There is no doubt that James Danmore, a recently-fired Google engineer, drew deep from the well of sexism when he penned his now infamous manifesto that talked about how women were biologically not suited for engineering jobs and diversity policies were unfair. Peppered with Neanderthal-like stances on gender—women prefer dealing with people while men prefer dealing with things, women are predisposed to neuroticism, etc—Danmore’s missive read like an exposé of the prosaic sexist mind. So, when Danielle Brown, the company’s vice-president of diversity, integrity and governance, wrote to fellow Google employees that “it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages,” she had the point clear—Google didn’t subscribe to misogyny and sexism. CEO Sundar Pichai further buttressedthis, writing, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
Where Google might have lost the plot is in firing Danmore. The company’s engagement with Danmore should have ended with making it clear that it didn’t stand with him and found his thoughts offensive. Handing him the pink slip instead is likely to project Google as an intolerant company, that will not just denounce views that it finds abhorrent, but also punish a person for airing them. To be sure, toxic views are likely to vitiate the work place and affect employee morale. But the company should have known better to delineate between toxic and Stone Age views. By firing Danmore, it has lost the chance to meaningfully engage with a view other employees likely harbour but don’t publicise. Conservatives who have called for a nuanced reading of Danmore’s letter believe Google doesn’t really value diversity; what it wants is uniformity. And if Danmore’s firing is largely perceived by its conservative employees as that, then it would have failed the ideals Brown wrote about: “Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values”.