Google's firing of memo writer strikes
nerve in Silicon Valley
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[August 09, 2017]
By David Ingram, Salvador Rodriguez and Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A Silicon Valley
culture war pitting liberal-leaning tech firms against a small
conservative cohort took on new intensity on Tuesday after Google fired
a male engineer for a memo that decried the company's commitment to
Memo author James Damore, 28, received jeers, cheers and a couple of job
offers, while the debate raged on social media and some tech firms took
steps to prevent similar episodes from embroiling their companies.
Damore confirmed his dismissal from Alphabet Inc's Google on Monday,
after he wrote a 10-page memo that said the company was hostile to
conservative viewpoints and that women on average have more neuroticism.
Many in Silicon Valley found his views, which argued that men in general
may be biologically more suited to coding jobs than women, offensive and
destructive. The manifesto was embraced by some, particularly on the
political right, who branded him a brave truth-teller.
The episode recalled past examples of the wide gulf between U.S.
conservative activists and the tech sector.
In 2014, Brendan Eich was forced out as Mozilla's chief executive after
his opposition to gay marriage became public. Most technology executives
held the opposite view, and tech companies often gave benefits to
same-sex couples well before gay marriage was legalized.
"Anyone who deviates from the talking points of the liberal left is
shunned, shamed and forced out," Andrew Torba, chief executive of the
social network Gab, said in an interview.
Torba, whose company is popular among conservatives, said Damore could
work for him.
WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, whose group released hacked emails
that helped the campaign of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, also
offered Damore a job, writing on Twitter that "censorship is for
Firing Damore was too extreme and Google should have put him through
training instead, said Aaron Ginn, co-founder of the Lincoln Network, a
group of libertarian-leaning tech workers and investors.
"You're going to make him a martyr. In this hyper-tribal political day
we are in, I think you'd want to try to avoid making him a martyr," Ginn
Intense political feelings recently divided two board members of
Facebook Inc, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. Last August, Reed
Hastings, chief executive of Netflix Inc, warned investor Peter Thiel in
an email that Thiel's support for Trump showed "catastrophically bad
judgment," the newspaper reported.
The outcome of that dispute is not known. Hastings and Thiel remain on
Facebook's board. Facebook declined to comment.
More generally, Silicon Valley tech companies have been under mounting
criticism for not doing enough to promote gender equality and stamp out
Claims of persistent sexual harassment in the ranks of Uber Technologies
Inc [UBER.UL] and of several venture capital firms have led to
The U.S. Labor Department is investigating Google to see whether the
firm has unlawfully paid women less than men. Google denies that it
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The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine,
California, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
CODES OF CONDUCT
Google, which has used the motto "Don't be evil," received accolades
from many quarters for treating Damore's memo as a threat to its
"What he wrote is extremely toxic to the tech community we are
trying to support. He's categorizing us in a way that makes us seem
weak or incompetent," said Adriana Gascoigne, founder of the San
Francisco nonprofit Girls in Tech.
Josh Reeves, chief executive at Gusto, a software company, said he
expected the topic would come up at its all-staff meeting on
Gusto's code of conduct "specifically prohibits a memo like
Damore's," Reeves said, if the memo would be offensive to
individuals in a protected group.
Damore, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, said in an
email to Reuters on Monday that he was exploring a possible legal
challenge to his dismissal.
His case would likely be weak, employment lawyers said, and some
lawyers said Google could have faced lawsuits if it had not acted
Google said it could not talk about individual employee cases.
U.S. companies have broad latitude to restrict the speech of
employees in private workplaces, where First Amendment protections
against government censorship do not apply.
Damore's title at Google was software engineer and he had worked at
the company since December 2013, according to a profile on LinkedIn.
The LinkedIn page also says Damore received a PhD in systems biology
from Harvard University in 2013. Harvard said on Tuesday he
completed a master's degree in the subject, not a PhD.
Industry experts note that in the early days of tech it was mostly
women who held the then-unglamorous jobs of coding. But as the value
of top-notch programming became clear, men came to dominate the
Other tech companies on Tuesday were closely watching the
controversy at Google unfold, and grateful they were not the ones
caught in another debate over gender and diversity.
"Every large organization has a James Damore - but at tech
companies, they're more liberated to share their personal views," an
executive at one major Silicon Valley firm said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
Tech firms have an abundance of "smart, confident people who think
they have an obligation to share their wisdom with their coworkers,"
the executive said.
(Reporting by David Ingram, Salvador Rodriguez and Heather
Somerville in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen,
Taylor Harris and Gabriella Borter in New York and Dustin Volz and
Jonathan Weber in San Francisco; Editing by Bernard Orr and Lisa
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