In the 19th and early 20th century, biological determinism (the idea that human behaviour is innate) was commonly viewed as a perfectly complete explanation for much of the phenomena that is human behaviour. Apparently unbeknownst to James Damore, the former engineer suing Google for wrongful termination, science has long since determined that human behaviour is much more complex than the reductionist way he views it. Damore, however, pigheadedly insists that gender identity is innate and consistent across cultures, and somehow relates to the inability of women to find equal representation within engineering and other tech-oriented fields, including at Google. His memo to Google identifies a series of traits that women present more so than men, including “openness,” “extroversion,” “agreeableness,” and “neuroticism,” but Danmore fails to adequately explain why he believes these traits are not the products of socialization and culturally enforced gender roles. He cites only one study, that says such traits appear in early childhood, which, incidentally, is a time where humans have already begun to understand their socially proscribed gender identities and roles. Regardless of your stance on the role of nature vs. nurture and gender, Damore doesn’t explain why these traits are an impediment to women’s success in tech. Clearly, if Google is running programs to encourage women in tech, they have the drive and the desire to be there.
Damore has accused Google of discriminating against conservative white men like himself via its affirmative action programs designed to ensure greater female representation, as well as that of underrepresented ethnicities. Ultimately, he sued them for firing him as a result of his political preferences, which is a protected ground in the State of California. Yet, Damore’s memo stumbled into another protected ground: discrimination based on gender. As Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in his blog post responding to the controversy, “portions of (Damore’s) memo (violated) our Code of Conduct and (crossed) the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” which is to say that Damore violated the rights of other people in his workplace. He was not fired for his general political views, but for expressing a specific and highly sexist opinion. As Pichai put it “People must feel free to express dissent” and “many points raised in the memo … are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics — we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions”, but it needs to be in line with the Code of Conduct set out by Google and the legal system of the state of California.
The problem Google has with Damore is not that he is a “conservative white man.” Rather, to put it succinctly, the problem is that he is, in fact, an asshole.