If you follow tech at all — even if only via Silicon Valley — you have a sense of the industry’s long-term problems with gender parity and diversity. The alarming overall trends have been punctuated by headline grabbing stories of sexual harassment and boys club behavior. The industry itself has tried to course correct and diversity has been emphasized throughout the valley in general and at the big hitters in particular.
Still, there’s a pervading sense that the tech industry just “doesn’t get” the true value of workplace diversity and a recent memo written by a Google engineer seems to underscore the point. James Damore fired off a ten page manifesto of sorts, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” The memo — which can be read in full here — cuts against the ideas of workplace diversity hirings and argues that the company is unsafe for political conservatives. Damore states that dissenting opinions are blocked and that “shaming into silence” is the antithesis of the brand’s policies regarding psychological safety.
Many of Damore’s points are fair to debate (Google’s CEO has said as much), though the methodology of sending a memo that would surely circulate like wildfire seems unforgivably reckless. But the memo also contains theories about stereotypical and disproven gender differences. Writing about his beliefs, under the subheading “Personality Differences,” Damore writes that women have a higher propensity for:
Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness. This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.
It’s this section (and it’s very opinionated, uncited nature), which seems to have caused the most hurt. It’s also where Damore crossed the line between Google’s policy of encouraging workplace free expression and asserting harmful stereotypes.
As CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email to staff, titled “Our Words Matter” (published by the NY Times):
The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’