Recently, a male employee at Google wrote a memo, whose focus appeared to be a criticism of the company’s recent attempts to bring more women and minorities into the overwhelmingly-male tech culture there.
A few days ago, social media exploded with commentary about the piece. In it, the employee – we’ll call him James, because that’s his name – wrote about why he believed a mostly-male culture made sense. He explained that women can’t handle the stress of the job and are generally unfit for the work.
Two days ago, James was fired from Google. There was a statement from the brand-new head of HR – we’ll call her Danielle, because that’s her name – stating that these views were not consistent with the culture they are trying to build at Google.
I decided to read it for myself. The statement from Google doesn’t link to it, nor do many of the mainstream media outlets which covered the story. But it was easy enough to find on Reddit.
James has some unsubstantiated, erroneous assumptions in his memo. For example, he thinks that there is no pay gap between men and women doing the same job.
But his memo was not hateful. Of course, I don’t know James. But judging only by his written words, he seemed frustrated and concerned. He claimed to be liberal and compassionate and it would certainly be possible to question those statements, but they had a sincere tone. He seemed to try to word his memo thoughtfully, carefully, and recognized that he might have his own biases.
Of course, I have my own biases, just like all of us. And since my views are diffferent from James’s, it makes it easy for me to see where he went “wrong”, where he should have put in a little more time, research and thought. His words, although misguided, made him seem like the kind of guy who would at least sit down to talk about it, to listen to (and maybe even hear) the other side.
I don’t know James. And I don’t know Danielle. But, from the outside looking in, I think that Google jumped too fast to fire him. The way to change a culture is not necessarily to purge dissenting views. Groups are stronger when we have calm and cordial debate of differing viewpoints. Understanding James might be the key to understanding other biased players at Google. And understanding might be a much better way to influence Google and non-Google players to have empathy and practice compassion.
Maybe Danielle met with James personally, listened to his views and decided that he was attempting to start a coup she/they could not allow. I hope it went like that. I hope Google assessed James as an individual and identified whether he was really trying to understand what was going on around him, or whether he was just trying to stir a disruptive pot of rancor and dissatisfaction.
James, I hope you really do have compassion for “others”. I wish Google had first taken you under its wing for a thoughtful discussion of why you felt undermined when they attempt to help others. I hope that they work with remaining Googlers – especially those who feel similarly marginalized by the cultural changes – to have those thoughtful conversations.
Everyone else, I hope we can all have some compassion for James. He lost his job at one of the world’s most-coveted workplaces. A place where he obviously thought he could speak freely about his concerns. And he’s a human being, who will likely have mixed feelings about how it all went down.
James deserves our compassion because he hasn’t yet learned what so many of us have. That striving to gain rights and privileges… Expecting a seat at the table… Insisting that power centers (like the management at Google) give a boost to the currently disadvantaged… These things don’t take away from James’s ability to succeed as an individual. Instead, they make us ALL stronger, more capable, and better suited to do the next remarkable things.
(I also want us all to have compassion for Danielle, who arrived at Google only to make a tough, tough decision. Nobody wants to have to do that during their first few days on the job. Let’s cut her some slack too. I used Danielle and James’s first names here because they are both everyday people who are just out there trying to do their best. Let’s just assume that neither one of them WANTS to be reviled.)