UPDATE: According to Kara Swisher at Recode, Google has fired James Damore, the author of the memo that is the topic of this article.
On Friday, August 4, 2017, several Google employees took to Twitter to discuss a ten-page document that was circulating internally at an alarming rate. The manifesto focused on the topic of “ideological diversity” replacing Google’s current diversity policies. The author states, “Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things.” Needless to say, the manifesto (screed) was not well received but had a fair number of supporters inside Google that bolstered the author’s position. Google’s response was tepid at best, “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.” Not exactly what you want to see when this manifesto has you questioning why you’re at a company not denouncing the opinions expressed in this screed. I’m all for free speech (I pay for my defense of it every day). But, the First Amendment is a construct to prevent government silencing of dissent. The First Amendment does not apply within the confines of a company. Free ideas are great so long as they do not cause harm to those around you.
The impact of the manifesto reaches far beyond Google though. As my friend, Kylie Robison, appropriately points out in the wake of this manifesto, “being an engineer at Google was my dream job.” When things like this manifesto come to light it’s a strike against the company. It doesn’t matter if you’re Uber, Google, or the local IT hot spot. Once you have enough strikes against you, like in baseball or softball, you’re out. There are very likely many more Kylie Robison’s out there who are or now were gunning for a spot as an engineer amongst the ranks at Google. Now, in the aftermath of this manifesto and the weak response from Google, these bright, young devs are considering places that couldn’t take the stand that Google could.
Google could end this employee’s career in tech if it wanted. Google won’t go that far but, they could send a very clear message: “Your opinions are not shared amongst your peers. You have brought harm to Google employees, Google’s recruiting efforts, and Google’s brand. For these reasons you are terminated effective immediately.” This would be the responsible thing to do. Google will claim it’s defending everyone’s freedom of expression but what Google is doing is tarnishing its own brand and reputation to protect a premise it is not required to (free speech). Meanwhile, future and prospective employees are thinking twice about taking a position at one of the world’s largest companies. This is the most crushing part of this to me. I know Kylie has been lining up for a position at Google that she wouldn’t try to fill for at least two years (if not longer). It’s sad to see Kylie’s dream come crashing down before our very eyes. This is not the American Dream I’d want for my daughter or son.
What is potentially even worse than crushing Kylie and other up and coming engineers’ dreams is the thought of what happens at the companies these newly minted developers end up landing at. Imagine a company trying to change culturally and then this manifesto drops. Couple that with Google’s non-response and you will likely have a faction of employees saying, “If Google lets their employees go this far, why do WE have to be more inclusive?” If Google can do it, why can’t we? This will be seen as a green light to the bad actors that are already in our industry.
This incident ends up lowering the bar across the entire industry. When leaders fail to lead, a less desirable actor will fill the vacuum. I have to go to work tomorrow and make sure that my team knows that we are not going to let any one of us be greater than the sum of us. Google is creating leadership challenges across an already challenging industry to lead effectively in. We as an industry should not stand for this. If this were an Uber employee we’d call for more change at Uber. This is Google; what are we going to demand of them? Google should do the right thing here and not be evil.