Google CEO Defends Employee’s Right to Express Unpopular Views, Condemns ‘Harmful’ Portions

CEO Sundar Pichai said “much of what was in” misogynistic memo from engineer “is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority … disagree,” but said language “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” was “not OK.” The employee reportedly has been fired.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai has broken his silence regarding the misogynist memo penned by one of the company’s engineers, who had reportedly been fired, according to media outlets. According to Pichai, while the memo was harmful to the company’s women, the employee had every right to author it.

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Google Engineer’s Anti-Diversity Memo Displays Company’s Misogynist Culture

Google Engineer’s Anti-Diversity Memo Displays Company’s Misogynist Culture

Top leaders at the company demonstrated their own worst practices by hiding behind a statement from their brand new head of diversity, who has only been on the job for a couple of weeks.

The engineer has been identified by media outlets as James Damore, who had worked for Google since 2013, according to the New York Times. Bloomberg reported that Damore had been fired, and the Times reported that Damore confirmed this in an email. Damore also reported to the Times that he is seeking legal action against Google.

To read Damores full memo click here.

Meanwhile, in a company memo titled “Our Words Matter,” Pichai’s first point is that employees may enjoy freedom of expression — no matter whom their words may harm.

“First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it,” Pichai wrote.

At the same time, Pichai also acknowledged that the note not only violated the company’s code of conduct, it “clearly impacted” many of Google’s employees and also “advanc[ed] harmful stereotypes.”

Pichai went back and forth between defending Damore’s right to free speech while also indicating that his words do in fact matter when it comes to Google’s female employees:

“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.’

“At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint).”

After giving employees the green light to “express themselves” in a way that could create a hostile work environment for certain employees, he then suggested staff members “make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own.”

What Pichai does not address strongly enough is the consequences Damore’s words have on Google’s work environment.

Yonatan Zunger worked at Google as an engineer for 14 years and just left his position this month. Despite no longer working for the tech giant, Zunger on Aug. 5th penned a blog post of “the thing which I would have posted internally … because it’s relevant not just to Google, but to everyone else in tech.”

According to Zunger, the most serious issue with Damore’s diatribe is “the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.”

Directly addressing the writer of the manifesto (Damore had not been publicly identified at the time of Zunger’s blog post), Zunger wrote:

“What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas. And worse than simply thinking these things or saying them in private, you’ve said them in a way that’s tried to legitimize this kind of thing across the company, causing other people to get up and say ‘wait, is that right?’”

Zunger continued by describing the “textbook hostile work environment” directly resulting from Damore’s post.

“And as for its impact on you: Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.”

While Pichai noted that Damore’s words were allegedly intended to open a discussion about different perspectives, Zunger rejected this notion, pointing out that this viewpoint would not — and should not — be welcome in most work environments.

“If you feel isolated by this, that your views are basically unwelcome in tech and can’t be spoken about… well, that’s a fair point. These views are fundamentally corrosive to any organization they show up in, drive people out, and I can’t think of any organization not specifically dedicated to those views that they would be welcome in. I’m afraid that’s likely to remain a serious problem for you for a long time to come. But our company is committed to maintaining a good environment for all of its people, and if one person is determined to thwart that, the solution is pretty clear.”

Erica Baker, also a former employee at Google, wrote a blog post as well, saying she was “disappointed but not surprised” to hear about the manifesto.

She called Damore’s actions “not entirely new behavior” when it comes to Google. But the fact that Damore felt comfortable enough to internally display his sexist views did strike Baker by surprise.

According to Baker, this point raised an important question: “why is the environment at Google such that racists and sexists feel supported and safe in sharing these views in the company?

“What about the company culture sends the message that sharing sexism and racism will be accepted?” Baker wrote. “What message and values have past words, actions and lack thereof sent to the employees at Google. What has shaped the culture thus far, to get to this point?”

Rajan Patel, currently a senior director at Google, posted on Twitter an email he sent to his team following the misogynist memo’s release. In his email he flatly says, “I wholly disagree with the intent and arguments made in that document.”

“And if you believe that there are intrinsic differences within gender, race, religion, sexuality, or other groups that make one a better human, then time will prove you wrong if history hasn’t already.”

Read more news @ DiversityInc.com

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  • I have a mixed opinion on this. One hand you shouldn’t shy away from people wanting to express themselves openly regarding concerns and issues they feel are important. But for me the question becomes in what forum is this discussed and at what point is it destructive to the organization if discussed. So the value of sharing one’s thoughts means something to me because it allows others to see where that other person is at mentally and emotionally.

    But in context looking at Google, it’s apparent this is a reoccurring issue according to Erica Baker on some level.

    If I were Pichan, I would have an open door policy and encourage subordinate leaders to do the same allowing employees to voice their concerns whether it be racial, gender, sexual or any of the other EEO classes. In that meeting present the company’s mission, vision, values and goals. Their company ethos should express inclusion over excluding. If they aren’t good with it after the discussion, let them go. They aren’t compatible with the pillars of Google.

    Larry Page, one of Google’s founder and CEO of Alphabet Inc; parent company of Google should weigh in on this also given his relationship to the company. Page and Pichan’s with this approach would start the company on the road of embracing a climate of inclusion and diversity.

    Reply
    • I don’t agree with you, there should be no open door regarding technology – if you work at Google you had better be not only on top of it, but ahead of it. There’s no room for somebody who says I don’t believe in using a smart phone.

      There should be no room for someone who denigrates 50% of the earth’s population. What do you think happened to productivity of the few women who do work at Google? No employee has the “right” to impede productivity.

      Reply
      • How are you going to find out who feels and thinks about what? They keep it a secret, what you don’t know; you can’t prevent as in the discrimination.

        I’m in that C-suite position, I don’t condone the behavior but I wanna know who the hell is thinking what so I can fire their asses.

        Reply
      • What did he say in the memo that denigrates women? I don’t agree with a lot of his points, but I never felt he was saying anything more than men and women are different, and that differences can account for some of the employment disparity. One can disagree with what he sees as the differences, but that doesn’t change the point. And he was dead on that speaking your mind at Google can get you fired. Either diversity is strength all the time, or the phrase is meaningless.

        Reply
        • “Speaking your mind” in the context of employment without limitations or any concerns of repercussions is incredibly dangerous, foolish and without merit. Singling out any class of people in employ with this type of opinion does not benefit any or all of the stakeholders, not even those of similar opinion. There was nothing to be gained by Google and certainly not society with this input. In my thirty plus years in IT I have witnessed incredibly gifted and innovative people. I’ve equally witnessed many people that were neither. In both cases, there were no gender distinctions or any other discernible characteristics other than passion. What I have seen is that with diversity, the byproduct of efforts have significantly improved as measured by innovation, quality, speed to market and ROI to name only a few.
          How can fifty percent of your targeted customer demographic not participate in the creation and delivery of the product?? Makes no sense.

          Reply
          • I agree. Money doesn’t care about “liberal” or “conservative”. It does care about “disruptive”. If the management team charts a course, arguing against it is disruptive. These days, you do not have a private life. If you put anti work culture material on your Facebook page, you’ll be disruptive at work.

    • Why is it always women (and/or ethnic minorities) whose humanity it is OK to question?

      Once and for all: it is never OK to punch down.

      Reply
      • I agree. People of color and women are always fodder for nonsense thinking. Why we’re the punching bag is simple, because we’re on the bottom of the socio scale.

        Reply
      • Alex, they punch down to keep down. When we start to rise, they start to punch in the form of name calling, questioning our skills/intellect/competency; dismissing our thoughts, ideas, passions; re-writing our history; re-zoning our neighborhoods; denigrating our culture. The list is endless and it’s all very deliberate.

        Reply
  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    So, Sundar Pichai thinks it’s perfectly legitimate to want to debate the genetic inferiority of some of Google’s employees and/or customers. This is particularly rich, coming from a person of color.

    Whatever happened to “don’t be evil”?

    Reply
      • Brahmin-Privilege doesn’t apply in America, Luke. In America, he’s just another Indian, and he’ll be treated accordingly whether he’s a Brahmin, untouchable, or whatever.

        Furthermore, I’m sick of diversity, I’m dick of magazines like you, you people are destroying the workplace with your BS!

        Silicon Valley used to be about TECHNOLOGY, now it’s all about diversity and social justice.

        Reply
        • He grew up brahmin in India. With Brahmin-privilege. Do you think a blonde haired, blue eyed WASP from Grenwich acts like a minority if they move to Bangalore – or Harlem?

          If you’re “dick” of my publication, why don’t you hang out where you’re appreciated?

          Silicon Valley is about money. Just like Rex Tillerson and the five men from Goldman Sachs Trump appointed to our government.

          Reply
      • See and that’s different from my experience. The ones capable of evil are the ones who also don’t say anything.

        Reply
  • Had he made the same allegations against African-Americans or Jews, for example — and God knows, it hasn’t been that long since that happened — no one would be defending Damore. And, yet, because he is targeting women, there are some misguided souls supporting his “biology is destiny” stereotyping. All of us have a lot more in common than our differences. It’s impossible to isolate the effects of nature vs. nurture. That is, do women lag behind in pay because of some biological weakness — as this guy claims — or is the pay discrepancy the result of long-standing, institutional, discrimination and acculturation? Those who seek to shut down the movement toward social justice will claim that the situation is “normal” — a result of how we’re “made” — so no change is necessary or possible. Don’t fall for it.

    Reply
  • The individual who wrote the original screed is clearly not a biologist (a geneticist, genomicist or otherwise). He should stick to what he knows.

    Reply
  • I have never met anyone who admits to being a Dalit! Everybody’s a Brahmin; even indentured slaves that were sent to work the fields across the British empire (lol). Regarding the individual who elected to submit the manifesto, he has joined the list of individuals who feel empowered to share racist, misogynist views that were relegated to the “Politically Incorrect” bucket for years. The current administration has empowered many not to be politically correct or even civil for that matter. Discrimination, police brutality, et al are on the rise! rumor has it he lost his job. I’m a Christian but I guess there is something to be said about “Karma.” Namaste!

    Reply
  • About this note from the employee — I only have another POV on this: How did this employee get hired? I mean, is it enough to hire people who are capable or should companies go the extra mile in finding out if an employee can work as part of a team as well? Is this the fault of the employee or the employee’s Personnel Department?
    I know it’s probably going off the subject a bit, but this is also an important area for those ‘elitists’ who feel that because they got straight ‘A’s” in High School should be the only entry view into college. You see, Colleges take the grades, and a host of other things now like SAT’s and other tests, even their own, interviews, videos, volunteer work, recommendations, etc., etc. and then…make a determination of whether or not the student will thrive and learn there. Do companies do that anymore? I mean, I know the standard interviews, background checks, and tests –but should companies start looking into more before onboarding an employee? I mean, honestly, no one could tell this employee was beside himself as a software designer and was so upset that women were in the workplace and his skewed view as to why? Should the employee be fired — or should Google’s HIring Personnel take on some of this too –and the employee’s supervisor because I cannot understand how the emloyee passed all these checks and ends up writing this out of the clear blue sky. I think this is also an important area that must be considered in this.

    Reply
    • Hiring based on a cultural fit into the organization is difficult to do. People will be chameleons to get hired and get their foot in the door. I heard a story once about a young man who started a .com company back in the day. At first he just hired friends and all was good, but as they grew they hired based on skill sets instead of looking at the culture of the organization. Before long, he didn’t like going to work at his company, the culture had changed. He sold that company and went to work for another company who hired based on cultural or organizational fit. They would review the candidate resumes and select the top X. A telephone interview was conducted and the applications were restacked, or removed from the competition. Then there was a 2nd interview and the remaining candidates would come individually to the HQ for the 2nd interview. A driver picked them up at the airport and they were met by an assistant when they arrived at the building and were escorted to the conference room. While waiting for the interview, someone would come in and bring water/soda/offer coffee etc. Then the interview would take place. What the candidates didn’t know was that the driver from the airport, the assistant, and the water person were all part of the interview process. How did the candidate treat these people? What interaction did they have with them, if any? Did they act like they were “better” than the assistants in the process? Anyone who ranked high enough to get the 2nd interview was capable of doing the job, but the company was looking for a good fit – someone who could be part of the team. Smart process! People who didn’t quite fit would still get hired sometimes, but they never lasted long. Most would quit because it wasn’t a good fit for them.

      Reply
  • Douglas Bender

    I am appalled that in 2017 employees AND companies…and even an interesting POTUS…can be excused and even ‘appreciated’ for exercising their right to freedom of speech when it can be so divisive and harmful. the ripple effect of Google’s CEO essentially excusing his ex-employee’s comments says way too much about the alarming state of America today. Then we wonder why there’s so much hate and divisiveness! I work hard to practice love and kindness…but I can’t excuse this. Both employee and CEO were wrong. I’ll pray that we all continue our journey to be better and to love more. PEACE

    Reply
  • So stop using Google, us the unbiased no tracking search engine that owns its own search Lookseek.com try it, it’s owned by Americans

    Reply
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