MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (CN) – The Google engineer who sent a controversial internal memo about how biological differences between men and women are why more men work in computer science fields has been fired by the company.
James Damore, who confirmed to Bloomberg that he was the author of the memo, was fired as a result of infringing Google’s code of conduct, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
“We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it,” Pichai said. “However, portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
Damore told Bloomberg he was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes” and hinted he will take legal action against the Silicon Valley heavyweight.
The engineer also told The New York Times he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board prior to his firing, and said the company illegally retaliated against him.
Damore wrote the internal memo to “start a conversation” about whether Google’s diversity programs are fair and for the good of the company. He wrote that biological differences between men and women mean men are better suited to become computer engineers, and any attempt to foster a more even ratio of male to female employees will be difficult and ultimately bad for the company.
Presently, Google’s employment roster is 69 percent male, and its technical crew is estimated to be about 80 percent male.
The company is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for systematically underpaying female employees. The department sued Google in January, saying the company was withholding salary information. The case is still pending.
Damore’s memo and subsequent firing have ignited a fierce debate online about the tension between free speech and discrimination.
Eric Weinstein, a venture capitalist at Thiel Capital, criticized Google for firing Damore in a post on Twitter.
“Dear Google, Stop teaching my daughter that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR.”
There was pushback against Weinstein’s tweet, with several commentators saying there is no scientific evidence that demonstrates biological differences between men and women make either sex more adept at math, science, engineering and computer science.
Silicon Valley has had its fair share of diversity problems recently, with several studies showing that the composition of most of the major tech firms are overwhelmingly male and demographically dominated by white and Asian people.
Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber, was ousted after accusations the company’s culture was rife with sexual harassment and blatant misogyny. Ellen Pao sued a venture capital firm where she was previously employed, claiming gender discrimination.
Nevertheless, several commentators said Damore’s dismissal went too far, noting that Google’s vibrancy as a company is dependent on free thinking and an open marketplace of ideas.
In his post, Damore indicated Google’s corporate culture stifles the type of expression necessary for the company to flourish.
“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” Damore wrote.
But many present and former Google employees said there are limits to free speech, and castigating female engineers crosses the line.
“One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way,” Ari Balogh, Google vice president of engineering, wrote in an internal memo obtained by Business Insider. “That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.”