Four female engineers have spoken out about James Damore, saying he wasn’t fired for “speaking truth to power” in his controversial memo, but for “mishandling” a complicated and sensitive debate about diversity.
The engineers made the comments anonymously during a forum discussion for Y Combinator’s “Ask a female engineer” blog series. One of the women said she works at Google.
Damore, who was fired last week for writing a 10-page document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” has consistently presented himself in subsequent interviews as a man of science and someone who was fired for “the truth.” He posts under the Twitter handle @Fired4Truth. In his memo, he cites certain studies to bolster an argument that the gender gap in tech can be explained away by biological factors as well as bias.
One engineer, writing under the name Edith, said it wasn’t just the content of the memo that was objectionable. It was the intent and framing too, and that’s why Google was right to fire Damore.
“Social skills are part of a professional skillset,” she wrote. “It is important to learn how to handle difficult subjects in a workplace — we all have to do it. There are consequences for doing it in a way that causes problems for your employer, and I think in this case the consequences were appropriate.”
She added: “He was not fired for speaking truth to power, he was fired for mishandling a complex subject in a way that caused harm to his employer (and many of his colleagues).”
Damore has never acknowledged this point in his interviews, and has not apologised for any harm he may have caused. He did say he regretted referring to the “neuroticism” of women, though.
The Y Combinator discussion is nuanced and wide-ranging and, importantly, dominated by women. While there have been lots of “takes” on Damore’s memo, female voices from Google have been in the minority. Business Insider spoke to a current female Google employee earlier this week about the memo.
During the discussion, the anonymous Googler sympathises with Damore at various points, and said the firm should have tried to change his mind about diversity before firing him.
She wrote: “I think that variations on his opinion are held by people in the industry far more frequently than some (or many) people think, and it’s not productive to hide from that reality or shout down every expression of those opinions.”
But she also disagreed with Damore’s supporters, who complain his critics don’t address the scientific substance of Damore’s memo.
She wrote: “Some people at Google reacted by saying ‘well if he’s so wrong, then why not refute him,’ but that requires spending a significant amount of time building an argument against the claims in his document … I should not be forced into that kind of debate at work.”
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