By Geoffrey Smith
August 8, 2017

Good morning,

Google has fired James Damore, the software engineer whose internal memo about diversity and gender equality (or lack of it) created such a storm over the weekend.

CEO Sundar Pichai said in an e-mail to staff that Damore’s views “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” (You can read the full letter here.)

It’s a mistake that the company could live to regret.

I don’t say this in defense of Mr. Damore’s opinions. You can read the memo here and draw your own conclusions about that. But using executive power to shut down debate – especially at a company that prides itself on its openness – is both counterproductive and misguided.

For one thing, it supports Damore’s thesis about Google not being able to stomach open debate. Arguments need to be won, not stifled. Firing someone for merely expressing an opinion is the embodiment of intolerance. It undermines any claim to ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’.

Secondly, on a tactical level, it may well mean that Google has lost control of the process. Instead of allowing the matter to run its course through internal forums, it has created a martyr who will now be free to parade his victimhood on a much bigger stage. Damore told the New York Times he will “likely be pursuing legal action.” He’ll have the court of public opinion, at the very least. It’s a moot point whether he’ll make it to any other court, since non-union or “at will” employees can be fired for a wide array of reasons that have nothing to do with performance. But it seems a fair bet that he’ll be heartily backed to sue by conservative groups.

None of this is to deny the existence of gender pay gaps or glass ceilings, which are demonstrably real issues, both at Google and in the wider economy. And it’s hard to escape an impression that this is an over-reaction born out of weakness. If Google had done a better job of promoting women in the past, it would not now be in a position where its female staff feel like this is the last straw and where it has to resort to extreme measures to calm their outrage and defend its reputation.

But when Zeus reaches for his thunderbolt instead of replying, it’s because he’s wrong.

News below.

Geoffrey Smith
@geoffreytsmith
geoffrey.smith@fortune.com

 

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