Saturday, August 12, 2017
James Damone and Google's Sexism and Diversity
Silicon Valley has a reputation for discriminating against women in the technical and executive ranks. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Meg Whitman of HP are exceptions, but an overall look at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google/Alphabet, and Microsoft shows male heavy employment. Google is roughly 80% male, mostly Caucasian and Asian, in its tech ranks, and 75% in leader positions. It is also fighting a federal investigation that claims it underpays women. Only 23% of Apple’s tech staff and 17% of FaceBook’s are female. The HBO series Silicone Valley focuses on men and gives actresses a secondary role. James Damone failed to understand that diversity of thought does not exist in the Academy, Hollywood, or Silicone Valley. Thought is fine as long as it comports with the accepted orthodoxy, which George Orwell/William H. White, Jr. called Group think, policed by the Thought Police. He penned a memo entitled: “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” His memo cites several studies that show men and women think differently; that men are into things and women into people. He wrote that women in general have more empathy and neuroticism than men. His problem in the memo is that he stepped into the Harvard President Lawrence Summer’s infamous question: “Why are there fewer women in science?” James Damone answered that biological differences play a role in the lack of women in tech positions at Google. President Summer’s provocative answers cost him the Presidency of Harvard. He posited that innate or biological differences between men and women could explain the lack of female success in science and math. Married women with children might be unwilling to spend the long hours necessary for advancement. Let me add anecdotally that after 45 years of teaching law I have seen many incredible young women do it all: marriage, children, and the practice of law. Let me add that I have also seen many incredible young women sacrifice the practice of law to their family, raising children. I have not seen many incredible, young male lawyers sacrifice the law to be Mr. Mom. James Damone was careful to note that generalities do not apply to individuals, but he questioned the shibboleth of diversity and diversity training for the sake of diversity. He was concerned that Google’s diversity efforts were misdirected and ineffective, accompanied by the company’s “politically correct monoculture.” He wanted to start a dialogue within the company. The rigidity of thought in Silicon Valley is amazing because the Valley exemplifies the success of capitalism free from government regulation and rigidity. The orthodoxy leads to the Obama Administration trying to regulate the internet under. the guise of net neutrality. The Obama Administration through FBI Director James Comey tried to force Apple to unlock its users’ IPhones. Statism, the antithesis of capitalism, is how the EU is mugging Google, Apple, and other American innovative companies. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO overreacted by publicly firing Damone and then stating “We strongly believe in Googlers expressing themselves,” but Damone violated company policy “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” He added: “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to such work is offensive and not O.K.” That’s not what James Damone wrote. I’m sure the Google lawyers grimaced when they heard the CEO’s remarks. The standard statement for legal reasons is “We do not discuss personnel matters.” The United States follows the “employment at will” doctrine whereby absent a contract or legal restriction, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, or no reason. In addition, the Freedom of Speech guarantees of the First Amendment only apply to the government and not to private parties. James Damone, like most employees, could thus be fired for his remarks without any legal cause of action. He wrote after his firing: “As far as I know, I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does.” Actually he doesn’t. However, when CEO Pichai publicly accused Damone of violating Google’s Code of Conduct, a cause of action for defamation could be pled, followed by extensive discovery. The process will be very painful for Google. Management has made it clear to Googlers that they are not to question the company’s diversity program. Damone’s memo was in response to that attitude. Some Google employees made it clear that they will record the names of fellow employees who support Damone or oppose the company’s diversity efforts, and then blacklist them. The new rule at Google is Group Thought. The merits of Damone’s memo are debatable, some saying it’s well researched and others questioning the research, as you might expect on such a volatile subject. Lost in the debate is that Damone was careful about warning against broad generalizations. Damone’s memo decried stereotyping, but that got lost in the coverage of his memo. I believe in judging people on their individual merits. The computing industry shows a number of women engineers who have achieved greatness, including Admiral Grace Hopper and NASA’s Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and the other African American "computers" in Alabama made famous in Hidden Figures. They triumphed under incredible stress, starting with the deep racism in the South. Google’s problem is that James Damone started a dialogue, but CEO Pichai poured fuel on the fire by terminating James Dimone. Google will need to settle with James Damone for a large sum once the lawsuit is filed. The continuing debate will be costly to Google, not in monetary terms, but in employee morale and publicity. Google will become the punching bag for Silicon Valley sexism.