, Danielle Brown, didn’t really convinced me. In her letter (also in Gizmodo link above), she argues in order to build an open, inclusive environment, we need a discourse pro to our the principles. To me, it is fine! A company can ask their employees “if you say things that hurt our values and other colleagues we will fire you” but this easily can land in the opposite definition of an open environment.
I found Susan Wojcicki’s comments (CEO of YouTube) more relevant. She expressed how painful it is to read such hurtful claims from a co-worker. Then, she argues that if we replace the word “Women” with other groups, for example “Blacks”, then it would be imaginable to have a “universal call for swift action against its author”. This is actually a good point to start the discussion. However, I disagree with this argument that if it hurts, it should be banded! I believe Google could do better by turning this situation into an opportunity to educate staff and having a serious conversation about diversity in IT companies. If the goal is to build a discourse basing it on how hurtful a talking point is to others only goes toward more gaps. By firing someone who expressed his absurd opinion in an internal memo, they created a right wing martyr out of this guy.
My main criticism is not toward Google. The problem is that for many years conservative arguments although they tried to support it with statistical evidence are doomed to be shamed. This is where people like James Damore suddenly find old invalid statements attractive and they think these are scientific consensus because there is not that much arguments against them. The fallacy in his argument which became the center point for his firing is where he claimed maybe the causation to distributional differences in personalities among different genders is based on biological differences. He basically placed little value on difference between correlation and causation. Susan Wojcicki argument is exactly about this, and not just an emotional response. If there is distributional difference between different groups it shouldn’t be enough reason to say group labels must be the cause.
I listened to James Damore after he got fired. I got convinced that he didn’t have any political agenda. Perhaps someone could change his opinion about all these matter with patience and deeper arguments than making it a viral social media chat. Then the shallow media report on this memo turned put Google in this position.
Finally, I have to express even more that I don’t see any point in creating discourse based on blandly false claims. But when one side of the argument chose to reason based on factless statements the discourse must be about agreeing on what we all accept as facts. If we skip this step, any other attempts is doomed to be considered as subjective personal opinions. I simply think that if Google truly want to deal with diversity problem, they must do more than firing those who don’t understand why diversity matters.