Google and James Damore

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Google and James Damore

Postby AlternateTorg » Fri Aug 11, 2017 3:17 pm

James Damore, a Google software engineer, was fired for penning a 10-page internal memo (PDF) alleging that the company fosters policies and culture that silences and alienates conservatives, and criticizing its diversity programs as being more harmful than helpful in supporting women in the tech industry. He alleges that some of the problems with trying to close the gender gap in tech stem from the staunch refusal by companies such as Google to accept that discrimination may not be the only reason that said gender gap exists.

Most controversial to his critics was the author's assertion that biological differences between men and women might partially explain the gap. He did not deny that discrimination occurs, nor state that biology was the only reason why it exists, nor assert that biology makes the gender gap okay (in fact, he advocated narrowing it); but regardless, Damore has been lambasted in the press, and Google declared in a statement to employees that Damore was fired for "violat[ing] our Code of Conduct and cross[ing] the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."

What surprises me is that it seems that most of the people commenting on the situation seem to not have actually read Damore's memo. (I have.) People are reporting that he is against more women in tech, sees them as incapable of performing technical jobs, etc., when in reality he says quite the opposite. He actually provides several ideas for changes in Google's practices with the idea of fostering women in the workplace. But because these ideas actually acknowledge that differences between men and women do exist instead of pretending they don't, he is dismissed as sexist.

I don't agree with everything Damore says in the memo or has done since, but I do think most people are crucifying him without actually reading what he wrote, which to me seems far less controversial than the average online coverage of it seems to make it.

It is notable that this comes at a time when Google is under fire for allegedly systematically paying women less than men for comparable jobs.

Have you read the memo? What do you think? Was Google right to fire him, or was the firing only a confirmation of what he wrote? Do you find it controversial to acknowledge that differences between men and women exist? Do you think it is wrong to make policies on that basis, even ones that are intended to foster women in the workplace?

Personally, I feel sexism, cultural norms and expectations, and biology all play roles in the result that men are disproportionately represented in tech.

(In replying, please be up front about whether or not you have read the memo.)
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Re: Google and James Damore

Postby CCC » Sat Aug 12, 2017 5:51 am

I had a look over his memo. (I started out reading it, but I kind of skimmed a few of the later pages a bit). And... eish.

I don't know whether or not Google was right to fire him. That may have been a touch harsh; but, then again, that memo is not the full story. (It may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but it seems that he'd been pushing that agenda within Google for some time). But if that memo is a true statement of what he was saying, then he most certainly was advancing harmful gender stereotypes in the workplace, so I can't say Google was wrong to claim that.

There may well be biological factors. But the mere existence of such is not a good reason to dismantle the structures intended to counteract societal discriminatory factors - which seems to be the main thing he was suggesting as a change in policy.
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Re: Google and James Damore

Postby Kea » Mon Aug 14, 2017 2:59 am

Whole things sounds like a tempest in a teapot. I didn't read the memo, though I have heard that it wasn't outrageous as the internet made it sound. (But then, one does not have to adopt an outrageous tone to say things that are wrong and stupid.) As a corporation, Google had the right to fire him. People have been fired for far less. I think it was a bad PR move to fire him though, because they turned him into a rallying point for people whose opinions are far more sexist than Damore's. They should've just internally disciplined him.

Incidentally, "women don't go into tech because biology so Google should stop trying to help women" is demonstrably wrong; the proportion of tech workers who are female is higher in India than it is in the US. Insofar as biology may play a role, some researchers have posited that autism is a "male brain" dialed all the way up to 11, and autism is more heavily diagnosed in males than females(1). If there's anything to that, it might explain why there are more men who excel at the extremely detail-oriented logical puzzle building that computer science requires. But it's not worth worrying about that now, because we're not anywhere near that point yet. If India, an extremely sexist society by all accounts, does a better job of getting women into STEM fields than your country does, then you have quite a lot of cultural adjustment to make. And in fact, there used to be more women in computer science in its early days, when the men viewed coding punch cards and doing calculations as a menial task for secretaries.

(1) Although females may be somewhat underdiagnosed; many high-functioning autistic women learn to mask their difficulties.
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Re: Google and James Damore

Postby arcosh » Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:43 am

I skimmed over the memo.

The whole situation seems a lot like Google saw something controversial somehow connected to them come up, and panicked. And it fuels a feeling of "don't put out something that is controversial", that has a lot of people feeling silently oppressed, and when some provocateur says something, they at least approve of who he attacks, even if they don't really agree to his position.

I believe there needs to be more of a "We disagree with them on phliosophical points, but we are prepared to work with them" feeling.

And if the guy is a programmer, he doesn't really have anything to do with Googles hirering policy. If there is any indication, that he does not treat female programers as is appropriate for work collages, then yes he should be fired. The memo itself is as far as i can see no indication for that. If he worked in human resources or in some management position, or some other of the lesser professions, that are there to take care of stuff, that otherwise would distract the programmers from the real work, then it is possibly a different situation. If someone responsible for hirering and promoting people disagrees with the hirering and promoting policy of the company he works for, then they have a valid reason to doubt, if he really executes that policy.

I somewhat doubt, that state of the art science is already that far, that it can seperate biological gender differences from social ones. I think we are at a state similiar, to where astronomy were, when there was a big fight of heliocnetrism and geocentrism, but both sides insisted on epicycles, because no one has yet had the idea to uses ellipses. So i consider anyone who goes "Here is a study that prooves my side was right all along." somewhat suspect.

I am also not fully convinced, the answer to what differences are biological and what are social is all that relevant to Google. If for some social reasons our society trains women not to aspire tech jobs, or to train skills neccessary for tech jobs early in their lives, the IT industry will still have a lower pool of possible female job candidates.

Now by the highly scientific method of using my gut feeling, i would say that it is way more the case that fewer women want to go into engeneering, then fewer women being talented for engeneering. People who are not in engeneering, but where i think, they could become good programmer, if they tried to, are disproportionally often female.

I am not really sold on many diversity programs, because i fear they often have unintended consequences. Like the more you express, what needs to be done to make women welcome in tech, the more the women who go into tech seem heros who face great challanges. And most people have no intention to be heros themself, they want other people to face challenges and cheer from the sidelines.

And it also irks me, that diversity program messages often are contrary to what in my experience is the best way to get along with women. Like "always err on the side of assuming that she is macho then she actually is". And "never show any suprise that a woman does or is, what she does or is. Treat it as the most ordinary thing in the world". And "never offer her to use/get/.. the female version of something".

If i go from that, diversity programs should have messages like "Just jump into the water, you'll figure out swimming", and if you change the enviroment to be more accomodating for women, do not ever advertice that, rather find all sorts of excuses, what other things you wanted achieve with that.

Now i know seaking to women in general might work different then interacting with spezific women, but still in the back of my head there is the feeling, that if i admit to a woman, that i approve of a classic diversity programs, she might bite my head off, for assuming women can't go into that field without an extra invitation and someone softening it up for them.

And on a differnt point Damore made: He puts up a rightwing/leftwing difference and talks how Google is on the leftwing side. This leftwing/rightwing categorisation has a lot of overlap with a geek/jock categorisation and then it it is rather unsuprising, that a tech company is firmly on the geek side.
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Re: Google and James Damore

Postby Kea » Mon Aug 14, 2017 9:44 pm

I don't know whether this is a thing in Europe, but the work culture in Silicon Valley has gotten pretty jockish, by geek standards. Have you heard the term "tech bro"? That's what happens when you allow geeks to get really arrogant. They not only believe that they are geniuses, they believe that they are the most important geniuses in the world because they are at the bleeding edge of technology. This often goes with a libertarian ideology that idolizes a pure meritocracy in which success flows to the deserving because capitalism. If tech bros are successful in tech, it must be because they are brilliant. And if women are less successful in tech, it must be because they are not as smart. This is not the friendliest culture for women to find themselves working in, so it's not entirely surprising that attrition rates are high. Uber, for example, is eyeball deep in sexual harassment lawsuits.

It's hard for tech bros to accept diversity programmes because that would require believing that Silicon Valley isn't a pure meritocracy, but that other factors such as early encouragement, social networks, and mentoring opportunities played a role in their own success.
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Re: Google and James Damore

Postby arcosh » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:06 pm

Probably i also don't get some things that go on in europe, given i work for an eternity for the same small company.
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