Science / Tech, Spotlight, Top Stories

The Google Memo: A Counterfactual Response

I am an employee at Google, and I want to offer an alternative take on the notorious ‘Google memo’ written by James Damore. In response to the leaking of Damore’s memo, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to the entire company and subsequently fired Damore. Below, I have written the email I believe he ought to have sent, and the decision he ought to have made.

*     *     *

Dear Colleagues,

Recently, a memo written by one of our colleagues entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” has spread virally, both internally within Google and also externally, after it was leaked to the press. This memo has sparked a fierce and divisive debate, with some calling for its author to be fired.

I have decided not to discipline the author of this memo.

Before I explain my decision, I would first encourage you to read the memo for yourselves, if you have not already done so. A surprising number of people who have spoken up to denounce the memo have not read it. It is important that we judge the author by his own words, not by the mischaracterizations of secondary sources.

Now that you have read the memo, I will discuss it in two parts. The first and shorter part discusses Google’s political biases. While some may agree or disagree with the memo on this point, nothing it has to say with respect to viewpoint diversity is either objectionable or comes close to violating Google’s policies.

When we consider the topic of unconscious bias, recent research has revealed that unconscious political bias exists as well. Our political biases can affect our judgment of nonpolitical tasks. Thus, I pledge to incorporate political bias into Google’s existing training on unconscious bias.

The second – and more controversial – part of the memo discusses the gender gap in tech.

Let me first state that for every role at Google, technical or non-technical, Google has a job ladder which describes the responsibilities and expectations of that role at each level. Every employee at Google should be evaluated according to that ladder, and not by their gender.

Nothing in the memo contradicts that. Even where differences exist between men and women, the memo emphasizes that you should not judge or stereotype any individual according to these differences. For example, even if women on average are more agreeable than men, you should not assume that the woman sitting closest to you is agreeable, or that the man sitting closet to you is not agreeable.

If anything, the research cited in the memo on personality differences between men and women can help provide insights into how to reduce the gender gap. Even before the memo was leaked, Google encouraged employees to provide feedback on colleagues based on behavior, not personality. No one personality type is required to succeed at Google.

This research provides another reason to evaluate a person by behavior and not personality: Google does not want to favor personality traits that are less common in women (or men), as no legitimate business reason exists to evaluate an employee’s personality.

As for the rest of the memo, some critics have questioned the author’s intentions in certain parts, or even the intent of the memo in its entirety. In the past, we have encouraged colleagues to assume good intentions on the part of others, and this memo should be no exception. If, as has been reported, the memo’s intention had been to argue that women are biologically inferior to men, then there would be no reason to include the statistic that men suffer 93 percent of work-related deaths.

However, for those who presently occupy or aspire to a leadership position, expectations should be higher. In addition to assuming good intentions on the part of others, leaders also have an obligation to make their own intentions clear and to communicate with care. How they say something can be just as important as what is said.

In this respect, the memo fell short of the bar to which a leader should be held for effective communication. (The author of this memo is not in a leadership position, but he may have been on the path to one.) Its intention could easily be misinterpreted at times, and more careful wording in key parts might have resulted in a much more positive reaction, especially for a topic as sensitive as the gender gap in tech.

While not all of us are leaders, all of us could work on improving our own communication. Sadly, the debate around this memo has been a microcosm of the toxic debates that are dividing our country. To maintain the trust of its users, Google must strive to be above the fray, not in the fray. Google can and must do better.

 

The author is a Google employee. ‘Publius’ is a pseudonym.

If you liked this article please consider becoming a patron of Quillette

34 Comments

  1. If there is gap in tech that “needs to be filled”, then there must also be a gap in nursing, social work and television weather reporting that also needs to be filled.

    • Ned Beaty says

      Also lacking in female participation are Auto Mechanics and Auto body repairs, plumbers and electricians but I don’t see feminists looking to close this gap either!! Hmmmm strange that.

      • Kessler says

        I think that is partially because feminism is about fulfilling ambitions and aspirations of upper class women. The gender gaps in auto mechanics, plumbers and electricians professions are an issue for women without college degrees, who are not a concern for modern day feminism.

  2. David Turnbull says

    “If, as has been reported, the memo’s intention had been to argue that women are biologically inferior to men, then there would be no reason to include the statistic that men suffer 93 percent of work-related deaths.”

    ??

  3. Nicholas Conrad says

    I’m just confused. A response to the memo’s reaction from a Google insider would be both interesting and valuable, but mearly positing a hypothetical opinion peice from Sundar adds no insights from the ‘inside’.

    • Debbie says

      I dunno. If nothing else, this email-that-could-have-been shows there are still voices at Google that are being self-censored.

  4. The fact that the author has to remain anonymous says it all. I would have understood had he advocated for eating babies, but THIS??? His take is so obviously adequate that I find it almost boring to read (no disrespect to the OP). And he has to go into hiding like a human rights activist behind the iron curtain….

    Icing on the cake, We can’t choose to use another search engine, and because Republicans no longer defend individual rights, antitrust laws are no longer enforced. Catch 22.

    What’s allowing a system like this to perpetuate, seriously?

    • Jeff York says

      After James Damore was fired I stopped using Google and started using Bing & DuckDuckGo. I deleted the Google Maps app from my phone and now use MapQuest.

      • I gave a test drive to Duckduckgo at the time, but it was too slow for my geographical location, and search results weren’t consistent. Maybe it’s improved, I’ll try again.

        Anyway, Bing is Microsoft, not any better than Google in terms of corporate governance. Duckduckgo is the only competitor, but google is also YouTube, gmail, cloud services etc… That’s not going to cut it.

        Anti-trust laws must be enforced, so that no mono/duo-polies are formed. That’s the only viable solution. Also, as consumers, we have to accept that a service can’t be free.

        Would be nice to have Duckduckgo partner with protonmail.com… I’d pay a reasonable fee for that. Then they would add a video service with the Rubin Report, Quillette. I’d pay a bit more for that too. MSM is going to irrelevance so monthly cable tv subscription fees seems reasonable for a similar independent service.

        I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that they won’t do it. They’d rather die alone on their porch, clothed in their self-righthouness, than partner with anyone.

        The diva syndrome. What a bloody waste.

  5. “Its intention could easily be misinterpreted at times, and more careful wording in key parts might have resulted in a much more positive reaction, especially for a topic as sensitive as the gender gap in tech.”

    Sorry, but this is patently absurd.

    Facts dont matter to SJWs, only being seen as holding the proper opinion.

    Even if that opinion is factually wrong and causes the very harm the SJWs claim to be fighting

  6. Damore’s memo was perfectly clear and didn’t fall short of any bar necessary for a non-idiot to understand it.

  7. The proper email response should have been a single sentence:

    “James raises some interesting points that we should take into account in recruiting and retaining more women.”

  8. augustine says

    “…no legitimate business reason exists to evaluate an employee’s personality.”

    What “business reason” exists for disregarding an employee’s personality? What employer does not engage wisdom in developing a harmonious workforce based, in part, on the demeanor of job candidates compared to existing workers? (Extroverts and introverts for example).

    The employer has a large measure of control over the social atmosphere or “culture” of the work place and by considering individuality of workers can optimize productivity and profits. Maybe this would be awkward as a conscious or systematized process but it certainly occurs among leaders and managers who retain their humanity and common sense.

  9. SophieK says

    Yes, writing a “manifesto” and circulating it will get you fired, regardless of the contents of said manifesto.

    Your job as an employee is to keep your head down and do your work. To do anything else (except in dire circumstances) is to try to apply unearned power.

    And Mr. D’amore didn’t actually have any power, earned or unearned, which he learned in the most spectacular way.

    • 1) Referring to the Memo as a “manifesto” implies you did not even read the memo. The Memo was also initially shared on an internal company forum and only happened to be “leaked” by someone who felt offended by the content.
      2) He was specifically ASKED to provide feedback of the company sponsored diversity training seminar he attended, which resulted in the Memo. “Unearned power”? What is that even supposed to mean? So no, his job was NOT to just keep his head down, do his work, and not say anything.

      All of this is publicly available knowledge in much more mainstream articles and podcasts than Quillette.

    • Chester says

      Sophie, you should educate yourself on the facts of the situation before writing a response. First of all, Google has internal platforms for their employees to circulate ideas and have conversations. Second, James Damore originally wrote the memo in response to the diversity training committee’s invitation to provide feedback about their programs. So he was far from trying to exert some kind of “unearned power,” whatever that means. Third, if you bothered to take the take to look into the details of Damore’s lawsuit, which you clearly haven’t, you would see that leftists at Google are widely voicing radical, violent, hateful ideas with impunity. This makes your first statement patently false, which is not surprising after reading the rest of your comment, where all you showed was that the crux of the issue went over your head.

    • Only fools and the press called it a “manifesto”. It was requested feedback of the diversity programs at Google.

  10. To me, a “memo” is something that you distribute to a list of identified individuals. For example, you send a memo to Jane, John, David and Claire; or you send a memo to a pre-defined distribution list. That distribution list could of course be “everyone in the company”. (It could also be a “reply all” to a previous email sent by someone else, but in this context that seems very unlikely; it was 2017, not 1997)

    A post, to a message board or a forum say, is not directed at anyone specific. It is merely your contribution, to be read by anyone who is interested to read it, on the topic at hand. It is quite important of course, for politeness, that it is indeed “on topic”.

    The reporting of the Damore piece has confused me. Mostly the story is that “Damore circulated a memo”. And further I get the impression that the writing and “circulation” of the memo was in some way uncalled for, and so not only do those criticizing it have an issue with its content, but also with the fact that “it was sent to everyone in the company”. The implication being that this in itself was a bit of an agressive act.

    However, I have read elsewhere that Damore was in fact just posting his thoughts in a forum, and that his post (or paper) was very much on topic and in the spirit of the rules that welcomed challenging ideas and responses. It was then some other(s) that circulated his post to a wider audience, presumably accompanied by critical remarks, and thereby started off the whole incident.

    I think this is very important. If Damore did indeed take it upon himself to circulate his thoughts outside of the context of a relevant discussion forum, then he deserved a very stern talking to at the least. Depending upon his employment contract, he could well have been legitimately subject to a formal disciplinary procedure. However, if he was simply posting, on topic, to a relevant internal discussion forum, and somebody else then circulated it via email, then it is they, not him who should be held to account.

    Can anyone who knows the actual facts (i.e. not hearsay) enlighten me?

  11. Phillip says

    During the era’s of Stalin, Mao people who expressed ideas that were regarded as dissent were persecuted.

    Does an employee who has different ideas need to be persecuted by the company?

  12. Aleph37 says

    I stopped reading after this: “I pledge to incorporate political bias into Google’s existing training on unconscious bias”

    Slave mindset.

  13. jason kennedy says

    Disappointing fare, started from an uninteresting premise.

    Also, the penultimate sentence doesn’t make sense: “Google must strive to be above the fray, not in the fray.”

  14. ccscientist says

    Companies have no justification for becoming social justice anything. Companies exist to make money, period. In doing this they always (unless they are stealing things) providing a service. People have thrown money at Google because it made their lives better. For free, you can find out where you are and where you want to go. You can look stuff up. Google does not need to justify its existence any further. Somehow people have lost sight of this fact and have gone off on quixotic quests for virtue. I attribute it to searching for the religion they have lost.

    • Debbie says

      But look at the social justice happening right now in the US with companies that support the NRA. There is plenty of business justification to placate (even to the extent of internal workplace culture)
      social justice activism in order to keep making money.

  15. Quill says

    There are similar ‘gaps’ in journalism (my journalism cohort was 80 per cent female and every workplace in my career excepting a single men’s magazine reflected this bias), PR (I didn’t encounter a single male PR rep in my media career), healthcare (I undertook physiotherapy once deciding the media was a dead industry and my physio cohort was around 80 per cent female with a single male member of teaching staff), law, teaching (pre, primary, secondary and tertiary), veterinary science, psychology, social work and virtually the entire client-facing staff of every government department.

    It beggars belief that nobody else has noticed this, and this goes double for women in the media and the academy: not for nothing they are most strident in pushing the alternate narrative. University campuses on the whole are around 70-80 per cent female, based on my experience of one completed and one current undergrad degree in two very different fields.

    But by all means, STEM is the boys’ club which keeps women from achieving their dreams.

    • Quill says

      I also notice men are virtually absent from customer-service roles, and seem to be the only ones with any money to spend – in a nearby shopping mall, the only men to be seen apart from schoolboys and the elderly are the men in hi-vis working on the cinema extension.

      • Quill says

        *without money to spend

        I do wish there were an edit function in these comments

  16. Irene Macintosh says

    That the author felt compelled to be anonymous shows Google to be a company whose service I really wish I did not have to use. I am not tech savvy so I am stuck with Google , I think. The zeal to get women into traditional male jobs is all very well but one sided. As a retired R.N. , I can tell you there have been no lamentations over the lack of men in the profession and no campaigns to encourage men into most female dominated jobs as has been noted constantly. Why not?

  17. ” … the memo fell short of the bar to which a leader should be held for effective communication.”

    What? I’m pretty sure a significant percentage of people want their leaders to be direct, authentic and willing to face problems head-on. I think the memo makes a strong statement for Damore’s leadership qualities.

  18. JohnnyHorton says

    Here’s my alternative letter to employees to Google:

    Dear Colleagues,

    Recently, a memo written by one of our colleagues entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” has spread virally, both internally within Google and also externally, after it was leaked to the press. This memo has sparked a fierce and divisive debate, with some calling for its author to be fired.

    We live in a country where people will say things everyday that we will disagree with. The freedom to communicate ideas is one of the most important freedoms we have, and indeed, the reason why Google even exists, is so that information, ideas, and feedback do not remain in silos but are available for everyone to access and benefit from. Indeed, many who have taken our diversity training were asked to provide feedback, and our colleague in question provided feedback in one of the most fundamental ways – it challenged assumptions.

    We are a company whose trade is in building technology that allows ideas and information to take flight. This is why we are here at Google. This is why billions of people use Android, why billions of people use Google Search, Youtube, and why hundreds of millions of people use G Suite to run their businesses to earn a living. People count on us to organize and make available information and ideas they need to flourish.

    You, I, and our colleagues all have a very special privilege and a very special responsibility to deliver technology those billions of people. Regardless of the debate that goes on in Google, ALL OF US, have one primary job to do, and that is to serve our customers. Everything we do hinges on that. If our customers lose faith in our ability to deliver products and services that make their digital lives, business or personal, then we will find ourselves quickly with something else to preoccupy ourselves with, such as finding something else to earn our keep.

    No one is going to be fired over this memo. Freedom of expression is central, and that freedom comes with a responsibility – to respect another person’s freedom to express themselves as well.

    Finally, regardless of your background, your beliefs, or your orientation to the world, you are here at Google because you have proven that you can deliver what our customers need. No words can take that away – only a future inability and lack of focus to tending to the needs of those who depend on us, and invest in us gives just cause in re-evaluating your relationship with Google.

    Have faith in your co-workers intentions, have faith in your colleagues tasked with leadership, have faith in the mission of this company, and focus on your mission at hand, so that ALL OF US, may benefit from the fruits of your labor.

  19. Pingback: The Google Memo: A Counterfactual Reaction | Channel365

  20. Pingback: The Google Memo: A Counterfactual Reaction | BUSINESS 365

Comments are closed.