Controversy Over Gender Differences and Free Speech at Google


In August 2017, Google executives found themselves in a difficult position. An internal memo written by a disgruntled software engineer, James Damore, had just gone viral. In this memo, Damore claimed that the relatively small number of women in the tech industry was partly due to biological factors, and that many of Google’s diversity efforts were therefore counterproductive. The contents of this memo were offensive to many (and thus were having a negative impact on the overall workplace environment), but the executives were aware that the wrong reaction to it would at least partially vindicate Damore’s claims about the lack of open discussion at Google. In the end, after two days of controversy, Google leadership decided to fire Damore on the grounds that he had violated the company’s code of conduct. This case gives students an opportunity to explore the numerous issues raised by Damore’s memo and the controversy surrounding it. Did Google handle this case properly? Was firing Damore the right thing to do? How could the situation have been handled more effectively?

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