- 09 Nov, 2017
- Posted by: Abigail Edralin
- Category: 2017, General
Much has already been said about the ‘Google memo’, a document published on an internal social platform by a (now former) Google software developer called James Damore. Many in the industry followed developments avidly, firstly as many commentators called for his firing and then others supported his claims, or at least his right to say them.
The document essentially argued that diversity initiatives within Google are ineffective and the lack of women in technical roles can be attributed to their biological predispositions towards work involving people, rather than machines.
Google as gulag
Damore has compared Google to a ‘gulag’, soviet prison camps where prisoners were forced to work themselves to death, conveniently ignoring his independent choice to work at the private company. He now has a twitter account called Fired4Truth, and in his profile photo wears a t-shirt with the Google logo morphed into the word ‘gulag’. Damore comes from a highly privileged background, with former positions at Harvard and Princeton.
The Google memo affair highlights the very stark divide between supporters of diversity initiatives and those who feel they are losing out by not being part of a ‘minority’. Damore cannot (or doesn’t want to) see the systematic privilege that has led to his having a highly coveted job at Google.
A life of privilege
It seems incredibly ironic and ungrateful for him to complain about unfairness, when it’s unlikely that he has accidentally found himself among America’s intellectual elite at every point of his life so far.
The incident also highlights how political correctness bleeds into companies’ desperate attempts to ‘be seen’ to be doing the right thing when it comes to diversity, and Damore isn’t wrong that diversity initiatives aren’t working.
Initiatives are a convenient way for companies to prove that they are doing something to tackle the lack of diversity, and enable them to point to a ‘pipeline problem’, when the numbers don’t improve.
Biological differences junk science
Nevertheless, Damore’s memo was junk science, using selective arguments cobbled together to support a view he had already decided upon in his own mind. Despite a lack of substance, it still causes damage to women and other minorities who are already struggling to succeed in a white male-dominated environment. It’s also encouraged more unsavoury views to emerge from the woodwork.
Aside from the fact that the topics he raised having already been debated thoroughly, and any biological differences determining male and female skillsets debunked by science, the memo caused a massive stir. ‘Free speech’ advocates have latched on to Damore as a martyr, a position strengthened by Google firing him.
A new narrative for Silicon Valley
We need a new narrative that goes beyond Silicon Valley tech bros if the tech industry is to attract a truly diverse workforce. Instead of promising untold riches, unlimited beer and ping pong to prospective employees, and the chance to disrupt, how about offering work that is meaningful and important, and that contributes towards improving society as a whole. Besides, Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer algorithm in the 1800s. And, the first programmers were women, before men discovered it and claimed it as ‘masculine work’. Go figure.