Google Memo Reverberates Across Atlanta’s Tech Community

File – In an Oct. 14, 2009 file photo a sign designates the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Three Google executives were convicted of privacy violations Wednesday Feb. 24, 2010 in Italy because juveniles posted a video online of an autistic boy being abused. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma/file)

Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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A Google software engineer was fired this week for his controversial claims about women in the tech field.

James Damore, the Google employee, outlined his opinions in a 10-page memo that women are more emotional and more agreeable, which “may explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas” and “have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men.”

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The memo also said women have more neuroticism, which “may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs.” Damore concluded that biological differences, not discriminatory practices, were to blame for a lack of diversity in tech.

The global leadership director of Women Who Code, Joey Rosenberg, said women often suffer from such subtle stereotypes. For example, when women attend hack-a-thons, Rosenberg said, it’s automatically assumed they’re in the marketing department, not engineers.

“As a leader in the tech space, I think it’s always great when you see a large company saying hang on, this actually isn’t okay for us, and we actually value diversity and inclusion,” Rosenberg said.

Atlanta’s tech industry is growing so fast it doesn’t have enough people to fill positions, Rosenberg said. This forces companies to look at more diverse hires. But, she said, diversity isn’t simply “checking the boxes,” but it’s about a person being able to bring their whole selves to the table.

She said while the memo is unfortunate, it’s a good opportunity to address hiring women in the tech field. Michael Street, the co-founding director of Atlanta-based Black Men Code, agreed the memo is an opportunity.

Street said he doesn’t believe Damore should be silenced. The issue of whether Damore’s firing is suppression of speech has been a point of criticism. Street, himself, said respecting different viewpoints allows for more teachable moments.

He stressed it’s time to step away from the narrative of diversity in the workplace and actually show the value. To Street, diversity helps remove blind spots in a company’s strategy, which can lead to more money.

“Google has the ability to do the financial tracking to do a real cost-benefit analysis,” Street said. “And a projected analysis of where diversity’s going to take them as a company.”

Vicki Hamilton, president of the Atlanta-based organization Women in Technology, has owned her own tech business for seven years. She said when she first began in the tech world, she faced strong bias as an African-American woman.

“Are you the token?” Hamilton said of attitudes she encountered. “Are you the one that is just sitting here to occupy a chair or to help us meet a number?”

She said the subject of diversity is no longer limited to the male/female context, but now spans across all races, sexual orientations, and generational gaps. And while her opinions are respected now because of her experience, she argued there’s still a long way to go.