Google’s Dilemma

Unless you were living under a rock this week, you probably heard about Google’s dilemma. James Damore, google employee, wrote a memo about gender diversity. It went viral inside and outside the company. Google’s dilemma wasn’t the existence of the memo, but whether and how to respond.

Google's dilemma

Google’s dilemma

The Memo

Mr. Damore writes that he supports diversity and inclusion. He’s aware that sexism exists. He doesn’t endorse the use of stereotypes. So far so good. He says we need an honest discussion of his claim that biologically determined traits explain the under-representation of women at Google. Damore’s list of these traits includes:

  • Women are more oriented towards feelings and aesthetics than ideas. (Now there’s an idea, albeit an unsubstantiated one)
  • Women have higher anxiety and lower stress tolerance. (Excuse me, but according to the FBI, women in the U.S. commit only 14.7% of all homicides. Pssst, men commit the remaining 85.3%. Side note: I can do the math. Seems to me, these men, as compared to women, have greater difficulty tolerating stressful emotions.)

Mr. Damore doesn’t substantiate most of his claims. There is, however, abundant research delineating gender based differences. My own research identifies women leaders as more:

  • Collaborative
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Supportive
  • Community oriented

Unlike Mr. Damore, we attribute these differences to multiple factors including culture, upbringing, stereotypes, etc. There is simply no sound scientific proof that trait differences between men and women are biologically determined.

Anti-Diversity? Maybe Not

Damore says

I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

I’ve heard these things from men as well. We’ll address the festering volcano later.

Damore states that feminism has made great progress in freeing women from gender roles. Men, on the other hand, are still tied to limited gender roles. He suggests the gender gap will shrink if we allow men to be more feminine.

I don’t find Mr. Damore’s memo anti-diversity, which is how most news coverage describes it. Damore makes some ill-informed and unsubstantiated claims. But he’s raising issues we need to talk about more openly. He also voices some good ideas, such as encouraging men to get outside their own gender stereotype box.

Google’s Response - Missed Opportunity?

After much deliberation and consultation with his senior team, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, fired Damore. I don’t question Pichai’s decision.

I do, however, wonder about the opportunities Google, and therefor the world, missed. True gender equality is one of the many divides that plagues the United States and many other countries. Imagine the whole world watching, on the internet of course, as Google hosts an open conversation. Imagine people listening to understand, rather than to prove each other wrong. Imagine exploring, without judgment, what lies below our beliefs, our hopes and dreams. Imagine Google showing us it can be done, and how to do it.

I don’t fault Mr. Pichai for not taking this risk. I just wish he had.

Fears and Misconceptions

People are afraid. It’s part of the human condition. Our brains scan for threats. When they hit our radar, fear rises and triggers our fight, flight, freeze response. Get the cues right and survive. Miss them and die.

Threats to our work, are threats to our survival. No money means no food, water, shelter. Survival is a biological propensity that men and women share.

Losing professional status also threatens our self esteem. It’s natural for men to fear these losses. But they may have made an important miscalculation. Possibly out of fear. You see, more women in the work place does not equal less work for men. More working women means a stronger economy. A stronger economy means more jobs, not less.

Jobs are changing because we, mostly men, invented automation, robots, artificial intelligence. We reduced our need for coal. It’s called progress. Women in the workplace, at Google and elsewhere, are not a threat. We are part of the solution.

Festering Volcano

Fear of loss - loss of job, loss of status - can turn to anger and often does. Unresolved anger can boil over. If it’s forced underground, a volcano develops. Volcanoes explode.

Did Google push the volcano underground? What better outcomes might emerge if instead…

Google creates the psychological space to start a different kind of conversation? What if we use our well-developed pre-frontal cortex to speak and listen? What if we muster our less well-developed and much needed compassion to understand each other’s fears, hopes and struggles? What if we engage in honest conversation?

Mr. Damore, be warned, honest means facing our fears, yours and mine…together.

Suggested reads - Dear Mr. Google Manifesto

Epic Response from Chemical Engineer and Corporate VP, Fortune 200 Company

For a different take on whether Damore’s memo is anti-diversity, visit The Atlantic 

I invite you to use this space for an open, respectful, honest and compassionate conversation. Did Google do the right thing? Did they miss an opportunity? Something else?



Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

Google's Dilemma - Right Response or Missed Opportunity