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August 9, 2017

5 Lessons We Can Learn From The Google Memo Story

Written By Nikki McCaig

On Friday, 4th of August, Google Engineer James Damore released a company-wide google memo detailing his frustrations with the gender diversity and equal ideologies noted within his office. By Sunday, the memo had gone viral, and yesterday he was fired from Google. But what exactly did the memo contain to deserve this backlash, and what lesson can other tech workplaces learn from this?

What did the memo say?

Damore’s ten page memo, entitled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’, was published to positively enforce the gender gap, illustrate complaints about the equal opportunity culture and hiring process of Google, and to point out the biological differences of men and women – citing them as reasons why women should not work in tech.

Also including several un-sourced graphs of gender-specific personality traits, paragraphs of political free speech and a conclusion arguing against making engineering appealing to both sexes, the google memo was received by 40,000 employees, who went on to tweet and share it for public criticism.

So as a tech company, what can we take away from this?

  1. Sexism still exists in the tech industry

According to PWC, only 3% of women list ‘tech’ as their first choice field of work. 78% of students can’t name a famous woman in tech, only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women. There’s a lot more than needs to be done to help create diversity in the tech industry, beginning with addressing the issues raised in Damore’s memo. He believes that it is the biological personality traits of women e.g. neuroticism, emotionality and agreeableness, that prevents them from succeeding in competitive fields. This needs to be changed, either by transforming the industry into a space where those traits are celebrated and utilised, or by ignoring them, and establishing policies of complete equality and gender-less conduct. If, as he suggests, female engineers and technicians are being treated differently because of these traits, or others similar, this is an attitude that must be challenged and opposed by those with the power to do so.

Big name brands can’t always be trusted

Readily established as a household name, Google is the largest and most popular search engine in the Western world, to the point where users will actively replaced the word ‘search’ with ‘Google’ in casual language. But with the unexpected spotlight falling on the company following the publication of the memo, it was revealed that other issues of diversity and discrimination were already being investigated within the brand. The US Department of Labor has reportedly been following up claims of ‘extreme compensation disparities against women’ in every division of the workplace, and are now working with Google to readjust their employee payment brackets. So not only does this teach us that Damore’s frustrations were, if subconsciously, being allowed to manifest in a company echoing his attitude, but that even big names as liberal and ‘left’ as Google can still exhibit extremist examples of discrimination.

Codes of Conduct are vital for office wellbeing

As the news that Damore had been fired from the company broke, a statement was released by Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, stating that ‘although much of what was in that memo is fair to debate’, it was the discriminatory practice and broken Code of Conduct that actually led to his termination. The Google employee Code of Conduct states that it expects ‘each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination’, and so by publishing a google memo of blatant bias sexism, Damore broke the Code. This lesson in particular teaches us that an established Code of Conduct, the rules of which every employee must comply by, is vital to establishing a safe, protected and equal work space for your team.

Discrimination should, and will, be taken seriously

This case, amongst others in the media, serves as a severe example of the consequences of discrimination in the workplace. In terminating his contract and disassociating the company with Damore, Google sets a standard of strict punishment for offensive employee behaviour, one which more offices should learn from. However, Google’s own gender gap crimes also lead by example, in delivering the message that more diversity is desperately needed in the technological and digital industries. Online giants such as Buzzfeed and Tumblr have made massive moves towards a richly diverse workplace team, now it’s time for the rest of the industry to follow suit.

More internal debate and social discussion is needed in offices

Perhaps controversially suggested, but the final lesson we can learn from the google memo story is that more offices need to create an internal platform for debates and discussions such as this one. From reading Damore’s memo, it’s clear his views came from a place of repressed frustration, and was given no other platform to express himself so resorted to a bluntly delivered memo. Not only was this handled poorly by Google, in allowing its employees to publicize the google memo, but it was also followed through with the termination of his contract – unwittingly agreeing with his arguments that un-liberal views on equality are oppressed within the company. More needs to be done to create a safe space for internal debate on social topics such as this one, creating platforms of free expression and equal opportunity for discussion, to avoid outbursts like this happening again.

Out of all of the lessons learned through the events of the Google Memo Scandal, the most important is the recognition that more needs to be done to support gender equality in the workplace. How is your industry contributing to the change?

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