After James Damore published his document, "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," on an internal message board, and that document was leaked to the press, the internet seemed to freak out. People took up sides and jumped to conclusions (often without reading what Damore had actually said). Google fired Damore.
Naturally, this didn't calm the furor on the internet or at Google, and Google wanted to hold a town hall to address some of the concerns. However, Google CEO Sundar Pichai had to cancel the town hall due to Googlers concerns about "their safety and worried they may be "outed" publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall."
Google CEO: some of you are worried that you cannot speak out at work freely. pic.twitter.com/T8FSvwRHf4-- Scott McGrew (@ScottMcGrew) August 11, 2017
Gee, why would anybody be concerned about being outed?
When a company decides to punish an employee for expressing his opinions, they shouldn't be shocked when other employees are afraid to express their opinions, or even ask questions. Google (to the best of my knowledge) hasn't ever addressed the issues Damore raised. Instead, they've simply said that he's perpetuating gender stereotypes and violated Google's code of conduct.
But what they haven't said is if there is any merit to the claim that there is a biological basis for the imbalance between men and women in tech. Damore never claimed that men were superior to women (read the whole thing at Gizmodo), despite what headlines screamed. What he did claim was that not as many women want to have tech careers, so we shouldn't ever expect to have a 50/50 representation in a tech company. When Google fired him for saying this, they essentially said "the science is settled, and there will be no more discussion."
The problem with that is, the science isn't settled and many experts in the field agree with Damore. For instance, Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University wrote:
The author of the Google essay on issues related to diversity gets nearly all of the science and its implications exactly right. Its main points are that: 1. Neither the left nor the right gets diversity completely right; 2. The social science evidence on implicit and explicit bias has been wildly oversold and is far weaker than most people seem to realize; 3. Google has, perhaps unintentionally, created an authoritarian atmosphere that has stifled discussion of these issues by stigmatizing anyone who disagrees as a bigot and instituted authoritarian policies of reverse discrimination; 4. The policies and atmosphere systematically ignore biological, cognitive, educational, and social science research on the nature and sources of individual and group differences. I cannot speak to the atmosphere at Google, but: 1. Give that the author gets everything else right, I am pretty confident he is right about that too; 2. It is a painfully familiar atmosphere, one that is a lot like academia.
Google sent a message to its employees--we have decided on the answers already, and if you don't like them, prepare to be fired. People don't want to lose their jobs, and so they will remain silent.
Can Google fix this? Sure, but they'd have to be willing to admit that they acted hastily in firing Damore and they would need to address the actual substance of the original document, rather than the headlines. They would also need to take questions anonymously rather than through an electronic system where identity can be tracked. I suggest a box where people can submit handwritten questions.
Pichai says they will find a way to do this. I hope that they do.