Sexism at Google: What if James Damore Were a Woman?
Author's note: Below is a thought experiment inspired by the recent firing of Google employee James Damore. The concept of this experiment is simple: to explore how the scenario would look if gender were swapped. That is, if James Damore were a female, how would we judge Google’s (and the media’s) response?
Essentially what we’ve done below is provide a straightforward record of the events that have unfolded surrounding Google's recent "anti-diversity" crisis, but we have swapped all relevant gender references and the genders of all people involved. For any direct changes to quotations, we have plainly bracketed those changes.
While not overtly investment related, Google’s actions provide important insight into the evolving culture of Silicon Valley, which could ultimately have an impact on companies like Google and its peers.
Investors would be wise to consider the fictional story of “Jamie" Damore below and reflect on what it could mean for the future of the tech industry should that culture continue to exacerbate (more comments on this below).
Earlier this week, Google, a subsidiary of the second-largest corporate entity in the world, Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), fired a female employee because she had expressed written concern that the company was favoring male coworkers in hiring practices and in-office treatment.
Jamie Damore, a Harvard graduate and engineer at Google, accused the company in a detailed, private memo of facilitating a “culture of shaming” and “silencing” of female employees with similar views.
Jamie’s complaints primarily surrounded Google’s ramping diversity initiative.
Alongside a number of other tech corporations, Google recently came under fire for employing a disproportionate number of females, particularly in leadership positions. Overall, Google’s workforce is composed of 31% men and 69% women. In leadership, it’s 25% men and 75% women.
This coincides with accusations of “systemic compensation disparities” favoring women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In response, and in an effort to create a more diverse work environment, Google has been taking action to favor male employees and candidates, as a way to even the playing field.
But according to Jamie, some of Google’s efforts have been misguided, as the company has instituted several discriminatory practices against women including:
Offering programs, mentoring, and classes only for [men]
A high priority queue and special treatment for [male] candidates
Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for [male] candidates
Reconsidering [current female employees]
In the leaked memo, Jamie argues that the gender disparities within Google can be explained, in part, by natural and personality differences between women and men.
Jamie concluded in her memo that, on average, women have a higher drive for status, while men are less assertive.
Jamie clarified that there is overlap in these traits and that you can’t say anything about an individual based on those averages.
I’m not saying that all [women] differ from [men] in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of [women] and [men] differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of [men] in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between [women] and [men], so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions…
...I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).
Still, Jamie’s memo was met with immediate backlash from media outlets and various members of Silicon Valley, many of who have labeled the content as “sexist” and “anti-diversity.”
Below are a few headlines:
Why did a Google engineer feel empowered to share [her] sexist memo? — Slate
Memo to all tech [chicks]: Sexism, not biology, holds [men] back — New Scientist
Dear Google Memo Writer: The Problem’s Not Biology—It’s [Girls] Like You — Fortune
Google employee's sexist manifesto sparks outrage — CNN
CNN's Brooke Baldwin paraphrased the memo as saying, "I don't really like [men] anywhere near a computer."
Other CNN anchors called it "breathtakingly sexist" and said that Jamie "slammed [her male] coworkers."
Kevin Ellis, a former Google software engineer, shared his opinion:
Personally, I'm not at all surprised to see this. Those [girls] like to pretend that they're silenced and afraid, but they're not.
In an interview on Bloomberg TV, Michael Smith, former Chief Technology Officer of the United States, responded by saying:
It's so offensive to see what this young [woman] was writing, but it's helpful to see it in the public. It's there, it's insidious...
And former Google engineer Erick Backer asked in a public statement:
Why is the environment at Google such that racists and sexists feel supported and safe in sharing these views in the company?
Shortly after the memo was leaked, Jamie Damore was fired by the $650 billion tech conglomerate, and Google’s CEO wrote a letter to employees regarding the memo, which included the following statements:
It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination..."
...The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender.
Jamie has filed a complaint against Google with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the company tried to silence her with “Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.).”
She says she has "no regrets" over the memo.
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Parting comments from the author:
Google has spent at least $265 million on internal diversity initiatives since 2014, according to data compiled by Axios, with little to no headway.
According to anonymous Google employees interviewed by Breitbart this week:
- The company is currently facing a federal complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board in April for interfering with employees’ legal right to discuss “workplace diversity and social justice initiatives.”
- Managers are reportedly keeping blacklists of employees who express dissent, while "social justice activists" are alleged to be sabotaging employee reviews (Google's reviews are heavily peer-based) of those who hold different perspectives.
- Social justice activists at Google "essentially spend all day fighting the culture war, and get nothing done."
- "Witch Hunts" are not uncommon.
- Engineers are fleeing the company in response.
- Senior leaders focus on diversity before technology.
- Google is making efforts to demote anything "non-PC" from search results.
Google has a great horde of cash to bear the brunt of any damages from these actions, but margins are shrinking and costs are rapidly rising for the firm.
As for empirical evidence on board diversity and market performance, the data is mixed:
- In an analysis of the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) by the Indonesian Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Agency (ICMFISA), researchers found "significant negative associations with gender diversity."
- Using data from 151 listed German firms, the Journal of Business Ethics found "evidence for gender diversity to at first negatively affect firm performance and—only after a 'critical mass' of about 30 % women has been reached—to be associated with higher firm performance than completely male boards."
- Looking at 2 million companies in Europe, the IMF found a positive correlation between gender diversity and return on assets.
- Taking a sample of ~38,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises in the U.K., the Journal of Applied Economics found "a significant negative association between... gender diversity... and firm performance."
There are currently calls for boycotts from right-leaning circles, which are likely to have minimal effect on the company, but could drive demand for alternative services.
While impossible to put into numbers without the proper data, it's a straightforward conclusion that none of this bodes well for the future of Google or its investors. The company is trapped between two competing ideologies and has been forced to take a hard stance, alienating not only many of its employees but also much of its user base.
Google long thrived on a culture of open input and ideas, but by establishing a culture of fear, the company is likely doing itself, and its investors, a disservice.
Until next time,
Jason Stutman is Wealth Daily's senior technology analyst and editor of investment advisory newsletters Technology and Opportunity and The Cutting Edge. His strategy for building winning portfolios is simple: Buy the disruptor, sell the disrupted.
Covering the broad sector of technology and occasionally dabbling in the political sphere, Jason has written hundreds of articles spanning topics from consumer electronics and development stage biotechnology to political forecasting and social commentary.
Outside the office Jason is a lover of science fiction and the outdoors, and an amateur squash player at best. He writes through the lens of a futurist, free market advocate, and fiscal conservative. Jason currently hails from Baltimore, Maryland, with roots in the great state of New York.
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