Why I Was Fired by Google

James Damore says his good-faith effort to discuss differences between men and women in tech couldn’t be tolerated in company’s ‘ideological echo chamber’

How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?

.. We all have moral preferences and beliefs about how the world is and should be. Having these views challenged can be painful, so we tend to avoid people with differing values and to associate with those who share our values. This self-segregation has become much more potent in recent decades. We are more mobile and can sort ourselves into different communities; we wait longer to find and choose just the right mate; and we spend much of our time in a digital world personalized to fit our views.

 .. Google is a particularly intense echo chamber because it is in the middle of Silicon Valley and is so life-encompassing as a place to work. With free food, internal meme boards and weekly companywide meetings, Google becomes a huge part of its employees’ lives. Some even live on campus. For many, including myself, working at Google is a major part of their identity, almost like a cult with its own leaders and saints, all believed to righteously uphold the sacred motto of “Don’t be evil.”
.. Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
.. But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform.
..In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.
.. Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.
.. Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views.

Firing Damore makes a martyr of him. To figures of the far-right “alt-right” movement (a rebranding of neo-Nazis, in my humble opinion) he became an instant hero, another sacrificial white male victim of liberal, pro-diversity “Social Justice Warriors,” the alt-right label for those of us who think our society benefits from its diversity.

For example, Damore’s memo omits evidence that bias, conscious and unconscious, still holds women back in the tech fields. A study by university computer students last year, for example, looked at 3 million “pull requests” for computer code at GitHub, an open-source repository of codes with which users can build software. The study found that “code written by women was requested at a higher rate (78.6 percent) than code written by men (74.6%),” according to The Guardian, as long as the gender of the woman was not revealed. When the code author’s gender was revealed, the acceptance rate dropped to about the same as men.

.. Firing Damore makes a martyr of him. To figures of the far-right “alt-right” movement (a rebranding of neo-Nazis, in my humble opinion) he became an instant hero, another sacrificial white male victim of liberal, pro-diversity “Social Justice Warriors,” the alt-right label for those of us who think our society benefits from its diversity.

James Damore: Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Highlights from the document that got Damore fired:

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
    • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
  • 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

.. Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life. Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech without resorting to discrimination.

  • .. Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things ○ We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.
  • .. Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average
    • Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.
  • The male gender role is currently inflexible
    • Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles.

.. . Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap9.

.. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”

.. For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employee sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power

.. I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

.. As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”’

.. Stop alienating conservatives.

  • Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
  • In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
  • Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is required for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

  • .. Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
  • .. These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
  • I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.
  • De-emphasize empathy.
    • I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.
  • Prioritize intention.
    • Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offence and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
    • Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.
  • Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.
    • We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.
    • Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.

Why Identity Liberals Can’t Fish

I would not want my children working for Google. I would not want my sons to be subject to that kind of ritual defamation and professional ruin for expressing the “wrong” opinions. And I would not want my daughter to have the kind of power over her coworkers that women do in the identity-liberal culture of Google. I want all my kids to work for employers that care about justice in the workplace, but do so within a context that — as James Damore suggested in his memo — treats employees as individuals.

.. I do not believe I am the only one who observes this Google mess from outside and sees the company and its ideological mob of backers behaving like the kind of lunatics Mark Lilla calls out in his anecdote. These people would be toxic to work with. On Quillette, four scientists respond to the controversy. Here’s an excerpt of what Rutgers psychologist Lee Jussim has to say about the Damore memo, and the commentary about it on the Gizmodo site:

This essay may not get everything 100% right, but it is certainly not a rant. And it stands in sharp contrast to most of the comments, which are little more than snarky modern slurs. The arrogance of most of the comments reflects exactly the type of smug self-appointed superiority that has led to widespread resentment of the left among reasonable people. To the extent that such views correspond to those at Google, they vindicate the essayist’s claims about the authoritarian and repressive atmosphere there. Even the response by Google’s new VP in charge of diversity simply ignores all of the author’s arguments, and vacuously affirms Google’s commitment to diversity. The essay is vastly more thoughtful, linked to the science, and well-reasoned than nearly all of the comments. If I had one recommendation, it would be this: That, before commenting on these issues, Google executives read two books: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

..  I have personally been in a situation in the workplace in which a perfectly ordinary thing I said that was directly related to my work almost turned into a Human Resources situation that could have cost me my job and my career, had I not decided that this was not a hill I was prepared to die on. My accuser had a laughable case — seriously, if I told you the details, most of you liberal readers would agree with me, I’m sure — but the accuser also had power within the culture of that particular workplace, because of the accuser’s identity as a member of a favored class. I judged that I was unlikely to win any showdown. After that, though, fear of false accusation seriously affected my work. I avoided that co-worker, and when I could not, was careful not to say anything that this person could construe as hostile — even though it meant I was not able to do my job as well as I had before.

.. if you are put on trial in the court of the Human Resources Department, you will not be treated as an individual, but as a member of an oppressor group. The people passing judgment on you will consider themselves virtuous to find you guilty of heresy.

..  Damore’s mistake was to believe Alphabet (Google’s parent company) CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent claim that Google runs itself according to “science-based thinking”.

No, it doesn’t. It runs itself according to the religion of Identity Liberalism. There is no “right” and “wrong” there; there is only “good” and “evil”.

.. The problem is only partly that it’s criteria for judging the fairness of a workplace are contradictory and unfair, as Dr. Miller points out above. The core of the problem is that identity liberalism construes disagreement as heresy, and viciously punishes heretics.

And it is therefore impossible for identity liberalism, and the institutions that embrace it, to self-correct, because all criticism is treated as evil. The critic finds himself, like Damore, defending not his thesis (which may or may not be wrong), but his moral worth.

.. Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X… This is not an anodyne phrase. It tells the listener that I am speaking from a privileged position on this matter. (One never says, Speaking as a gay Asian, I feel incompetent to judge this matter.) It sets up a wall against questions, which by definition come fro a non-X perspective. And it turns the encounter into a power relation: the winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned.

.. What replaces argument, then, is taboo. At times our more privileged campuses can seem stuck in the world of archaic religion. Only those with an approved identity status are, like shamans, allowed to speak on certain matters. Particular groups — today the transgendered — are given temporary totemic significance. Scapegoats — today conservative political speakers — are duly designated and run off campus in a purging ritual. Propositions become pure or impure, not true or false. And not only propositions but simple words. Left identitarians who think of themselves as radical creatures, contesting this and transgressing that, have become like buttoned-up Protestant schoolmarms when it comes to the English language, parsing every conversation for immodest locutions and rapping the knuckles of those who inadvertently use them.

.. What happened to James Damore at Google is that he was made a scapegoat for violating a taboo.