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Creative Opinions: James Damore's Google Memo

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Last week, there was a great deal of smoke being blown surrounding the memo released by Google employee James Damore, which inferred that women were biologically inferior to their male counterparts when it came to computer science and coding. These wild claims and accusations were just the headlines, however. The memo itself, whilst containing some pretty morally repugnant stuff, was largely well researched and actually made a few points that should have been open for debate. Unfortunately, however, the less outrageous points made in the memo were thrown under the bus alongside Damore himself, who was unceremoniously cast aside by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who claimed that the memo was dangerous and damaging.

The social media fallout was quick and loud, with Damore becoming an instant poster boy for the far-right and a pariah for the far-left. There were, as is ever the case in these fractious times, shots from both sides of the divide, but it's now, a week later, that the dust has settled, that we can truly view the memo, its contents, its author and what it means for the wider gender debate in tech, in an unbiased light. I have already made my own feelings on the memo and Damore's sacking clear, but in the interest of balance, I reached out a to a few industry insiders this week to gauge their opinions on the subject.

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James Damore

Creative Opinions

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Anne Cantelo is Founder and MD of Onyx, a business communications and PR consultancy, which specialises in the technology sector both in the UK and the US. Anne previously led a number of government funded initiatives to encourage more women into tech, including CC4G, now known as TechFutureGirls, which aims to change the image of IT careers with women.

The first computer programmers were women yet the number of technology jobs now held by women is under 25%, in software development, it is only 11%. This has a number of serious economic and social consequences. The sector is struggling to recruit the skills it needs and our future is being designed by men, yet we know that women interact with technology differently to men, so it is a very serious issue and cannot be dismissed as trying to be PC. Women have long complained that they are not respected as the men are in the sector, so leave, and research has proved they’re right. In research published last year, for example, code written by women was more likely to be approved by their peers than code written by men, but only if the peers didn’t realise it was written by a woman; if their gender was identified they had a lower approval rating than the men.

So what Damore said was wrong and damaging but we also know that he is not the only person in technology with these views, the others have simply kept quiet. And we should have learned from the recent ‘shock’ election results of Brexit and Trump of the importance of ensuring that dissenting opinions are heard; living in our own echo chambers is foolish. It is only by encouraging an open debate that we are able to learn what people really think. We can then argue with them, educate them and convince them. Silencing people for their views is dangerous, undemocratic and leads to the polarisation of opinion and anger. It does not move us forward, it just gives us the temporary illusion that we have. But would I want to employ Damore? Probably not. You need people who have better reasoning skills than he’s demonstrated.

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Alex M H Smith is Founder of Basic Arts, an organisation that helps businesses become “more aligned and remarkable” so that they can capture the public’s imagination organically, without spending big on advertising.

Many people’s ideas about Damore being fired will be based on whether his opinions match their own. But this is irrelevant on either side. The real question, because this was such a public scandal, is this: which course of action would have sent the right message to the wider public? In other words, which decision would be the most effective marketing for Google?

This isn’t a cut and dried issue because, fire or retain Damore, Google would have taken a hit in both scenarios. This was a ‘no-win’ situation. However, you could argue that keeping Damore employed would have caused Google the least long term damage. This is because, as the world’s guardians of information, it’s important for Google to be a defender of free speech. So rather than firing him, I think Google should have mitigated PR damage by expressing 100% disagreement with Damore’s opinion, whilst keeping him on, arguing that they would disprove his position through action. Thus they would have protected themselves, and made an important philosophical point. Internally Damore’s position would probably have become untenable, and he’d have left voluntarily, leaving Google with minimal reputational damage and possibly a grudging respect from both sides.

As it is, Google have tied themselves in philosophical knots – as many on the internet have gleefully pointed out – and are now having their search impartiality questioned. A seed has been planted; it threatens to grow into a future demand for Google to go public with their algorithms. This is a much more threatening fate in the long term.

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Lara Groves, is Lead Creative at Impero. She is also a mentor with SheSays UK, and has taken part in “Who's Your Momma,” a programme that partners women with inspiring mentors who offer support and advice on their careers.

Please, Google, say it isn’t so. You help make my work day work out. You alert me to where I need to be. You show me what route to take to get there in time. You help me find the perfect image to sell in the ‘big idea’. You enable me and my team to get a quick-turnaround deck sorted when collaborative Keynote is having a freak-out. You help me find that reference I need when I’m up against the clock.

Yet someone amongst your numbers didn’t think I had the right to enjoy the same recognitions as a man for doing all of the above? It’s one thing to pop-up in people’s inboxes with an unsavoury opinion, but when the person hitting ‘send’ represents such an influential brand – hell, a brand that IS our inboxes – then I have to ask: in a company such as Google, how did his outdated opinions make him the right person for the job? And, worse, how many others in your number share his beliefs?”

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Sophie Kostrowski is Head of Creative at Live & Wired, the UK's first dedicated live social content agency. She also presents the breakfast show at Kerrang! Radio.

This may be shocking to so many, but to most women who have fought to be at the top in male dominated industries, we’ve met a version of this guy before. However, times are changing and I know that there are also men in the workplace willing to fight just as hard for equality. Honestly, I’m quite glad Damore wrote the report because it's another weed plucked out, I can only imagine what an arse he was to work with and completely back the decision that he was fired, people like Damore are toxic in the working environment and anyone who has prejudice like this will always look at colleagues as “less than.”

I’m glad we have moved past the point in society where we feel non-marginalised groups are allowed to devalue the abilities of marginalised groups. This is not an issue for debate anymore we just need to accept and enable equality!

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Rachel Grigg is Co-founder and Managing Director of Voodoo Park, a new London-based digital agency.

The first time I read the memo I felt really angry. The second time I felt calmer about it. My instinct was to assume that he must have just been expressing himself badly. But given his subsequent statements, clearly, that’s not the case. It’s very unfortunate that there are people with these types of opinions in the sector, and even worse that they might feel in some way entitled to express those opinions in a professional setting.

The memo was massively misguided, and he’s experienced the consequences of that. Google was right to respond, and I’m not surprised at how they’ve handled it. In the current climate, it’s hard to imagine them reacting in any other way. What did surprise me though was reading women saying they recognised some of what he was saying. His statements seemed absolutely bonkers, and completely alien in reference to anything I know to be true as a woman in the sector. Prejudice aside, he’s not a woman, therefore he has no meaningful reference point for the statements he was making.

Of course, there is a positive element to all this, as it sparks debate and keeps the issue high up the agenda. If the gender imbalance is going to be addressed we need to be having these conversations, but his dismissal is a separate issue, and the conversations around it all have carried on regardless.

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Sunaina Sinha is the only female Founder and Managing Partner of a private equity advisory business in Europe. Over 50% of her staff at Cebile Capital are female, in an industry where the average is 7%, thus paving the way for women in financial services.

Sunaina feels that whilst “Damore’s memo is clearly misguided,” he has a right to free speech and to express his views, however wrong. She adds: “Reinforcing stereotypes just defends the status quo. So how does society change? By pushing past these barriers or else we would all still be in the Victorian era with respect to women and minority rights.” Of the memo itself, she feels that “Damore’s memo espouses dangerous stereotypes and gross generalisations that are factually incorrect and deeply biased.” Going forward, she also believes that the best way to combat the bigotry and refute Damore's beliefs is to engage him “on an intellectual level.” So less shouting and righteous indignation, more debate and critical thinking!

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Maxine Benson MBE and Karen Gill MBE, the Founders of the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards, believe the gender pay gap exists for reasons other than biological:

Our recent study revealed that “being able to see what I can be” is the number one reason women in technology stay in their roles, as well as knowing their organisation is committed to, and investing in, gender parity. A lack of role models for younger girls was also found to be one of the biggest causes of the gender gap. Creating accessible role models plays a huge role in attracting and retaining the best female talent in the technology industry. This is why we launched the FDM everywoman in Technology Awards eight years ago – to unveil the women whose achievements influence those they work with and the next generation.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK. If you have any other opinions to add that you think might further fuel the debate, please do so in the comments below.

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