Once again, I have a somewhat sqishy view of the whole thing. But one that will put me mostly outside of my class’s mainstream. This doesn’t include all of my thoughts on the whole thing, but includes a lot of them.

Pro: First, I don’t really blame Google for firing him. When he sent that out on company channels, they became responsible for it. They’re also dealing with some liability and failing to take action on this hurts them.

Anti: The above and Walter Olson make a fair case that this was partially the result of public policy rather than a strictly silent decision. Not unlike how the Obama administration basically pushed private universities across the country to some rather questionable due process policies for sexual misconduct charges. The federal government’s hands are clean, but they’re not, both at the same time.

Pro: All of this would be an issue if the memo weren’t as troublesome as it is. If it had been presented with more delicacy. If it had been some unearthed private blog instead of through company channels.

Anti: It was through company channels but was apparently not, as initially reported, a memo sent out of the blue or something emailed to everybody. Rather, it was in an internal forum dedicated to discussion of precisely these sorts of issues. Google said they wanted a free discussion. This wasn’t some memo sent out of the blue, it was part of a discussion.

Pro: Okay, but what are we, five? On what basis should he have had any faith that this was ever a free and open discussion? On what basis should he have felt free to speak his mind knowing that there were some really controversial views in there? Knowing that it would be disruptive to the workplace? Knowing that women would likely respond in a way that would make his continued empoloyment there difficult? If he didn’t know these things, he should have. Even if we ignore the fact that the left almost never wants the free and open discussion that it says it does, how did he think this would end? Did he think they would look at his statistics and say “Woah, he’s totally right. Women aren’t getting these great jobs because they don’t want them and they’re not capable.”

Anti: That’s not an accurate summary.

Pro: No, but it’s an obvious one. It’s an oversimplified response to a more nuanced argument… and if something can be summaried that way, it probably will be by someone. And if nobody wants to put nuance back in there, that’s going to be the official interpretation. Then you run into a situation where people can sit back and say “It doesn’t matter how accurate your words are. It doesn’t matter if your argument was too nuanced. People won’t work with you. You’ve got to go. QED.” And they’ll say this and they won’t be wrong.

Anti: That’s really not fair, though. It sets up a “discussion” wherein the first person says it’s all about discrimination and anybopdy responding to that is walking through a minefield. It is almost impossible to imagine a 10-page memo claiming that it’s 100% discrimination and harassment getting this kind of response.

Pro: Yes. This is a common tactic in these discussions – to win arguments by default by declaring illegitimate counterarguments (sexist, racist, etc) and counterarguers (whatever your marker of privilege is removes you from the discussion). And in this case, it works. And it works in large part because the other side blew it by actually being sexist and saying sexist things. Enough connections can be drawn between this memo and things written by people that have said some truly awful things that you’re stuck.

Anti: That’s not fair.

Pro: Maybe, but life seldom is. But it’s also not fair to tell female employees that they have to work with and under the guy and that they’re comfortable with his attitude. If they’re not, that’s a problem for them and that’s a problem for the company. A lot of people are mad at the women that no-showed, but getting employees to band together is difficult and that probably indicates existing problems.

Anti: How responsible is Memo Guy for these problems Why should be pay for Google’s sins?

Pro: He made himself a target when he introduced himself into the discussion.

Anti: The free discussion Google said it wanted.

Pro: He shouldn’t have believed that the discussion needed to include deeply unpopular points of view. His bad. He put himself in front of the Mack Truck.

Anti: But look, what he had to say hasn’t been discredited and the science is on his side.

Pro: At least some of it is. There seem to be some feedback loops going on that we have some control over above and beyond the things pointed out in the memo. Computer science has become more male over time rather than less. Their genes didn’t change, and it’s unlikely their priorities have. So culture has an effect.

Anti: Okay, even if it does, it’s not clear they’re accepting anything other than sexism as an explanation. We are, as Jesse Singal says, making Blank Slate-ism a litmus test.

Pro: Which is unfortunate. But we’d have a better way to gauge where everybody is coming from if the original piece hadn’t been as sweeping in the other direction.

Anti: What if the solution are those things you condemn, like stripping computer science of its cultural markers (Star Trek posters in the workplace, etc) and taking the freak flag down?

Pro: Well, screw that. But just because some people are too cavalier about what we can do doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.

Anti: That seems kind of weak.

Pro: Yeah, it kind of is, but no less weak than “This is just the way there is and there’s nothing we can do.”

Anti: So we’re okay with him being fired?

Pro: Yeah, I think so. He doesn’t belong on any blacklists and the list of people who should also be fired should have zero or few names on it, but it’s hard to see any other conclusion, even if it reveals some unflatting things about the conversation we’re supposed to be having.


Category: Office

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

17 Responses to About The Google Memo

  1. trumwill says:

    For the record, where I ultimately land is with “Pro”… but I am mostly interested in what the ground rules are here, because a lot of the people on that side are oversupporting it, taking positions more aggressive than I can sign on to. Specifically an insistence on near Blank Slatism, that the only thing that should matter is women being uncomfortable with it, that the employee would be similarly reliable if they’d posted on a blog, and that there should be a list with this guy’s name on it – and the names of people who agree with him – to keep him away from employment.

    Things seem to have bent back a bit from the more extreme arguments, but I would definitely like clarity on the ground rules here.

  2. > Anti: So we’re okay with him being fired?

    > Pro: Yeah, I think so.

    You really are an asshole. I always find it amazing that someone who hasn’t worked in 7 years can be so cavalier with someone’s livelihood.

    Then again, you don’t even have the guts to have your Twitter feed point to his blog, instead pointing [reference to Over There and some unnecessary and inaccurate attacks and verbiage]

    • trumwill says:

      Until now I didn’t realize that my feed wasn’t putting up new Hit Coffee posts. I was actually kind of curious why this didn’t bring any visitors It might have something to do with my recently changing my password. In any event, it should start doing so again now.

      • fillyjonk says:

        I’ve been getting the Hit Coffee notifications in my twitter feed – both this one and the last one for sure. So IDK.

        • trumwill says:

          The last two have been posted to verify that it’s working again. If I were really ambitious I would go back and see how far back this has been the case, but I’m not sure if I’m that ambitious.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      But he’s not being cavalier. I think you’re also underestimating how employable software engineers are. Yeah, he’s probably not getting a job at Facebook or Amazon, or probably even Microsoft, but smaller companies pay pretty well, too, and I’m sure there are many that either don’t care or would be happy to hire him just to give the finger to PJWs.

  3. fillyjonk says:

    “When he sent that out on company channels, they became responsible for it. They’re also dealing with some liability and failing to take action on this hurts them. ”

    I have conflicting feelings about the whole thing but for me it does come down to this. It’s not that he’s not “allowed” to have an opinion counter to the culture of the workplace, it’s that he used the company platform to publish it.

    Should he have been *fired*? I don’t know.

    I think if he was ignorant of the policies regarding that kind of thing, there should have been more mercy….but I doubt he was.

    At my university, if we put the university logo on a FB page, the university is supposed to have the right to say what does and does not go on the page. Apparently there was a case of someone presenting their FB page as “official university business” and then asking students to “like” some explicitly political posts. This led to a whole round of cracking down on social-media use, and is also why I have disclaimers freaking everywhere saying that I only speak for myself, which seems to cover my butt, at least for now.

    I think it comes down to, you do give up certain rights when you’re employed. You have to decide if the rights you are giving up are worth it to you.

  4. Pat says:

    This is mostly right, for whatever it’s worth.

    One of the issues with discussing these sorts of things is that people have an expectation that the discussion forum is closed, but it’s not. It can’t be. I mean that in the broadest sense: once you open your mouth and broadcast your opinion – to anybody – it’s out there, and you own it. Free association is as important as free speech, and when you are part of an organization your opinions about how that organization should work, and it’s orthogonal to how other people think that organization should work, something’s gotta give… either them or you.

    • trumwill says:

      On a practical level, I think there’s no other way it can work.

      I think there is an argument to be made that the expectation was not necessarily that the discussion forum would be closed, but that it would or could involve a wide range of ideas. That’s… pretty clearly not the case. And it’s entirely within Google’s purview for that to be the case.

      Roughly a third of their workforce appears to have opinions that they believe to be entirely unacceptable. When that’s the case, it’s not an open discussion. I’m not sure if Google or its defenders realize this yet. (And even if they do, it’s too late for Memo Guy.

  5. Jaybird says:

    Ah, but he is on a blacklist now. People bragged about putting him on blacklists. Google management, even.

    I’m interested in what happens to his lawsuit. I’m *REALLY* interested in what happens during discovery.

    • Jaybird says:

      (I mean, assuming one can believe the reports that Collin Winter bragged about keeping a blacklist. Maybe he didn’t.)

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    Computer science has become more male over time rather than less. Their genes didn’t change, and it’s unlikely their priorities have. So culture has an effect.

    I assume you’re referring to that chart in the NPR story. The use of sex ratio rather than absolute numbers kind of obscures what’s going on. CS degrees follow a boom-bust cycle. The first boom peaked in 1986, the second in 2004, and I think there’s another one happening now, although the page I linked doesn’t go that far. However, on top of the boom-bust cycle, there’s a secular growth in enrollment that we see for men but not for women. The 2004 peak for men was 64% higher than the 1986 peak was, but the 2003 peak for women was only 2% percent higher than the 1986 peak. You see a similar pattern with where the busts bottom out: 78% higher for men, a couple percent lower for women.

    So there’s no real major secular change in women’s enrollment in computer science (though there is a slightly decline if you adjust for population and overall college enrollment); rather, there’s been a large secular increase in men’s enrollment. Why that is, I don’t know. The NPR’s story about computers being marketed to boys seems to be pure post hoc reasoning, and doesn’t really hold up now that pretty much everyone has a computer.

    I suppose the first thing we’d want to look at is what majors have been rising the most for women.

  7. I must have been living in a cave or something, because this post is the first I’ve heard of the situation. I tried to Google (heh!) info about it, but I didn’t find a copy of the memo itself, just articles debating the pro’s and con’s. Of course, I didn’t look very hard. I just clicked the first two or three links that popped up, including one that claimed to have a copy of the memo but didn’t actually have one.

    On the issue itself–considering I don’t know exactly what the guy said–I guess I have to agree with Pat that that’s how things work. But unless the guy said something truly beyond the pale, I’m not willing to say Google acted rightly. Maybe it has the legal prerogative to fire for whatever reason or for no reason, but that doesn’t mean it was right to do so. (Again, though, I haven’t even read the memo and neither have I read most of the commentary that’s apparently out there.)

      • Thanks for the link, Brandon. I skimmed it briefly and I think the author’s main fault was that he made some claims in a tone deaf way.

        As for whether Google should have fired him (perhaps a better question is whether Google’s firing him was a reasonable action and whether most people writing such a memo ought to expect it might get them fired)….I’d need to know much more of the context. Will and a few others here provide some of the context, but I’d need to know more.

        Without knowing more, I’d say it’s bad move to fire this guy for that memo, especially if it was part of some discussion.

        At the same time, I could see getting into trouble by writing a similar memo at my workplace in the context of a diversity discussion. (Not that I would write the same memo, because I disagree with a lot of the author’s points.) Therefore, I could see how someone would come to the opposite conclusion from mine.

  8. Lizzie says:

    The same conservatives whining about this would be horrified if his work had centered on race. It’s particularly galling to see these guys getting on their high horse about racial issues and then deciding they’re Free Speech Warriors when it comes to sex differences. It’s both or neither, folks.

  9. Jaybird says:

    I am irritated that this is no longer the incident about James Damore’s essay but now it is half of the incidents involving James Damore’s essay and the White Supremacist rallies.

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