First, a lot of people said a lot of dumb things about the Google diversity memo controversy.
Then, a lot of people said a lot of smart things about it.
Now, it feels like all the smart things and all the dumb things have been said—and summed up fairly well by David Brooks on Friday.
But Brooks makes a conclusion that misses the point. He calls for Google CEO Sundar Pichai's resignation, because:
He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob. He fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”
That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.
Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a nonleadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.
No. The trouble here is not Pichai's cowardice in the face of lynch mobs.
It's his not caring deeply about the long-term future of the company.
Lookit: Let's go as far as is responsible, and say Damore wrote a sophomoric, self-important, two-thirds-baked memo with motives that maybe he himself didn't fully understand. Well, assuming Pichai wants Google to be a company that can have open conversation about social issues that affect the business (which, in the case of Google, is all social issues) … what kind of messages does he think he's going to get from his predominantly 20- and 30-something workforce? Callow communications are going to be par for the course!
If Pichai had thought for a moment about the best course of action for the long-term culture of a healthy Google, he (or his diversity officer) would have substantively responded to Damore's piece, defined its limitations, cautioned against making provocative statements on sensitive subjects—and defended Damore's right to do so by refusing to fire him for the offense.
But I don't think that's how Pichai, or any other CEOs are thinking these days. They're thinking about next quarter. They're thinking about, "What do I need to do to get everybody back to work?" They're thinking about their ass. [Today's rule-proving exception: Merck CEO resigns from high-profile federal counsel in protest of President Trump's Charlottesville remarks.]
And it's out of expediency that I think Pichai threw Damore under the bus. And in doing so, must have seriously freaked out other Googlers who had heretofore thought they worked for a company where ideas and dialogue and communication matter. (Or maybe the smart ones have known better for some time.)
I'm not saying Google is different from typical narrow-minded, short-term-oriented, utterly self-interested American companies.
I'm saying Google isn't different from typical narrow-minded, short-term-oriented, utterly self-interested American companies.