I Would Have Fired Him For Being an Asshole 

A little over a week ago, news broke about a document, a manifesto, written by a Google employee, that tried to argue that Google shouldn’t be actively trying to grow the ranks of women in their workforce and in management. Because, science says maybe they aren’t cut out for it.

This lead to the author, James Damore, being fired. And then a whole lot of people bemoaning the end of contrarian opinions and discourse in the workplace.

Let’s dispense with the validity of the argument: it doesn’t exist. A biological rationale that women (and, by extension, other minorities) are, as a group, not as capable of being engineers/scientists/leaders/managers is too tied up in upbringing, cultural norms, education, and a myriad of other non-biological factors. And the effect that has been measured is quite small.

Both Wired and The Economist have done a reasonably complete and compelling job of dispensing of the nonsense science argument that Damore makes.

Long story short, I like this snipe from Business Insider:

Using Damore’s logic, if a “scientist” had taken measurements in the UK between 1939 and 1945, he may have concluded that women’s exposure to prenatal testosterone made them predisposed, on average, to munitions manufacturing.

Clearly, that’s not how jobs happen.

But let’s set all the science aside. The reason James Damore was fired, and deserved to be fired, and deserves to take a long look inward at why most companies shouldn’t and won’t hire him, is that he’s an asshole.

A big part of working in a company is working with other people. Learning which buttons you can and can’t push with people, learning to be considerate of other people’s feelings and opinions, and generally how to not be a douchebag.

To be honest, particularly when I was younger, I was not always successful at it. You see something that you think is dumb, or should work differently, or where it feels like the wrong decisions are being made, and you voice that opinion. Eventually, as you gain experience and mature, you start to realize that you sometimes need to think about how it might be that this situation came to be (i.e. are there other factors at play? Is there something you don’t know that helped to move the world in this direction?). And, should you still disagree, what’s the right approach to deal with it.

I think what you’ll quickly realize is writing a public document that criticizes many of your colleagues, and questions the capabilities of those who are of another gender (and other races, when you read between the lines), is not a great way to endear yourself to your colleagues. So much of your success in the workplace is your ability to work with, motivate, and learn from your colleagues. To do something that makes you toxic, to shoot yourself in the foot like that?

It makes you an asshole. It makes you bad at your job.

If this had happened on my team, I think you have no choice: he has to go. How, as a manager, could you assign a female engineer to work with him?

It is quite rare that someone is good enough to overcome being a complete and total asshole. Usually, they are the tippity top performers, and those who can work on their own, or work with a small group who have become accustomed to working with a challenging personality.

Based on the quality of the work in this manifesto, it’s clear Damore is not that top performer. He’s not good enough to deal with the baggage. And he’s not a team player. With a cancer like that, the only option is to excise it. 1

  1. Let’s also then joke about the fact that someone who is, more than likely, at least near libertarian on the spectrum, complaining about being fired from an at-will job. Maybe he should join a union …