Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Should Google Have Fired the Engineer Who Said Women Aren’t Interested in High-Stress Jobs?

I’m writing a quick follow-up about the Google engineer who was fired for writing a memo that questioned the company’s diversity initiatives. While many on Twitter are celebrating the firing, others are saying Google proved the memo writer’s point — that it can’t tolerate dissent. Should questioning corporate diversity policy be a firing offense? Is the reputational damage of a Twitter firestorm so great that employees should be shown the door for an internal email that leaks?

In a normal company, Damore’s letter would no doubt be a fireable offense. But Google is no ordinary company — not by a long short. To the contrary, Google prides itself on an unshakable willingness to challenge conventional wisdom — whether that means leaving China on principle, doing its IPO via auction, or bankrolling seemingly crazy R&D projects.

Indeed, Google’s founders are contrarian to their core. They often embrace ideas many of their competitors would sprint from. (Their original “founders’ letter” begins thus: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”)

I understand why Google did what it did. After all, it’s currently being investigated by the Labor Department for paying women less than it pays men.

But firing a troublemaker is the easy thing to do. Using this controversy as a teachable moment — convening a forum on diversity; writing op-eds; leading the charge on transparency in HR — would have been the right thing to do. It also would have been in keeping with the best traditions of being Google-y.

Addendum (8/9/2017): Success!

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