Google has fired a computer engineer who caused a storm in Silicon Valley by asserting that the gender gap among technology workers was down to biological differences between men and women.
James Damore, a Harvard university graduate who had worked at Google for four years, ignited a sexism row last week when he distributed a 10-page manifesto that accused the company of “political bias” against conservatives and said initiatives to encourage female programmers were “unfair”.
On Tuesday Damore revealed he had been dismissed by Google for “perpetuating gender stereotypes” and said he was considering legal action against the company. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, offered him a job and accused Google of censorship.
Damore’s manifesto had accused the company of a “left bias” and a “politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence”.
It said the yawning gap in jobs and pay for male and female computer experts was partly due to biological causes such as “men’s higher drive for status” and women being “more prone to anxiety” rather than any biases and called for an end to the company’s initiatives to promote minorities.
Google employees publicly criticised the memo but Damore said he had received many private messages of support from staff who felt the same way.
Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, said that while parts of the memo were fair to debate, much of it violated the company’s code of conduct. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he said in an email to staff.
The controversy has come at a sensitive time for Google, which is under investigation by the US government after accusations of gender pay inequality, and has been forced to hand over pay records.
Assange, who has repeatedly attacked Google over privacy issues, tweeted: “Women and men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back.”
Damore said he was exploring all possible legal remedies against the company.
Debate over the treatment of women in the male-dominated tech industry has raged for months. Claims of persistent sexual harassment in the ranks of Uber and of several venture capital firms led to management shakeups.
Management at the largest tech firms, including Google, have publicly committed to diversifying their workforces, although the percentage of women in engineering and management roles remains low at many companies.