Damore, Google: my thoughts

So an engineer called Damore wrote a memo that opposed Google’s diversity policies and he was fired. Here is a questions-and-answers with me. I am the interviewer and the interviewee.

  • Did you read Damore’s memo?

    No. Not all of it. It wasn’t inspiring. To be fair, I am not sure that Damore meant it to become a best-seller.

    I did appreciate the plots where he illustrates the difference between population statistics and individual differences.

  • Wait! You actually looked a Damore’s memo? You should burn…

    No. It is fine to read anything you like.

  • Do you think that Damore should have been fired?


    As an employee, you have to tread carefully when opposing management and your colleagues. I’d say that this extends even to colleges. Writing an essay that effectively explains to your superiors that what they are doing is anti-science, even if you are right, is problematic. Even more so if you occupy a junior position.

    It matters that Damore wrote his memo as a Google employee. Had he written an essay about the topic on a blog, or in a scientific journal of some sort, where he would have obfuscated the context sufficiently, things would be quite different.

    Note that even if management invites comments, it is no reason to start being critical.

    That is not to say, of course, that you should never be critical in the workplace. But unless you are explicitly mandated to provide a critical counterpoint to a given policy, you should abstain.

    More significantly, Damore became both a legal and reputational liability. Irrespective of the facts, keeping Damore around could give the impression that Google did have a toxic work environment for women. It is possible to build a convincing narrative around what Damore wrote.

    Note that it does not matter one iota if Damore is right scientifically.

  • Daniel, you are ignorant of the climate at Google. People can speak freely and even insult managers!

    Maybe so. But anecdotes do not invalidate general rules. Lots of very old people have smoked for decades. It does not mean that smoking is safe.

    It is my belief that what Damore did was dangerous.

    Put yourself in the shoes of a manager. Your management practices are not perfect. You know this. But it is a compromise between what is possible and what would be ideally possible. When employees start questioning your actions, from their point of view, everything is easy. “Your diversity policies are failing, scrap them”. However, you have another point of view, from higher-up. The criticism from low-level employees is not helping you nearly as much as they think it does, and it can make running your business harder.

    What are you going to do with employees that make your life harder as a manager? If you do not somehow dispose of them, you risk having a harder and harder time being efficient.

  • But Damore only had good intentions!

    He thought that Google’s policies were stupid and he wanted to put pressure on them so that they would be abolished. His intentions were clearly to put pressure on the management of the company. Had he been interested in scholarship, he could have written a scholarly paper in his spare time.

    You can go work for another employer, or start your own company, or let the policies run their course, or work to go up in the company and write your own policies.

    Damore’s behavior after being fired exposes him somewhat. The Goolag t-shirt… the interviews with some online personalities that are believed to be anti-women… So unwise…

  • So employees should never criticize employers?

    Sure, they should and they do. But how you go about it matters.

  • So you still have to attend diversity seminars even if you think it is stupid?

    Yes, if that’s what your boss suggests you do. Or you can go find another job elsewhere.

  • But that’s terrible!

    Yes, earning a six-figure income for pushing code and occasionally attending diversity seminars is terrible.

  • So you think we should ban sexy characters in video games?

    No. I have a figurine of B2 the android on my desk.

  • Wait a minute! You are a sexist pig!

    (Me leaving the studio…)

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).