Google Engineer's Firing Sparks Heated Political Debate on Diversity

Google's firing of software engineer James Damore has inspired many reactions across the political spectrum including a New York Times columnist's call for company CEO Sundar Pichai to resign. .

Diversity Debate Rages

The controversy sparked by former Google engineer James Damore's outspoken memo on gender diversity issues at the company shows no signs of abating.

Instead, it appears to have become a surrogate of sorts for the broader culture war that is going on in the country between the right and the left on a variety of political, ideological and social issues—not all of the directly related to Damore's firing.

Many, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, viewed Damore's memo as propagating offensive and age-old gender stereotypes.  But a growing number of people have come out in support of Damore and have faulted Google for firing the engineer for what they see as an expression of his legitimate concerns over the company's preferential treatment of female employees.

On Friday, New York Times columnist David Brooks called for Pichai's resignation for his allged mishandling of the issue. Brooks faulted Pichai for grossly mischaracterizing what Damore had actually said and squelching the engineers right to free speech.

Like a growing number of people, Brooks described Damore's memo as scientifically fair and accurate when he asserted there are certain inherent genetic differences between the genders.

Damore had claimed that it was these factors rather than overt discrimination that were the primary reason why 80 percent of Google's tech employees are male. He claimed that Google in its effort to increase the number of women in technology positions was actually giving them preferential treatment instead.

Brooks acknowledged why the memo might have created legitimate tension especially for women at Google. But he faulted Pichai, Google diversity officer Danielle Brown and the media for portraying the memo as a misogynistic screed, when it was not.

"The mob that hounded Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses," he argued in faulting Pichai for not handling the crisis with the tact it deserved.

On Aug. 11 the Wall Street Journal published an essay written by Damore restating his view that he was fired because his effort to discuss differences between men and women "couldn’t be tolerated in company’s ‘ideological echo chamber.'"

Meanwhile, Pichai himself canceled a scheduled all-hands town-hall meeting Thursday to discuss gender diversity issues at the company after several employees apparently expressed concern for their personal safety.  In a memo, that Variety quoted, Pichai said the employees were worried they may be 'outed' for asking questions at the meeting.

The concerns came reportedly after political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos posted on his Facebook page, the Twitter profiles of several Google employees who had submitted questions for the town hall. "Look at who works for Google. It all make sense now," Yiannopolous wrote in posting the profiles.

Elsewhere, others chimed in on how the outcry at Google is really a commentary on the broader discrimination against women in the high tech industry.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.