Google reportedly fires employee behind diversity memo

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai says the author of a controversial memo criticizing the company’s diversity efforts violated the company’s Code of Conduct.

James Martin/CNET

Google has fired an employee who penned a controversial memo that argued biology prevents women from being as successful as men in the tech industry, Bloomberg reported late Monday.

James Damore, the Google engineer identified as the memo’s author, confirmed his dismissal in an email, saying that he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes,” Bloomberg reported.

Google representatives declined to comment on the report, citing employee confidentiality.

Earlier in the day, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the memo’s author violated company rules by penning and publishing the controversial memo. The wording of Pichai’s memo to workers seemed to suggest the employee’s actions could result in their dismissal, something people inside and out of the search giant have been calling for.

“Portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” Pichai wrote in a memo to employees. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Pichai’s memo, titled “Our words matter,” addressed the controversy that erupted over the weekend following the publication of a manifesto written by a senior engineer that criticizes the company’s efforts to improve workforce diversity and its “left leaning” bias. The employee’s 10-page memo went viral after being posted to an internal network, sparking outrage among Google employees.

Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” the employee argues that women are underrepresented in tech not as a result of bias and discrimination. Instead, “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” the memo continued.

Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, told The New York Times he believes his dismissal was illegal and would “likely be pursuing legal action.” Before his firing, Damore said he submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board charging Google’s upper management with “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.

“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Damore said.

The controversy comes as Silicon Valley companies grapple with how to increase workforce diversity in an industry dominated by white men and permeated with corporate cultures that seem biased against women and female engineers. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies now regularly release diversity reports, highlighting low percentages of women and minority employees, with few moving up the management chain.

Updated, 10:30 p.m. PT with additional information about Damore.

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about “women in tech.”

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