How Silicon Valley’s Workplace Culture Produced James Damore’s Google Memo

Last week, a software engineer at Google, James Damore, posted a
ten-page memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” to an internal company network. Citing a range of psychological studies,
Wikipedia entries, and media articles on “our culture of shaming and
misrepresentation,” Damore argued that women are underrepresented in the
tech industry largely because of their innate biological differences
from men—their “stronger interest in people rather than things,” their
propensity for “neuroticism,” their “higher levels of anxiety.” Damore
criticized the company’s diversity initiatives, which focus on
recruitment, hiring, and professional development, as discriminatory,
and advanced “concrete suggestions” for improving them: “de-moralize
diversity,” “de-emphasize empathy,” “stop alienating conservatives,” and
“be open about the science of human nature.” On Monday, Google’s C.E.O.,
Sundar Pichai, sent a note to his employees decrying the memo’s “harmful gender stereotypes” and noting that
portions of it violated the company’s code of conduct. Damore was fired,
and promptly filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

As soon as news of the memo broke, tech workers took to the Internet.
(Ours is a privileged moment: never before has it been so easy to gain
access to the errant musings, rapid-fire opinions, and random
proclivities of venture capitalists and others we enrich.) There were
calls for Damore to be blacklisted from the industry; nuanced analyses
of the memo’s underlying assumptions and ripple effects; facile analyses
of the same; message-board debates about sexual harassment, affirmative
action, evolutionary biology, eugenics, and “wrongthink”; and
disagreements about the appropriateness of Google’s response. (“Firing
people for their ideas should be opposed,” Jeet Heer, a self-described
“Twitter Essayist” and an editor at The New Republic, tweeted.) George
Orwell’s “1984” was trotted out, discursively, and quickly retired. More
than a handful of people pointed out that the field of programming was created, and once dominated, by women. Eric Weinstein, the managing director of Thiel Capital, an investment firm helmed by Peter Thiel, tweeted disapprovingly at Google’s corporate account, “Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR.”

Though Damore’s memo draws on familiar political rhetoric,…

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