Google's Ideological Echo Chamber
Google's Ideological Echo Chamber, commonly referred to as the Google memo, is an internal memo, dated July 2017, by United States-based Google engineer James Damore (//) about Google's culture and diversity policies.
The memo and Google's subsequent dismissal of Damore in August 2017 became a subject of interest for the media.
The company fired Damore for violation of the company's code of conduct. Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, but later withdrew this complaint. A lawyer with the NLRB wrote that his firing was proper. After withdrawing this complaint, Damore filed a class action lawsuit, retaining the services of attorney Harmeet Dhillon, alleging that Google was discriminating against conservatives, whites, Asians, and men. Damore dismissed his claims in the lawsuit to pursue arbitration against Google.
Course of events
James Damore was spurred to write the memo when a Google diversity program he attended solicited feedback. The memo was written on a flight to China. Calling the culture at Google an "ideological echo chamber", the memo states that while discrimination exists, it is extreme to ascribe all disparities to oppression, and it is authoritarian to try to correct disparities through reverse discrimination. Instead, it argues that male/female disparities can be partly explained by biological differences. Damore said that those differences include women generally having a stronger interest in people rather than things, and tending to be more social, artistic, and prone to neuroticism (a higher-order personality trait). Damore's memorandum also suggests ways to adapt the tech workplace to those differences to increase women's representation and comfort, without resorting to discrimination.
The memo is dated July 2017 and was originally shared on an internal mailing list. It was later updated with a preface affirming the author's opposition to workplace sexism and stereotyping. On August 5, a version of the memo (omitting sources and graphs) was published by Gizmodo. The memo's publication resulted in controversy across social media, and in public criticism of the memo and its author from some Google employees. According to Wired, Google's internal forums showed some support for Damore, who said he received private thanks from employees who were afraid to come forward.
Damore was fired remotely by Google on August 7, 2017. The same day, prior to being fired, Damore filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (case no. 32-CA-203891). The complaint is marked as "8(a)(1) Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.)".[clarification needed] A subsequent statement from Google asserted that its executives were unaware of the complaint when they fired Damore; it is illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for an NLRB complaint. Following his firing, Damore announced he would pursue legal action against Google.
Google's VP of Diversity, Danielle Brown, responded to the memo on August 8: "Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws". Google's CEO Sundar Pichai wrote a note to Google employees, supporting Brown's formal response, and adding that much of the document was fair to debate. His explanation read "to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK ... 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). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK." Unauthorized ads criticizing Pichai and Google for the firing were put up shortly after. Damore characterized the response by Google executives as having "shamed" him for his views. CNN described the fallout as "perhaps the biggest setback to what has been a foundational premise for [Google] employees: the freedom to speak up about anything and everything".
Damore gave interviews to Bloomberg Technology and to the YouTube channels of Canadian professor Jordan Peterson and podcaster Stefan Molyneux. Damore stated that he wanted his first interviews to be with media who were not hostile. He wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, detailing the history of the memo and Google's reaction, followed by interviews for Reason, Reddit's "IAmA" section, CNN, CNBC, Business Insider, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, and political commentator Ben Shapiro.
In response to the memo, Google's CEO planned an internal "town hall" meeting, fielding questions from employees on inclusivity. The meeting was cancelled a short time before it was due to start, over safety concerns as "our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites, Googlers are now being named personally". Outlets found to be posting these names, with pictures, included 4chan, Breitbart News, and Milo Yiannopoulos's blog. Danielle Brown, Google's VP for diversity, was harassed online, and temporarily disabled her Twitter account.
Damore withdrew his complaint with the National Labor Relations Board before the board released any official findings. However, shortly before the withdrawal, an internal NLRB memo found that his firing was legal. The memo, which was not released publicly until February 2018, said that while the law shielded him from being fired solely for criticizing Google, it did not protect discriminatory statements, that his memo's "statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected", and that these "discriminatory statements", not his criticisms of Google, were the reason for his firing.
After withdrawing his complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, Damore and another ex-Google employee instead shifted focus to a class action lawsuit accusing Google of various forms of discrimination against conservatives, white people, and men. In October 2018, Damore and the other former Google employee dismissed their claims in the lawsuit, in order to pursue private arbitration against Google. Another engineer, Tim Chevalier, later filed a lawsuit against Google claiming that he was terminated in part for criticizing Damore's memo on Google's internal message boards.[needs update]
On the science
Responses from scientists who study gender and psychology reflected the controversial nature of the science Damore cited.
Some commentators in the academic community said Damore had understood the science correctly, such as Debra W. Soh, a columnist and psychologist; Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto; Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University; and Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico.
Others said that he had got the science wrong and relied on data that was suspect, outdated, irrelevant, or otherwise flawed; these included Gina Rippon, chair of cognitive brain imaging at Aston University; evolutionary biologist Suzanne Sadedin; and Rosalind Barnett, a psychologist at Brandeis University.
David P. Schmitt, former professor of psychology at Bradley University, said that while some sex differences are "small to moderate" in size and not relevant to occupational performance at Google, "culturally universal sex differences in personal values and certain cognitive abilities are a bit larger in size, and sex differences in occupational interests are quite large. It seems likely these culturally universal and biologically-linked sex differences play some role in the gendered hiring patterns of Google employees."
Some of the journalistic coverage of the science behind the memo reflected these concerns; British journalist Angela Saini said that Damore failed to understand the research he cited, while American journalist John Horgan criticized the track record of evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics. Columnist for The Guardian Owen Jones said that the memo was "guff dressed up with pseudo-scientific jargon" and cited a former Google employee saying that it failed to show the desired qualities of an engineer.
Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, wrote "As a social scientist who’s been conducting psychological research about sex and gender for almost 50 years, I agree that biological differences between the sexes likely are part of the reason we see fewer women than men in the ranks of Silicon Valley’s tech workers. But the road between biology and employment is long and bumpy, and any causal connection does not rule out the relevance of nonbiological causes."
Impact on Google
Prior to his interview with Damore, Steve Kovach interviewed a female Google employee for Business Insider who said she objected to the memo, saying it lumped all women together, and that it came across as a personal attack. Business Insider also reported that several women were preparing to leave Google by interviewing for other jobs. Within Google, the memo sparked discussions among staff, some of whom believe they were disciplined or fired for their comments supporting diversity or for criticizing Damore's beliefs.
Concerns about sexism
In addition to Sheryl Sandberg, who linked to scientific counterarguments, a number of other women in technology condemned the memorandum, including Megan Smith, a former Google vice president. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an editorial in which she described feeling devastated about the potential effect of the memo on young women. Laurie Leshin, president of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said that she was heartened by the backlash against the memo, which gave her hope that things were changing. Kara Swisher of Recode criticized the memo as sexist; Cynthia B. Lee, a computer science lecturer at Stanford University stated that there is ample evidence for bias in tech and that correcting this was more important than whether biological differences might account for a proportion of the numerical imbalances in Google and in technology.
Cathy Young in USA Today said that while the memo had legitimate points, it probably overstates things, while Google's reaction to the memo was harmful since it fed into arguments that men are oppressed in modern workplaces. Libertarian author Megan McArdle, writing for Bloomberg View, said that Damore's claims about differing levels of interest between the sexes reflected her own experiences.
UC Hastings legal scholar Joan C. Williams expressed concerns about the prescriptive language used by some diversity training programs and recommended that diversity initiatives be phrased in problem-solving terms.
Employment law and free speech concerns
Yuki Noguchi, a reporter for NPR, said that Damore's firing has raised questions regarding the limits of free speech in the workplace. First Amendment free speech protections usually do not extend into the workplace, as the First Amendment restricts government action but not the actions of private employers, and employers have a duty to protect their employees against a hostile work environment.
Several employment law experts[who?] noted that while Damore could challenge his firing in court, his potential case would be weak and Google would arguably have several defensible reasons for firing him; had Google not made a substantive response to his memo, that could have been cited as evidence of a "hostile work environment" in lawsuits against Google. Additionally, they argued that the memo could indicate that Damore would be unable to fairly assess or supervise the work of female colleagues. Jim Edwards of Business Insider argued that Damore did not have a free speech case for being fired.
Google's reaction to the memo and its firing of Damore were criticized by several cultural commentators, including Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail, Erick Erickson, a conservative writer for RedState, David Brooks of The New York Times, and Clive Crook of Bloomberg View.
Others objected to the intensity of the broader response to the memo in the media and across the internet, such as CNN's Kirsten Powers, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, and Jesse Singal, writing in The Boston Globe.
- Biological determinism
- Call-out culture
- Criticism of Google
- Gender disparity in computing
- Resistance to diversity efforts in organizations
- Neuroscience of sex differences
- Sex differences in psychology
- Sexism in the technology industry
- Women in computing
- Women in STEM fields
- Damore, James (July 2017). "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion" (PDF). includes abstract entitled "TL;DR", table of contents, diagrams, footnotes, citations, references. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- Paul Lewis (November 17, 2017). "'I see things differently': James Damore on his autism and the Google memo". The Guardian. Retrieved January 1, 2018.
- Josh Eidelson (February 16, 2018). "Google's firing of engineer James Damore did not break labor law, NLRB lawyer concludes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
- "Labor Board Found Google Was Within Its Rights to Fire James Damore". Retrieved February 17, 2018.
- "Labor board says Google could fire James Damore for anti-diversity memo". Retrieved February 17, 2018.
- "Labor board says Google legally fired diversity memo writer". Engadget. Retrieved June 30, 2018.
- Julia Horowitz (August 23, 2017). "Fired Google engineer James Damore hires prominent Republican lawyer". CNNMoney. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
- Ethan Baron (January 16, 2018). "Google foe James Damore's lawyer has deep history defending conservative views". The Mercury News. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
Dhillon argues that Google broke the law by punishing Damore for his political views and his complaints about working conditions.
- Lecher, Colin. "James Damore sues Google for allegedly discriminating against conservative white men". The Verge. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
- "Google accused in lawsuit of excluding white and Asian men in hiring to boost diversity". USA Today.
- Baron, Ethan (October 18, 2018). "Google's fired 'diversity memo' engineer exits lawsuit for arbitration". Retrieved April 6, 2019.
- Pierson, David; Lien, Tracey (August 9, 2017). "Diversity training was supposed to reduce bias at Google. In case of fired engineer, it backfired". LA Times. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Shinal, John (August 11, 2017). "Fired Google engineer James Damore says company is 'like a cult'". CNBC. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Friedersdorf, Conor (August 8, 2017). "The Most Common Error in Media Coverage of the Google Memo". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- "Google fires employee behind anti-diversity memo, reports say". Fox. August 7, 2017. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017.
- "The fired Google engineer wrote his memo after he went to a 'shaming,' 'secretive' diversity program". Business Insider. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017.
- Samuelson, Kate (August 8, 2017). "WikiLeaks' Julian Assange just offered Google's fired anti-diversity employee a job". Fortune. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- McGregor, Jena (August 8, 2017). "The Google memo is a reminder that we generally don't have free speech at work". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- "A man at Google wrote an 'anti-diversity memo'. The backlash was predictably huge". August 6, 2017.
- "Google Employee's Anti-Diversity Manifesto Goes 'Internally Viral'". Motherboard. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
- Emerson, Sarah (August 5, 2017). ""Google on Anti-Diversity Manifesto: Employees Must 'Feel Safe Sharing Their Opinions'"". Vice. Archived from the original on August 6, 2017. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
- Etman, Omar (August 6, 2017). "Google employee's leaked anti-diversity memo sparks evaluation of tech culture". PBS. Archived from the original on August 7, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Feinberg, Ashley. "Internal Messages Show Some Googlers Supported Fired Engineer's Manifesto". Wired. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017.
- Masunaga, Samantha (August 7, 2017). "Here's what Google workers are saying about an employee's controversial diversity manifesto". Archived from the original on August 9, 2017 – via LA Times.
- Wakabayashi, Daisuke (August 8, 2017). "Contentious Memo Strikes Nerve Inside Google and Out". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017.
- Damore, James (August 11, 2017). "Why I was fired by Google". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- Booth, Robert; Hern, Alex (August 8, 2017). "Google employee fired over diversity row considers legal action". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
- Finley, Klint (August 8, 2017). "Google Manifesto Author Just Might Have A Legal Case". Wired. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
- Kovachn, Steve (August 8, 2017). "The engineer Google fired over the diversity memo has filed a complaint with federal labor officials". Business Insider. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
- "NLRB". nlrb.gov.
- "NLRB". Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- Gomez, Luis (August 8, 2017). "That divisive Google engineer's diversity memo? Read it first". San Diego Union Tribune. Archived from the original on August 7, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Connie Loizos (January 8, 2018). "James Damore just filed a class action lawsuit against Google, saying it discriminates against white male conservatives". TechCrunch. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- "Note to employees from CEO Sundar Pichai". Google. August 8, 2017. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017.
- "Someone is plastering anti-Google ads outside Google's office criticizing CEO Sundar Pichai". Business Insider. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- Huet, Ellen (August 23, 2017). "Ex-Google Engineer Hires Lawyer Shortlisted as Trump Nominee". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- Fiegerman, Seth; O'Brien, Sara Ashley (August 11, 2017). "Google wrestles with aftermath from controversial memo". NBC. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Huet, Ellen; Bergen, Mark; Chang, Emily (August 9, 2017). "Fired Google engineer says company execs shamed and smeared him". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- Levin, Sam (August 13, 2017). "James Damore, Google and the YouTube radicalization of angry white men". The Guardian. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
- Ong, Thuy (August 10, 2017). "Former Google employee has no regrets over incendiary memo". The Verge. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Ghosh, Shona (August 14, 2017). "Fired Google engineer James Damore spent hours answering questions on Reddit". Business Insider. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- Young, Cathy (August 14, 2017). "An interview with James Damore". Reason. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- Shinal, John (August 14, 2017). "Fired engineer James Damore says Google hiring based on race, gender". CNBC. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
- Kovach, Steve; Snyder, Chris (August 17, 2017). "Fired Google engineer says his memo actually empowered women". Business Insider. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- "The Philosophical Question Underlying the Google-Damore Dispute". The Weekly Standard. February 6, 2018. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
- Feldman, Brian (August 11, 2017). "Google cancels meeting on memo after employees fear for safety". NY Mag. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- Ohlheiser, Abby (August 12, 2017). "How James Damore went from Google employee to right-wing Internet hero". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
- "Infamous Google memo author shot down by federal labor board". February 16, 2018.
- Weise, Elizabeth. "Ex-Google engineer Damore sues alleging discrimination against white, conservative men". USA Today. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
- "Ex-Google Employee Claims Wrongful Firing For Criticizing James Damore's Memo". Wired. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
- "Former Google employee files lawsuit alleging the company fired him over pro-diversity posts - The Verge".
- "Google faces lawsuit for firing critic of anti-diversity memo".
- Romano, Aja. "Google has fired the engineer whose anti-diversity memo reflects a divided tech culture". Vox (August 8, 2017). Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- Soh, Debra (August 8, 2017). "No, the Google manifesto isn't sexist or anti-diversity. It's science". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- Schmidt, Samantha (August 10, 2017). "'I'm not a sexist': Fired Google engineer stands behind controversial memo". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Jussim, Lee (January 30, 2017). "Science Going Bad and How to Improve It". Claremont McKenna College.
- Brooks, David (August 11, 2017). "Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google's C.E.O.". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- Eggert, Nalina (August 9, 2017). "Was Google wrong to fire memo author?". BBC News. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
- Eggert, Nalina (August 9, 2017). "Was Google wrong to fire James Damore after memo controversy?". BBC News. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Feldman, Brian (August 11, 2017). "Some scientific arguments James Damore has yet to respond to". NY Mag. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
- Sadedin, Suzanne. "A scientist's take on the biological claims from the infamous Google anti-diversity memo". Forbes. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
- Barnett, Rosalind; Rivers, Caryl (August 11, 2017). "We've studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn't support the Google memo". Recode. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
- Schmitt, David P. (August 7, 2017). "On that Google memo about sex differences". Psychology Today.
- Saini, Angela (August 7, 2017). "Silicon Valley's weapon of choice against women: shoddy science". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- Horgan, John (August 14, 2017). "Google engineer fired for sexist memo isn't a hero". Scientific American. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
- Jones, Owen (August 8, 2017). "Google's sexist memo has provided the alt-right with a new martyr". The Guardian. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- Zunger, Yonatan (August 7, 2017). "I just left a senior job at Google – so let me clear up this latest controversy about software engineer sexism". The Independent. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
- Eagly, Alice H. "Does biology explain why men outnumber women in tech?". The Conversation. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
- Kovach, Steve (August 13, 2017). "Female employee on the Google memo: 'I don't know how we could feel anything but attacked by that'". Business Insider. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
- Johnson, Ben; Kasperkevic, Jana (August 9, 2017). "The sexist memo could cost Google employees — some say they've already started interviewing elsewhere". Business Insider. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- "Google Fired And Disciplined Employees For Speaking Out About Diversity". Gizmodo Australia. February 22, 2018. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
- Staley, Oliver (January 15, 2019). "This is the study that definitely proves men aren't born more competitive than women". Quartz. Atlantic Media.
- O'Connor, Clare (August 8, 2017). "Google Fires Anti-Diversity Memo Writer, Drawing Ire In Right-Wing Circles". Forbes. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- Wojcicki, Susan (August 9, 2017). "Read YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki's response to the controversial Google anti-diversity memo". Fortune. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Roll, Nick (August 11, 2017). "All too familiar bias". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Swisher, Kara (August 5, 2017). "Google has hired a diversity VP - just as it struggles with a sexist memo from an employee". Recode. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- "'I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.'". Archived from the original on August 11, 2017.
- Young, Cathy (August 8, 2017). "Googler fired for diversity memo had legit points on gender". USA Today. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- McArdle, Megan (August 11, 2017). "That Google memo about women in tech wasn't wrong". The Chicago Tribune. Bloomberg View. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Cauterucci, Christina (August 7, 2017). "The Google Anti-Diversity Memo Cribs Its Worst Arguments From Men's Rights Activists". Slate. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
- Naguchi, Yuki (August 8, 2017). Google Memo Raises Questions About Limits Of Free Speech In The Workplace. NPR. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
- Wiessner, Daniel; Wolfe, Jan (August 8, 2017). "Google memo writer faces tough legal road challenging firing". Reuters. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
- Edwards, Jim. "James Damore, the Google employee fired for his controversial manifesto, is (almost certainly) not a victim of a free-speech violation". Business Insider. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Wente, Margaret (August 11, 2017). "Nerdy guy writes memo, world has nervous breakdown". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Erickson, Erick (August 8, 2017). "Why Google's firing terrifies social conservatives so much". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
- "New York Times columnist David Brooks wants Google's CEO to resign". Business Insider. Archived from the original on August 12, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Crook, Clive (August 14, 2017). "Google moves into the business of thought control". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- "Kirsten Powers and others who've read the Google 'anti-diversity' memo slam hysterical media coverage". Twitchy. August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
- Singal, Jesse (August 10, 2017). "How the Internet got the 'Google memo' wrong". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
- Baron-Cohen, Simon (June 7, 2012). The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-24196135-3.
- Campbell, Anne (May 16, 2013). A Mind Of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19960954-3.
- Lippa, Richard A. (2002). Gender, Nature, and Nurture. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-80583606-6.
- Wingfield, Nick (August 8, 2017). "The Culture Wars Have Come to Silicon Valley". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.