Google has taken action against the employee who penned the controversial memo on diversity. Bloomberg reported on Monday night that the company has fired James Damore, the author of the memo, who was initially unnamed but has since been attached to the internally-circulated document.
Motherboard first reported on Damore's memo, entitled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," early on Saturday morning, after multiple Google employees took to Twitter to voice their concerns. The document has since been published in its entirety on Gizmodo. The memo has a ranting nature, and claims the gender gap within tech exists because women are biologically different from men in ways that make them less suited to engineering roles. Furthermore, Damore goes on to say that efforts to increase diversity by focusing on specific genders and races is discriminatory in itself. The memo came at a time when concerns about sexism in Silicon Valley are at an all time high.
Yesterday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote a note to employees that has since been posted on The Keyword, a blog about goings-on at the company and product updates. Pichai's letter echoes some of the messaging previously sent by Danielle Brown, Google's VP of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance, by beginning with a reference to the right to free speech.
"We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it," Pichai wrote.
Though Pichai continues to emphasize the importance of finding ways for employees to freely express themselves, he makes clear the memo violates Google's "basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects 'each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.'"
On Twitter and in the media, reactions to Damore's firing are divided. Many have come out in Damore's defense, and claim the firing shows Google's unwillingness to be open to unpopular ideas. In an email to The New York Times, Damore said he may pursue legal action against his former employer.
Others have come out in support of Google's firing, saying that Damore's actions harmed his coworkers and fostered a hostile workplace. There's legitimacy to these claims. In his 2015 book Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Laszlo Bock, Google's former SVP of People Operations details the company's overhaul of its performance review system. One element Bock notes is Google's peer review system, which operates on the "wisdom of crowds" theory: Your manager doesn't see everything, but your peers see the real you. Damore's memo presents the possibility that it affected his judgement of some of his colleagues, namely women and minorities, in his peer reviews — which has very real consequences under Google's performance review system and could impact salaries.
Google is already under fire for its salary practices. In April, the Department of Labor accused Google of gender pay discrimination, which the company denied.
The "anti-diversity" memo saga is likely far from over for Google, but the wider discussions it has sparked about diversity initiatives, free speech within companies, and how Silicon Valley handles dissent in corporate environments are ones that the entire tech industry has to grapple with.