Exploring Gender in a Silicon Valley Company

Executive Summary

There was an outburst of controversies after the publication of a memo criticizing Google’s policies for promoting a more diverse and inclusive workplace. He alleged that the company was pursuing a culture of fear and conformity. Google fired the employee and reiterated its focus on achieving inclusivity where everyone gets respected and valued. This report analyzes the ethical issues surrounding the case of Mr. Damore and decisions made by organizations towards employees’ use of social media.

Employees are the organization’s image to the public. A single mistake can damage a brand image. Damore worked against business ethics, resulting in an action that could potentially impact brand image negatively. By referring to women as biologically not fit for some professions, his views could be considered discriminatory. It was ethical for Google to fire him. The decision was inevitable because the claims he made could cause hostility towards women and spur conflicts within the workplace. Describing women as biologically weak and not suited for some tasks is incorrect. Ethically, the Rights approach to making the decision would support firing Mr. Damore to show respect to women in the organization as a right and not an obligation.

Values are enduring beliefs that guide one’s behavior daily. If core values do not align with the organization’s mission and vision, it is hard to work towards a common goal. Organizations grow when employees’ beliefs align with the company’s mission statement, vision, and philosophy. If the employee’s beliefs contradict the company’s principles, it is ethical to let the employee off because there will eventually be no growth or development.

Efforts to achieve inclusivity in the workplace usually encourage employees to speak out. If an organization does not invest in diversity and inclusivity, there is less likelihood of getting departments or managers assigned related roles, which discourages employees from speaking out. To make sure employees are supported to speak out, the organization must have an anti-retaliatory policy, educate and train employees on the channels they can use to report issues, and focus on working as a team. When employees go overboard and post defamatory or unwanted comments on social media, organizations should take necessary steps to fire them or enforce measures to prevent similar happenings in the future.

Exploring Gender in a Silicon Valley company

Google’s firing of Damore was Ethical

Mr. Damore discredited the work his colleagues – both women and men – were doing at Google and did so in public without addressing his issues to the right people. Employees are the image of a company to the public, and at times the mistake of a few employees can eventually cause a negative attitude. Many companies have the department and teams that deal with employee complaints in the required way without harming anyone. James Damore worked against the business ethics and would slowly but surely damage the reputation of Google, which was already at stake with prior happenings nationally and within the company. Damore quoted that women are biologically not fit for some “things” such as engineering, a form of discrimination against women workers at Google.

The language was hostile towards women at Google and would eventually cause more conflict if allowed to return to work. Again, judging or justifying someone based on their sex is wrong because companies rely on all employees irrespective of their status to achieve the set objectives. Working towards a common goal is among the factors behind organizational culture, impacting productivity and performance levels. If an employee believes women cannot do certain things like men, it could eventually cause conflicts and cripple any efforts by the management to address similar issues. Gender discrimination in the context of free speech does not feed the company with any value.

Those disagreeing with the firing would argue that Google could have gone ahead and set up an official channel for employees to air these kinds of issues while sparing Damore. The argument would be that their views would eventually be heard by the company and consider different points of view from employees while formulating the necessary policies. However, Damore looked down on women employees as incapable beings. In other words, Damore implied that women at Google were not contributing as much as men did, which is wrong and would eventually cause wrangles and further issues between the company and external groups. If Google didn’t fire the employee, the company could have suffered more harm to its image and legally in the long run from the liability created by Damore’s degrading comments about women employees (Balkin, 2003). The firing was a clear message to the rest of the employees that there are channels for complaints. Employees should uphold ethical behavior at the workplace.

Although it is not clear whether Mr. Damore had a contract for a term with Google, he breached his employment contract by violating the company’s code of conduct, thus justifying the termination of employment. Google does not have a First Amendment “free-speech” obligation to Mr. Damore. Some could argue that he made a discriminatory assertion based on sex in contravention of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The National Labor Relations Act does protect employees if they engage in concerted activities and for their mutual aid or protection (McGregor, 2017). However, it has to be clear that the employee in question is speaking for a group of employees. Even if Damore established that his memo amounted to “concerted activity,” Google may still assert that the speech crossed a line on stereotypes about women and was disruptive and could create a hostile work environment.

The memo could create a hostile environment altering the conditions of the women’s employment. It could create an abusive working environment. If Google did not address the issue by firing Damore, it could eventually become a form of vicarious liability to the company itself (Balkin, 2003). In this case, it was ethical for Google to fire Damore to protect its brand image and reduce possible turnover of women at the workplace but show its intention to fight for equality and inclusiveness.

Why I Would Have Made the Same Decision as Pichai

By using the Rights approach, the ethical action is the one that best protects and respects the moral rights of those affected. This framework allows humans to choose what they do with their lives. Individually, this framework would enable the consideration of the rights of all women at Google and how they would be affected by the negative comments on their inability to handle some things. Dignity was the main reason behind the proclamation of human rights (Pollmann, 2010). It is easier to determine whether Damore’s comments could be disrespectful to women’s dignity at Google. The simple answer is yes because considering women as biologically weak and not suited for some tasks is incorrect. It was important to fire the employee and deal with the raised concerns later to show solidarity to women employees. The Rights approach argues that the best action should protect the rights of those to be affected by an act. Terminating his contract had more positive implications for the company. Retaining him as an employee could have caused more issues later.

The ethical framework that considers the best action based on the greater good and less harm to many is utilitarianism. This ethical framework dates back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus of Samos. He argued that the best life is one that produces the least amount of pain and distress (Brown University, 2013). Jeremy Bentham applied a similar standard on individual actions, creating a system in which actions get judged by the amount of good and the degree of pleasure or pain caused. This framework could be crucial in telling whether firing Damore was beneficial to Google or not. Some good or bad consequences result from our actions, but the best decision remains the one that produces more good than harm.

In the given case, the dilemma would be whether firing the employee could result in more happiness than pain. The point of focus here is the number of positives associated with each action. Retaining the employee could have caused more “pain” to stakeholders than pleasure because of a hostile environment resulting from his comments about women. It would not probably prevent him or others from engaging in a similar action in the future, which would eventually become difficult to eliminate. More women would feel unwelcome at Google, and the employees that were working for the company during this time would experience less satisfaction with the job. By firing Damore, it was a way of showing solidarity to the attacked group and letting them know that the organization stands against discrimination and stereotyping. It was also a way of creating a better impression of its image to the public by showing the world its efforts to create an inclusive culture. There are more benefits to most people in firing Damore than retaining him at the company. Therefore, the best decision is firing, and I would take similar action.

It is Ethical to Fire Someone who Expresses Beliefs that Don’t Align with the Overall Culture

Values are enduring beliefs that guide one’s behavior daily. If core values get askew, it is hard to have a work environment that respects everyone and is accommodative. If the employee does not have mutual respect for his colleagues, he cannot contribute positively towards the company. It is right and okay for an employee to express its beliefs in a respectable manner and in a way that does not violate the company’s code of conduct. The success or growth of any business entity depends on several factors, among them the alignment of employees’ beliefs with the company’s mission statement, vision, and philosophy. If the employee’s beliefs contradict the company’s principles, it is ethical to let the employee off because there will eventually be no growth or development.

Companies usually hire people for ideas, vision, philosophy which aligns with the company value. Organizations have their principles, ethics to follow, and rules for each employee. The intention of having the same rules for every employee rather than having some that apply to specific groups only is to create an environment in which everyone feels equal. It is possible to achieve the set objectives when employees respect one another. The memo contained Damore’s personal beliefs about women, which were supposed to be kept in check while working at the organization. If everyone were to project their personal beliefs in their workplaces and on other people, no organization could stand the chaos and disruptions that would ensue (Hrala, 2021). Using statements that make women feel inferior is wrong. To the organization, every employee is equal. If an organization identifies an employee whose work gets compromised by personal beliefs, there is no reason to keep them and end up causing conflicts and chaos in the workplace. Google is not an organization; it is a family of employees working towards a common goal. Encouraging negative comments on women could set a negative example for other companies.

Finally, cultural fit is a crucial factor in enabling a company to achieve its objectives. It refers to the ability of employees to fit in with their coworkers and the company’s culture in a way that allows them to perform their roles and get along with everyone (Hrala, 2021). Different companies operate differently internally. They differ in terms of work ethics and personalities. Organizations emphasize why they hire and carry out interviews to ensure the candidate matches the kind of individuals that can help achieve its goals. Firing someone who is a poor fit at the organization is a definite possibility. Letting someone who is a poor fit to continue working can eventually cause more harm than good to the workforce and the organization’s sustainability. Hence, it is ethical to fire someone who expresses personal beliefs that do not align with the organization’s overall culture.

Efforts Towards a More Diverse Work Culture do not Stifle Employee from Speaking Out

Efforts towards a diverse work culture do not stifle employees from speaking out. Instead, an organization’s efforts to have an inclusive workplace usually encourage employees to speak out. Employees willing to promote the organization’s efforts in creating a diverse workplace will naturally speak out when they encounter issues. They will question it and object to some sudden or random changes. If the company forces a diverse work culture on the employees, then they will start speaking out. When an organization invests time and effort in creating a diverse workplace, it makes known the process of raising complaints and roles and positions assigned to diversity and inclusivity. For example, Google has a part of the management team dedicated to inclusivity and diversity. Without efforts to ensure a diverse workplace, an organization cannot invest in creating inclusivity departments.

Diversity is important because it brings new ideas and experiences, and people can learn from each other. When organizations hire from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures, they bring a fresh array of perspectives to the table (Kim, 2006). It leads to benefits like better problem solving and increased productivity. Companies embrace diversity because this eventually attracts a wide range of candidates looking for a progressive place of work. Kim notes that diversity leads to innovation and better employee performance. Every international company understands the benefits associated with a diverse workplace. Yet, there are so many challenges for organizations to have a perfect diverse workplace. There is no perfect process of solving diversity issues that would guarantee the best results without any challenge. Occasionally, some employees may feel like the process is working against them and may end up remaining silent rather than speaking out. Yet, many feel the management is accommodative of employees’ views. Employees are more likely to be stifled from speaking out if an organization shows efforts to achieve workplace diversity than those that don’t.

How Organizations Can Ensure that Efforts Towards Inclusivity do not Stifle Employees from Speaking Out

  1. Train the employees on the benefits of having a culturally diverse workforce in the organization. The training can focus on several perspectives. Diversity training can help employers and employees identify issues that are important to support cultural differences. It helps businesses understand the barriers that affect customer relationships and improve communication between employees and clients.
  2. Prepare employees mentally and emotionally for the introduction of cultural work diversity. Start by celebrating traditional holidays, festivals, and food of other cultures in the company. Encourage the use of foreign languages when necessary and train employees to respect one another.
  3. Inform all employees about the decision of expanding the workforce to include more cultures for diversity. Employees need to know that the workplace may have some changes soon. Culture change in an organization does not happen instantly. It takes time, and employees must be willing to participate.
  4. The management can use the organization’s intranet to help employees keep track of multicultural holidays or celebrations. By respecting these days as a group, it is easier for the minority and everyone to feel welcomed in the workplace and make speaking out easier.
  5. Prevent retaliation when employee bring complaints or raise their concerns using the right channels. If employees see or hear that someone has experienced retaliation after they reported a concern, they are less likely to come forward.
  6. Encourage and reward speaking up in the workplace. Organizations that want to know and address diversity issues will take steps to encourage and reward speaking up.
  7. Be transparent. Employees may not speak up because they don’t believe that the responsible individuals may not take any action (Pless & Maak, 2004). Some degree of transparency about what happened on reported issues is crucial to demonstrate accountability, earn trust, and encourage reporting.

Employers have the Right to Terminate Employees’ Contracts for Comments they Post On Social Media that go Against the Views of the Company

The right to freedom of speech is not absolute any longer. It must get balanced with other rights, including the right to a good name and privacy. In an employment contract, the employee seeks to promote the interests of the organization or employer. It means that freedom of speech has to get balanced against the rights of the employer. The misuse of social media by employees who post defamatory, undesirable, or offensive comments can negatively affect colleagues at work and the employer. Employees can get fired by projecting views contrary to the organization’s policies, such as anti-harassment, anti-discrimination policies, or if the employee publishes harmful statements and which the employee knows are untrue.

Take, for instance, an employee working for Google. If the employee goes ahead and writes a post on social media stating “Asians should not be allowed to work at Google within our country, let them go back and find other jobs in their continent.” I gave this outright hate speech against a select group to indicate how it would be wrong to protect employees against retaliation by the organization no matter what they post on social media. For the above example, it would be unethical for Google to retain such an employee and assume that he will get along with his colleagues, especially from an Asian background. Such sentiments may create hostility towards the targeted group. The duties and responsibilities assigned to the team cannot get executed when their personal opinions irritate and anger their colleagues off-duty. An organization’s policies must be preserved by employees as long as they are actively working for the organization.

The use of social media by employees, be it for personal or professional reasons, remains a critical issue. There are instances whereby someone’s opinions on social media are protected by the First Amendment, in which case, such posts would have no harm to the organization, whether directly or indirectly. The Pickering Connick test can determine unprotected speech (Jacobson & Tufts, 2012). First, the speech must touch on a matter of public concern. Second, it must fall outside of the employee’s job duties. Lastly, the employee’s interest in free speech must outweigh the government’s interest in the effective provision of services.  In 2006, a new threshold inquiry was introduced by holding that when public employees make statements according to their official job duties, they have no First Amendment protections (Hudson, 2006). What this means is that absolute freedom of speech is not possible whether someone is employed or not. There must be thresholds that each employee has to keep while interacting with others on social media. Employers can monitor employees’ social media and take employment action if an employee violates any organization’s policies.

Employers have the right to know whatever they can regarding an employee to protect their property rights in the business. “There is an emerging global consensus around the acceptability of corporations obtaining information about the present and future employees on social media through background checks” (Stohl et al., 2015, p. 16). The employee serves as a direct representative of an organization both on and off the clock. According to (Stohl et al., 2015), it is not harsh, unjust, or unreasonable for social media policies to operate outside and inside the workplace. Boundaries between employees’ work and private lives are hardly permeable with the development of social media. However, it is now more likely that employees will modify their behavior to avoid getting judged by their employer. Employers have established the right to monitor social media activity and dismiss employees for comments made on social media.

When an employee posts something offensive, HR professionals are often on the front line of ensuring the employer’s brand is protected. The managers responsible for hiring may have to address such issues as fast as possible if such posts may reflect poorly on the organization’s image. Those employees can and should lose their jobs. Doing nothing about it is not a viable option when business leaders are subject to intense pressure to terminate an employee who misbehaves. Employers can fire employees for disparaging comments about protected categories of race, religion, and gender. Similarly, they can do so to an employee that discloses confidential information and trade secrets or misrepresents the employer on social media. Business leaders must determine which social media behavior crosses the line and act swiftly before the issue gets out of hand.

References

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Hrala, J. (2021). How to fire someone who is not a ‘Good fit’. Careerminds. https://blog.careerminds.com/how-to-fire-someone-who-is-not-a-good-fit

Hudson, D. L. (2006). Garcetti v. Ceballos. Middle Tennessee State University | Middle Tennessee State University. https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/596/garcetti-v-ceballos

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McGregor, J. (2017, August 8). The Google memo is a reminder that we generally don’t have free speech at work. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/08/08/the-google-memo-is-a-reminder-that-we-generally-dont-have-free-speech-at-work/

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