Google on Monday fired a software engineer who wrote an internal memo that questioned the company’s diversity efforts and argued that the low number of women in technical positions was a result of biological differences instead of discrimination.
The memo, called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” angered many in Silicon Valley because it relied on certain gender stereotypes — like the notion that women are less interested in high-stress jobs because they are more anxious — to rationalize the gender gap in the tech industry. The memo quickly spread outside the company, as other Google employees railed against many of its assumptions.
In a companywide email, Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, said portions of the memo had violated the company’s code of conduct and crossed the line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
The memo put the company in a bind. On one hand, Google has long promoted a culture of openness, with employees allowed to question senior executives and even mock its strategy in internal forums. However, Google, like many other technology firms, is dealing with criticism that it has not done enough to hire and promote women and minorities.
One female Google engineer posted on Twitter upon reading the memo that she would consider leaving the company unless the human resources department took action.
In an email titled “Our Words Matter,” Mr. Pichai said that he supported the right of employees to express themselves but that the memo had gone too far.
“The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender,” Mr. Pichai wrote. “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic.’”
James Damore, the software engineer who wrote the original memo, confirmed in an email to The New York Times that he had been fired. Mr. Damore had worked at Google since 2013. He said in his memo that he had written it in the hope of having an “honest discussion” about how the company had an intolerance for ideologies that do not fit into what he believed were its left-leaning biases.
Mr. Damore, who worked on infrastructure for Google’s search product, said he believed that the company’s actions were illegal and that he would “likely be pursuing legal action.”
“I have a legal right to express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior, which is what my document does,” Mr. Damore said.
Mr. Pichai’s memo was reported earlier by Recode, and Bloomberg confirmed Mr. Damore’s dismissal.
Before being fired, Mr. Damore said, he had submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Google’s upper management was “misrepresenting and shaming me in order to silence my complaints.” He added that it was “illegal to retaliate” against an N.L.R.B. charge.
Mr. Pichai said he would be cutting short a family vacation to return to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to deal with the matter. He said the company intended to hold an all-hands meeting to discuss the issue on Thursday.