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Google executive rebukes employee's memo about women

Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press

When it comes to why there are so few women in tech, Silicon Valley is in the midst of an ideological battle.

The latest conflict is at Google, where a male engineer – who has since been fired – suggested that women don't get ahead in tech jobs because of biological differences.

His widely shared memo, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," also criticizes Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for "alienating conservatives."

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Google's just-hired head of diversity, Danielle Brown, responded with her own memo, saying that Google is "unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success." She said change is hard and "often uncomfortable."

The dueling memos come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men, while Uber's CEO recently lost his job amid accusations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination.

Leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women. But diversity numbers are barely changing.

The Google employee memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" while more men "may like coding because it requires systemizing."

The memo, which was shared on the tech blog Gizmodo, attributes biological differences between men and women to the reason why "we don't have 50 per cent representation of women in tech and leadership."

James Damore, the engineer who wrote the memo, confirmed his dismissal from Google, saying that he had been fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes," in an email on Monday.

Damore said he is exploring all possible legal remedies.

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Google said it could not talk about individual employee cases.

Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Fifty-six per cent of its workers are white and 35 per cent are Asian, while Hispanic and Black employees make up 4 per cent and 2 per cent of its workforce, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report .

Tech companies say they are trying, by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory "unconscious bias" training sessions for existing employees.

But, as the employee memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

With files from Reuters

U.S. President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau have launched a program to help boost women in business. The United States-Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders was unveiled in a roundtable at the White House with women business executives.
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