As mentioned here in the past, most people have never read the U.S. Constitution, but that usually doesn’t stop them from claiming constitutional protections that don’t exist.
The latest example is the controversy because an engineer at Google, for some reason, thought his opinion on the biological differences between men and women was something the rest of the corporate behemoth should pay attention to.
He’s been fired and with good reason.
Unsurprisingly, the people who believe there are biological reasons why women are underrepresented in the tech industry are claiming Google violated the man’s First Amendment rights.
It should go without saying that there’s no constitutional right in your private company to accommodate your misogyny, though it can hardly be surprising that James Damore believes he’s got one.
On Marketplace, Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology, again fights the good fight to explain it.
The First Amendment really only acts as a restraint on government. In fact, the first few words of the First Amendment are: Congress shall make no law restricting freedom of speech or of the press or religion.
So when you work for the private sector and your employer is not the government, the Constitution gives you zero protection in terms of keeping your job based on what you say.
So while it is possible that states and localities could pass laws protecting speech — and a very, very tiny number of cities and localities have done so — 99.9 percent of the time, there is no legal barrier to a private employer firing an employee because of their speech at or outside of the workplace.
No doubt Damore will be the poster child for those who view the firing as another example of Google’s unwillingness to accommodate conservative views — a slap in the face to conservatives who don’t believe the word should be hijacked as a synonym for misogyny — but there’s an even better reason for his firing, former Google senior engineer Yonatan Zunger writes: He’s not a very good engineer.
Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to.
Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.
All of these traits which the manifesto described as “female” are the core traits which make someone successful at engineering. Anyone can learn how to write code; hell, by the time someone reaches L7 or so, it’s expected that they have an essentially complete mastery of technique.
The truly hard parts about this job are knowing which code to write, building the clear plan of what has to be done in order to achieve which goal, and building the consensus required to make that happen.
All of which is why the conclusions of this manifesto are precisely backwards. It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones.
It’s a skillset that I did not start out with, and have had to learn through years upon years of grueling work. (And I should add that I’m very much an introvert; if you had asked me twenty years ago if I were suited to dealing with complex interpersonal issues day-to-day, I would have looked at you like you were mad.) But I learned it because it’s the heart of the job, and because it turns out that this is where the most extraordinary challenges and worthwhile results happen.
Today might not be a bad day to brush up on that employee handbook.