Ex-Google Engineer Says Gender Memo Began on 12-Hour Flight
(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Google engineer James Damore says problems with the company’s culture and diversity programs prompted him to write the memo on gender differences that ignited a social media firestorm and led to his dismissal.
Damore, who went from employee to outcast upon the memo’s circulation, said in his first public comments that he penned the document out of a love for Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Damore was a software engineer at the search giant’s Mountain View headquarters until Monday afternoon, when he said he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” His missive -- published internally to Google employees late last week -- argued that conservative viewpoints are suppressed at the company and biological differences explain in part why more men work in software engineering than women.
“A lot of this came from me seeing some of the problems with our culture at Google, where a lot of people who weren’t in this group-think just felt totally isolated and alienated,” he told YouTube chat-show host Stefan Molyneux in an interview posted online. “There were many people that came to me and said, ‘yeah I’m thinking of leaving Google because this is getting so bad.”’
“I really thought this was a problem Google had to fix,” he added.
Damore had stayed largely silent since the weekend, only confirming to a few news outlets including Bloomberg why he believed he was fired and that he was currently exploring legal remedies. In the video, the software engineer revealed he created the document -- started on a 12-hour flight during a work trip to China -- after attending a “secretive” diversity training session that rubbed him the wrong way.
“There was a lot of just shaming: ‘no, you can’t say that. That’s sexist.’ There’s just so much hypocrisy in a lot of the things that they were saying,” he said on the video. “I decided to create the document to clarify my thoughts.”
In a second interview, posted on YouTube Wednesday morning, Damore specified that he believed the diversity policies he heard discussed at the meeting were “illegal” and that teams at Google under pressure to increase diversity among their workers made hiring decisions based on candidates’ race or gender. A Google spokesperson disputed the characterization of the meeting as “secretive” and said the company is transparent about its diversity policies and practices.
Many in Silicon Valley denounced Damore’s arguments, including Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, who said Monday in a memo to employees that the engineer’s manifesto violated Google’s Code of Conduct and that suggesting “a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
But others – mainly right-wing groups – agreed with his description of a “politically correct monoculture” and in particular, saw Google’s decision to fire him for voicing an unpopular opinion as proving exactly his point. Julian Assange tweeted that WikiLeaks would hire Damore, adding “Censorship is for losers.” Gab.ai, a far-right social network, also offered Damore a job, calling his writing “a beautiful work of art.” Other supporters raised more than $5,000 on a crowdfunding campaign to help Damore fight his firing.
Damore’s publicly available biographical details, mostly from his LinkedIn profile, are not all true: He says that he has a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Systems Biology, which his supporters frequently noted as a credential for him to talk about the biological differences between men and women. A Harvard spokeswoman said Damore only completed a master’s in systems biology, a field that uses quantitative methods to study biological systems such as cells and organisms. A spokesman for the University of Illinois confirmed he has a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular and cellular biology from 2010. An online resume says he was a competitive chess player and held research positions at Harvard, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
An online CV and Facebook profile suggest Damore hails from suburban Chicago. His Facebook page only has a few snippets: an album of charcoal sketches, including portraits of actors Will Smith and Keira Knightley, and posts such as one from 2013 saying how excited he was to be starting a job at Google in Mountain View soon.
Damore, who said he landed his job working on image and video search at Google by doing well in a coding competition, didn’t go into his future plans apart from acknowledging a number of job offers. He did admit the scale of the social-media backlash had taken him by surprise, conceding it was a “blind spot” of his and that he was still struggling to understand the severity of the public reaction. Damore also said he was surprised by the size of his support.
“It still hasn’t truly hit me, the enormity of it all,” he said.
He reflected on how Silicon Valley culture discourages the airing of right-leaning sentiments.
“Definitely those who aren’t on the left feel like they need to stay in the closet and not really reveal themselves,” Damore said in his interview. Those people “actually mask and say things they don’t believe.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Huet in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robert Fenner at email@example.com, Robin Ajello, Molly Schuetz