There's a class war going on in America. Conservatives feel suppressed and liberals feel like their country is going back in time. So this Google memo incident--ex-employee James Damore's "PC Considered Harmful" manifesto--really is a product of its time.

So let's step outside the American borders. What does the memo--and the firing of Damore--look like to British tech entrepreneurs? Would Googlegate have happened in London?

The firing, the memo, the averages, the biological differences--everyone I spoke to in the U.K. had their own nuanced opinion. Nothing was binary. The main question that this incident generates is the age-old question: nature or nurture?

Predominantly, British entrepreneurs responded that we have to look at why females are underrepresented. Which in reality, is a very similar question to what Damore was asking.

A primer on British startup culture

To understand this mindset, you need a little background on British startup culture. It's a little different. Celia Francis, CEO of Rated People, playfully comments: "If I made some of the comments I make in the U.K., in the Valley, it would be the equivalent of openly farting."

Francis adds:

"In San Francisco I've heard people with great earnestness state that male and female brains are the same and it is all society that makes for any perceived differences. Whereas in the U.K., most people would feel very comfortable agreeing that there are biological differences."

Ex-Mountain View Google employee Anne-Laure Le Cunff, now founder of Lysa Health in London, adds that Silicon Valley and the U.K. have a different approach to fostering diversity:

"The workforce in the U.K. is naturally, organically more diverse--with people coming from everywhere in Europe and beyond. The focus is on ensuring everyone benefits from the same opportunities inside the business. In the U.S., there is more proactive work going on, and programs to attract a more diverse workforce."

Although Le Cunff comments that Silicon Valley and London still has more common ground than areas of difference, and share the fundamental belief "that diverse teams help stimulate innovation and creativity."

What do British entrepreneurs think of the memo?

Some British entrepreneurs have expressed sympathy to a certain extent for Damore, stating his memo has been taken out of context. Amanda Lennon, founder of Innov8ive Minds remarks, "Go back and read the memo while imagining it was written by Amy Farrah Fowler in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory--before she became a little more socially sophisticated. It'll sound less controversial and offensive."

Francis, on the other hand, explains, "The problem with Damore's argument is that he makes a leap from men and women being biologically different--and therefore possessing different qualities on average--to women being, on average, less likely to be good software engineers or business leaders." Now that is nonsensical.

Whether the data about biological differences is right or wrong, is irrelevant (although there are scientists that think Damore's data is categorically wrong). You can have a multitude of different leaders, all with different qualities. The social and empathetic traits Damore mentions, according to Francis, "an empathic engineer can more fully understand the problem that the team is trying to solve for a customer and can also possibly do well in terms of working cooperatively in a cross functional team. These qualities are also well regarded in leadership roles where EQ is typically very valued."

It's interesting to note that it is predominantly the countries where they have less political freedom, such as China, Russia and Eastern European countries, that there is more of an equal ratio of women to men in engineering. Is this evidence for the fact that in the West, women are simply choosing to not enter tech?

What do British entrepreneurs think of the firing of Damore?

This was the question that made the British entrepreneurs to their cups of tea down, and answer passionately.

Keith Wallis, CEO and founder of TTMG Internet, went as far as to say that this incident echoed George Orwell's 1984: " It seems he has been fired for expressing an opinion which is in effect a thought crime."

Bringing it full circle the Brits felt like worker-bees in Silicon Valley must learn something from the incident, whether its about the underrepresentation of women in tech or free speech. Anne-Laure Le Cunff didn't agree with the content of the memo but remarked: "Having someone playing devil's advocate is sometimes helpful. This is an opportunity for Google to have an open, inclusive conversation about diversity in the workplace."

Published on: Aug 10, 2017