A male software engineer at Google recently wrote a 10-page memo in which he argued that women’s biological makeup causes them to be inherently less suitable for jobs in technology. In his rationale, James Damore named specific characteristics that supposedly make women ineffective tech workers. He wrote that women are drawn toward “feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas” and that these differences explain why women prefer jobs with a more artistic or social bent. He also wrote that women are more neurotic than men, which causes them to experience higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance, which in turn leads to their being underrepresented in high-stress jobs such as those in technology.
The document circulated around the company before making its way into the world, and the ensuing uproar led to Damore being fired.
The incident has ignited a debate about free speech in the workplace, specifically, what happens when an employee expresses an idea offensive in an organization’s corporate culture. In a written response to Googlers about Damore’s dismissal, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the diatribe violated “our code of conduct and cross[ed] the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Pichai’s response also noted that the company’s code of conduct requires employees to do “their utmost to create a workplace culture… free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination.”
Damore has since complained about his ouster to federal labor officials, saying Google is trying to silence him. However, attorneys knowledgeable about labor law say companies can legally prohibit speech and behavior that either harasses or discriminates against other staff. Furthermore, an organization may fire employees who violate the employer’s values.
Does doing so squelch free speech or provide a safe work environment?
- Does Google’s firing of James Damore go against its own platform of encouraging its employees to speak their minds?
- What impact might Google’s action have on other employees at the company?
- Do you think employees should have free rein to say anything in the workplace environment?