Is James Damore right?
Google was wrong to fire Damore, believes Noga Segev Nadir, our Talent Management Director at Human Resources HQ
In July 2017 Google engineer James Damore authored a memo in which he discussed gender and software engineering. Damore argues that the gender gap in the tech industry is not the result of bias, but is due to biological differences between men and women in terms of ability. According to Damore, the gaps between men and women are not the outcome of a different attitude toward the two genders, but of tangible differences in abilities, inclinations and brain structure.
In addition to the response from Google’s management, the memo ignited a global media firestorm and led to Damore being fired by the company.
In my opinion, Google should have leveraged the affair to generate a genuine, authentic debate, since Damore’s opinions and similar views are not rare, but rather, are concealed and kept secret. Putting them on the table, genuinely examining them, agreeing or disagreeing with them, in whole or in part, is the best way to promote gender balance.
Agreeing or disagreeing with them, in whole or in part, is the best way to promote gender balance
Is Damore right?
Specific reference can be made to Damore’s arguments. Some would cite studies claiming the opposite, i.e. the absence of differences between women and men in terms of development and programming capabilities. There are most likely articles available, which posit either one of the contrasting theories. However, a meta-analysis of numerous studies revealed a difference not in ability, but in women’s motivation and their enjoyment in these professional areas (elements that are influenced by culture and socialization).
However, I believe there are two questions that are more important than the question of whether Damore is right or not:
- What if his views are partly true?
- How should Google have reacted?
Even if we lack the complete picture, we live in a biased organizational environment. Biased in the choice of people/women, biased in gender pay gap ratios, biased in how discussions are held, biased in language and biased in culture. There is no conscious choice here to discriminate or to be unkind – women and men are equally biased. Reference to these biases, raising awareness of them is what can turn the everyday allusions and decisions of each one of us into such that are sensitive to exclusion of all kinds, including the exclusion of women.
What should an organization do? What should Google have done?
If we skip the questions of legal exposure, a highly sensitive issue in the US, I believe, as I mentioned earlier, that the last thing that I would have done as a manager would have been to fire Damore.
A careful reading of his lengthy memo reveals sentences and paragraphs I can accept. In addition, it reveals the strong motivation of someone who has chosen, in his own way, to explore a topic, express an opinion and make suggestions for change.
As a staunch advocate of diversity, an organization must be willing to hear every opinion (as long as it is respectfully expressed, and I do not believe that Damore can be accused of crossing this boundary), which means also listening to those views that are unpleasant to hear, that give rise to opinions and thoughts that are not in keeping with policy.
During the past year, Strauss hosted a number of sessions on the issue of gender balance with the participation of Prof. Ronit Kark, which were attended mainly, or almost exclusively, by men. The sessions dealt with creating a common language, gaining an understanding of what is happening in the world around us and in our own world, deciding whether we want to make a change and the role that each man/woman can fill in creating the change. Many voices were heard – some expressed surprise, some were just waking up to the issue, some were opposed to change, some did not consider the traditional division of roles between men and women to be a bad thing, and some fought for the benefit of their female partner’s career. There was something to learn from each of them. We discussed the legitimacy of each opinion and made room for them all. Many of the participants of both sexes chose to make the journey to change with us, but we also respect those who chose otherwise.
A change in gender balance is not one single big change. It consists of millions of tiny steps and choices: not to condone interrupting women in discussions, making room for women’s voices even when the debate is more aggressive, taking care not to discriminate against women in salary negotiations, choosing how we word our wanted ads for internal and external jobs and making sure they are not exclusive, paying attention to verbal, visual and communication language, et cetera, et cetera.
Changing the gender balance is policy, processes, management, interpersonal relations, culture, personal perceptions, and more. The organization can and should examine and change a significant part of all of this in the context of its perspective and the platform it uses to express this perspective.
At the same time, millions of tiny steps can only be taken by millions of people. It is only dialogue, awareness, openness (also to what one does not want to hear) that lead people to choose to want to change reality.