Google’s firing of memo writer will strike a nerve with law firms

The gender debate took a whole new turn recently when 28-year-old James Damore, was dismissed from his position as engineer with Google following comments he made in a staff memo.


Not to be mistaken for a single-page communiqué, the ‘memo’ was a 10-page document where he said that women in the business “have more neuroticism” than men. Damore goes on to suggest that women “have more neuroticism” and “higher levels of anxiety” that lead to the “lower number of women in high stress jobs.”


The memo went on to say that men are biologically more suited to coding jobs than women. He said that women are “often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone.”


While some in Silicon Valley came out in support of Mr Damore, branding him a brave truth-teller, others found his comments offensive and he was summarily dismissed from his position.


For some, this was the correct response and credit should go to Google to taking decisive action, while others suggest that his dismissal was extreme and Damore should have been put through training instead.


But irrespective of the rights or wrongs over Google’s reaction, the case highlights the fact that even in an industry revered for its meritocratic culture not enough is being done to promote gender equality and eradicate sexual harassment.


As a direct consequence of this case, the US Labor Department is set to investigate Google to see if the company has unlawfully paid its female employees less than men, and the outcome of their investigation could have far-reaching consequences.


The story made headline news around the world, largely because it served as a reminder that businesses still have some way to go before we reach a state where diversity is no longer an issue, whether in thought or in practice. Take the legal sector as a case in point.


Figures published by The Law Society in 2016 show that while half (48.8%) of practicing certificate holders are women, less than 1 in 3 (29%) are partners with the number even lower in the Magic Circle. So while firms may talk of the law having being no ingrained glass ceiling, a quick glance at the figures would suggest otherwise.


Diversity and the gender agenda need to move on from being just another tick box exercise, they need to be embraced and put into practice so that a true level playing field can exist.


Research has shown time and again that having more diverse teams at all levels of the organisation enables firms to build better relationships with a broader range of clients. So it is not just a nice-to-have, it also makes good business sense. There remains work to be done and if the recent case cited at the top of this article is anything to go by, it may be some time before firm across all sectors change their approach to gender equality and diversity in the workplace.