Should Google Memo Guy Have Been Fired?

Maybe. But, doing that won’t help Google’s Gender Problem

Emma Lindsay
Aug 9, 2017 · 5 min read

So, recently some guy got fired at Google for wondering aloud if women were innately worse at tech than men. As soon as news of sexist google memo broke, we all knew it was only a matter of time until the author got the axe. Frankly, I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t get fired just because I’d be curious to see something different happen. For once.

But… no. Google’s all about originality of thought, unless you have one of the FORBIDDEN THOUGHTS. Then you can go fuck yourself.

(Note: according to Google friends I know, the internal situation is “more complex” than is publicly known, but they don’t want to go into the deetailz cuz confidentiality. Whatever, I don’t work at Google, maybe this guy was a real shit sandwich — but 99% of corporate cultures have zero tolerance for unpopular thoughts, so I’m just going to assume Google does also, while owning that I might be being slightly unfair.)

Anyway. As a woman in tech, I do have some sympathy for the potential damage done by that memo. But… what was that damage again? Let’s recap that briefly, because once a thought becomes FORBIDDEN often we lose track of why it was forbidden in the first place.

The reason it’s bad is cuz of something called stereotype threat. If you give a bunch of women a math test, and say “women tend to perform worse on this math test” they end up performing worse. When there’s a stereotype about a group of people, if someone belongs to that group and you remind them about that stereotype, they’re more likely to succumb to the stereotype. So, when Google guy sent this memo, he probably tanked the performances of all the female employees that read it, and I can see the argument for why that’s a fireable offense.

On the other hand, I would’t have fired this guy (assuming the memo was the only thing he did.) I would have taken him aside and explained to him about stereotype threat. However, none of my employees not even a male one would ever have said that around me. Why? Because you don’t insult the person who hired you. That’s not even a rule, btw, that’s an instinct, and one I wasn’t aware people had until I started hiring people. When I’m given power over people in companies (say, by being team lead) sometimes I get disrespectful underlings. However, when I ran my own consultancy and was directly in charge of the hiring and firing, no one *ever* treated me with disrespect, not even the outside contractors.

Which makes me think… the man who wrote this memo probably doesn’t have a woman above him with the power to fire him. Sure, he may have a female “boss” somewhere up the line, but the fact that he felt entitled to even ask that question means he thinks all the real decisions are being made by men. And, he’s probably right.

Part of the reason I could be lenient with a hypothetical employee is because I’m a woman. Men can’t be lenient on this issue because they don’t actually understand the problem. They can’t take this employee aside and explain about stereotype threat because they don’t understand how stereotype threat works. They don’t know what to say to their female employees to help bring their work performance back up because they don’t understand what they’re going through. So, instead, they just have to eliminate people for #BadThoughts and hope that fixes the problem. It won’t.

The underlying reason women perform worse under stereotype threat is they’re secretly afraid they might be worse. Stereotype threat is especially bad for young or inexperienced women because they haven’t proven themselves to themselves yet. I actually had a coworker say a similar thing to me at my first job, he sent me all these articles on how women were worse at math and science than men, and it really freaked me out. Now, I understand that men who do this are usually threatened by my performance, attracted to me, or both. (Hey, as long as we’re airing our “forbidden thoughts” I might as well air a few of mine.) It doesn’t really freak me out anymore.

Cuz, there is a little bit of a type of men who tend to do this. They tend to be young, they tend to be insecure about their own technical performance, and they tend to not be getting laid. Men who *almost never* do this are senior engineers with wives, and especially ones with daughters. When you start to notice these types of trends, you realize these kinds of statements say more about the men who utter them than the women who hear them, and then they lose their power.

Anyway. Why wouldn’t I have fired the guy? Well, a) I wouldn’t have needed to, because I have the understanding to help my female employees recover quickly from their performance loss, and b) I feel bad firing someone for voicing a question I have myself wondered.

Because, I have wondered it. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious question given the gender disparity — are women just worse at math and science than men? Ultimately, the conclusion I came to is, even if women are worse on average, this doesn’t dictate any individual’s performance, and you should judge everyone on an individual basis. However, there are also many, many cultural factors impeding female progress in tech. Did I mention I was sexually assaulted by an ex-coworker once at a networking event? Bet that doesn’t happen to male engineers too often, and let me tell you, a sexual assault will really fucks up your morale. Anyway, if after addressing all the cultural shit, the numbers end up being like, 60/40 male/female, I’d buy ok, maybe women are a little worse at tech on average. The 95/5 ratio that is more representative of my career, however, is clearly way too skewed.

Additionally… a lot of men in tech like to flatter themselves that what they’re doing is SO HARD. It’s really not. In fact, this is a particular problem at Google where they have a reputation for hiring overqualified people to do menial tasks. I actually remember myself, after graduating from MIT, how boring most of the work I was doing in the real world was. I thought about all those people who had dropped out of computer science in school because CS was “too hard,” and what a shame it was because those people could have had perfectly fine careers in industry. Next time some man says “maybe women are’t as good as men in tech as men are” just be like, “they’re probably still smart enough to do your job.”

Anyhow. At the end of the day, firing this guy is not going to do anything to improve the larger culture at Google. It’s not going to make all the women secretly wondering if their gender is making them dumb stop worrying about that, it’s not going to change the mindset of male engineers who secretly agreed with the memo writer, and it is in no way a step towards addressing the larger cultural impediments toward female success in STEM.

Do you need help from a politically incorrect, outspoken feminist in dealing with your horrible sexist culture? If so, feel free to email I don’t normally publish my email cuz of da stalkrz, but this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

Emma Lindsay

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