Google CEO slams memo on gender; fired employee files a labor complaint

A former Google engineer who was fired over a memo he wrote about gender differences says he is exploring all his legal options and has already filed a labor complaint over his treatment.

James Damore, whose memo over the weekend caused an uproar online, said in an email that he was terminated late Monday for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” He said he considers his firing illegal because he had already filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The board declined to comment.

A filing by Damore with the board Monday alleged he was subjected to “coercive statements” while at Google.

Google — which is owned by Alphabet Inc. — declined to comment on the matter, but Chief Executive Sundar Pichai denounced Damore’s memo.

In an email Monday, Pichai denounced the memo for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” and said he was cutting short a vacation to hold a town hall with staff on Thursday.

Damore’s widely shared memo, titled “Google's Ideological Echo Chamber,” criticized Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for “alienating conservatives.”

Prior to Pichai’s response, Google's just-hired head of diversity, Danielle Brown, responded with her own memo, saying that Google is “unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success.” She said change is hard and “often uncomfortable.”

But Damore does have a fan in Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks co-founder denounced Google’s moves and publicly offered Damore a job, saying on Twitter that “censorship is for losers.”

The battling messages come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men. Uber's CEO recently lost his job amid accusations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination.

Leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women. But diversity numbers are barely changing.

Damore’s memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women “prefer jobs in social and artistic areas,” while more men “may like coding because it requires systemizing.”

The memo, which was shared on the tech blog Gizmodo, says biological differences between men and women are the reason why “we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.”

Although the engineer's views were broadly and publicly criticized online, they echo the 2005 statements by then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who said the reason there are fewer female scientists at top universities is partly “innate” gender differences.

Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services for Catalyst, a nonprofit advocacy group for women in the workplace, said the engineer's viewpoints show “how ingrained, entrenched and harmful gender-based stereotypes truly are.”

“It's much easier for some to point to ‘innate biological differences’ than to confront the unconscious biases and obstacles that get in the way of a level playing field,” Stellings wrote in an email.

Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Of its workers, 56% are white and 35% are Asian, while Hispanic and black employees make up 4% and 2%, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report.

Tech companies say they are trying to improve diversity by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory “unconscious bias” training sessions for existing employees.

But, as the employee memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

Nicholas Cheng contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from James Damore and information about his filing with the National Labor Relations Board.

10:10 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Julian Assange.

This article was originally published at 6:55 a.m.

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