04 September 2017

Backreaction: “Outraged about the Google diversity memo? I want you to think about it”

I also have to spell out that I am writing this as a European who now works in Europe again. For me, the most relevant contribution to equal opportunity is affordable higher education and health insurance, as well as governmentally paid maternity and parental leave. Without that, socially disadvantaged groups remain underrepresented, and companies continue to fear for revenue when hiring women in their fertile age. That, in all fairness, is an American problem not even Google can solve.

But one also doesn’t solve a problem by yelling “harassment” each time someone asks to discuss whether a diversity effort is indeed effective. I know from my own experience, and a poll conducted at Google confirms, that Damore’s skepticism about current practices is widespread.

It’s something we should discuss. It’s something Google should discuss. Because, for better or worse, this case has attracted much attention. Google’s handling of the situation will set an example for others.

Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies. But however imperfect his attempt, he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?

Sabine Hossenfelder

I have stayed away from this controversy because I’ve been on vacation as it happened and I haven’t personally read the so-called manifesto. But my opinion on the case largely agrees with the paragraphs above. The memo should be seen as an opportunity for discussion, not an excuse to silence opinions. Damore should have been put through an internal program to better understand the company culture, the need for diversity and the points of view of other employees. Instead his firing managed to create the adverse effect, polarizing the issue even further – he was quickly turned into an inadvertent figurehead for alt-right ideas. And people wonder how Trump managed to get elected.

The decision looks even more suspicious after recent reports that a Google critic was dismissed from a think tank funded by the tech giant, and that Google pressured Forbes into removing a critical story a couple of years ago. As always, with great power comes great corruption.

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