Ethical Problems

10/30/2018 This Land is Your Land – Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

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Jocelyn Tan

Kara has been working as an environmental engineer at a consulting firm for over twenty-

five years. Well-known for settling disputes between her corporate clients before litigation

must be pursued, Kara often analyzes technical data, particularly distributions of solid

particle pollution, presented by disputing parties to help them reach a compromise on the

cost of environmental cleanup. For example, two parties may be separated from one

another by a strip of land; however, each party must fiscally contribute in keeping the land

free from pollutants.

One day, Kara was contacted by a journalist to talk about her experiences at the firm. Kara

spoke about how she often encountered cases where companies did not accurately depict

levels of solid particle pollution occupying the companies’ respective surroundings. Instead,

technical experts, who are mostly engineers, would misrepresent data in order to make it

seem that minority parties were responsible for a greater part of the contamination. At the

end of the interview, Kara emphasized the necessity of engineers taking ownership and

being honest about the presentation of data.

At what point does an engineer’s interpretation of data move from sound technical

reasoning to misrepresentation? How should engineers deal with the pressure to come up

with data that may indicate favorable results for their employers?

Jocelyn Tan was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula

Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015

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10/30/2018 Google’s Handling of the Echo Chamber Manifesto – Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

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Case study exploring gender in a Silicon Valley company

Sara Tangdall

Background

In recent years, Google has been under

major scrutiny for gender discrimination,

and the Department of Labor is

investigating Google for a potential gender

pay gap. Also, Silicon Valley has been

exposed as a community that repeatedly

discriminates against women and other

minorities, and research shows that the

gender disparity in tech jobs is pervasive

and widespread. As a result, Google has

made a major push to create a more

diverse and inclusive work culture.

In August of 2017, Google fired a male software engineer, James Damore, after he internally

posted a memo that relied on inaccurate gender stereotypes to criticize Google’s

implementation of its diversity and inclusion initiative. The memo was leaked to the press,

which lead to a public outcry and exacerbated an already tense time for gender diversity in

Silicon Valley.

Around the same time as Damore’s firing, a white supremacist protest that turned violent in

Charlottesville, Virginia, heightened an already tense conversation about the complexities of

free speech in America. The overall conflicting views on free speech are split down

ideological lines: Conservatives say they aren’t free to express their views because liberals

will accuse them of being politically incorrect, while liberals believe that in an effort towards

being more inclusive, people should avoid using language that is potentially offensive to

marginalized communities.

The Memo

Damore says he was trying to point out that sometimes conservative viewpoints aren’t

welcome at Google because of its liberal “echo chamber.” The memo also says that Google

discriminates against certain employees and offers development opportunities “only for

people with a certain gender or race,” and that Google has lowered the bar by hiring diverse

candidates. Damore believes that in order to have a truly diverse culture, Google needs to

create a safe space for more conservative views.

Damore’s memo also states that one of the central reasons there are fewer women than

men in tech is women are biologically different from men. Damore then references

scientifically unfounded gender stereotypes to support this line of reasoning. Some of the

stereotypes he uses include: women are more neurotic than men; women are less capable

of handling stress; and women are better at relationships than men because men are better

at “things.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)

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The Response

After the memo was leaked, many criticized the contents, calling Damore and his memo

“anti-diversity,” with Google employees and some of the general public saying they were

offended by its contents. Critics said Damore’s memo is exactly the type of discrimination

that keeps women out of the tech industry, and some female Google employees expressed

discomfort at having to work with Damore.

The day after the memo was leaked, Google’s VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Danielle Brown,

issued a statement criticizing the discriminatory content of the memo, saying it did not align

with Google’s dedication to creating a truly diverse workforce. Three days after the public

release of the memo, Damore confirmed Google had fired him.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, released a statement explaining the decision to fire Damore.

Pichai’s statement points out that some of Damore’s criticisms of Google’s attempts at

creating a truly diverse culture are valid, but the memo violated parts of the company’s code

of conduct “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Pichai also writes,

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to

that work is offensive and not OK.”

Those who disagree with the firing say it confirms Damore’s main argument: that Google

does have a liberal echo chamber; Google is intolerant to conservative views; and that its

diversity efforts have actually backfired and stifled diversity. Others who disagree point to

Damore’s right to free speech. However, there is some legal ambiguity in this case because

companies have the legal right to fire an employee who makes statements that could create

a hostile working environment for other employees in a protected class (gender, age, sexual

orientation, etc.), particularly in an at-will state like California, where Google is

headquartered. But, in California, an employee cannot be fired for their political views,

complicating the legal aspects of this situation even further. Damore sought out legal

counsel after Google fired him, and he is currently deciding whether or not to sue for

wrongful termination.

Those who believe Google made the right decision by firing Damore point out that the

company has made a very public commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture,

and to have an openly discriminatory employee breaks that commitment. Keeping Damore

around could also negatively impact morale among employees, create a hostile working

environment, and lead to a backslide in culture. Additionally, Google has a peer review

process, whereby employees review one another’s performance. These reviews directly

influence potential raises, bonuses, and promotions, so Damore’s critics question whether

he could be trusted to give fair reviews when he has openly discriminated against his female

colleagues in the memo.

Discussion Questions

  1. Legally, Google’s firing of Damore may or may not be problematic, but is Google’s

firing of Damore ethical?

  1. Would you have made the same decision if you were Pichai?
  2. Is it ethical for an organization to fire someone who expresses beliefs that don’t align

with the overall culture?

  1. Do efforts towards a more diverse work culture stifle employees from speaking out?

What can leaders do to avert this potential outcome?

You may find the Center’s Framework for Ethical Decision Making useful in thinking through

these questions.

Sara Tangdall is the Business, Leadership, and Social Sector Ethics Program Coordinator at

the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Sep 11, 2017

A BOARD SHOULD ASK ITSELF: DOES IT OPTIMIZE THE BOTTOM LINE? IS IT LEGAL? IS IT ETHICAL?

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Ethical Concerns about the Adoption of Online Educational Resources – 1 comment • a year ago

Avatar Deniel — Great initiative!

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Showing Up: Why our Bodies Matter in Protest – Markkula Center for Applied 1 comment • 7 months ago

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JP • 10 months ago

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The author of this article is fairly loose with the facts. Damore references “scientifically unfounded gender stereotypes” she says, when in fact the opposite is true; a quick search reveals multiple studies in peer reviewed journals that confirm exactly the male/female differences he mentioned. One is not better than the other, simply different. While the author may not be aware that there actually is science that supports Damore’s stance on the issue, I believe it is wrong for her to attack his memo without first verifying the veracity of her own statements (“scientifically unfounded stereotypes”). It really doesn’t take that much time or effort to find research journal articles in the electronic age. What I find more troubling is that someone fostering a discussion on ethics clearly misrepresented what Damore actually wrote in his document. His supposed position is that women are better at relationships, and men are better at “things”, giving the impression that Damore believes women are inept. What he actually wrote? “Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things” He is not making a blanket statement regarding every man and every woman, but rather the tendencies of the average, i.e. the relative positions of a male population distribution versus that of a female population. Furthermore, he clearly does NOT say that men are better at

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Jennifer Gaspar- Santos • 6 months ago> JP

To add on to this thread. This vox article provides lots of insight for me. https://www.vox.com/the-big… Cynthia Lee writes: “It is striking to me that the manifesto author repeatedly lists race alongside gender when listing programs and preferences he thinks should be done away with, but, unlike gender, he never purports to have any scientific backing for this. The omission is telling. Would defenders of the memo still be comfortable if the author had casually summarized race and IQ studies to argue that purported biological differences — not discrimination or unequal access to education — explained Google’s shortage of African- American programmers?” △ ▽

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Who Was Responsible?

James O’Toole

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently filed a complaint against Jon Corzine,

CEO of MF Global, charging him with directing one of his mid-level managers, Edith O’Brien,

to transfer millions of dollars of customer assets to cover a bank overdraft that threatened to

sink the firm. If he did so, the former head of Goldman Sachs, U.S. Senator, and governor of

New Jersey broke the law. However, Corzine’s lawyer claims his client is not guilty as

charged because “it never dawned on” him that when he, the boss, approached his

subordinate with a subtle request to “find” $175 million that that call would cause her to

“violate the golden rule” of protecting customer assets.

Corzine faced a dilemma: his bold efforts to transform MF Global—”a plain vanilla

commodities firm”—into a full-blown investment bank a la Goldman, would collapse if it

didn’t quickly deal with overdrawn accounts at JPMorgan Chase, the firm’s principle bank,

which was threatening to stop doing business with MF Global. Moreover, Corzine’s lawyer

says that Corzine “never directed Ms. O’Brien or anyone else regarding which account

should be used to cure the overdrafts, and he never directed that customer funds should be

used for that purpose. Nor was he informed that customer funds had been used for that

purpose.”

O’Brien, a life-long middle manager, does not dispute the fact that Corzine never explicitly

ordered her to take the funds from customer accounts. She seems to admit that she knew

what she was doing was wrong, but she had no choice because customer accounts were

“the only place where we had the $175 million” needed to cover the overdraft. MF Global

has subsequently declared bankruptcy.

Questions:

Did Corzine act appropriately? How would you characterize his behavior legally, ethically,

and managerially? What other choices did he have?

Did Ms. O’Brien behave appropriately? Realistically, what other choices did she have?

Should the actions of either Corzine or O’Brien (or both or neither) be considered criminally

negligent? Unethical? Bad judgment? Other?

What role should (or might have) the firm’s Ethics and Compliance Officer played in this

drama?

James O’Toole is senior fellow in business ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Oct 5, 2015

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https://www.scu.edu/ethics/leadership-ethics-blog/practice-of-ethical-leadership/
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/leadership-ethics-blog/proposing-a-new-source-for-ethical-standards/
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/articles/
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/cases/
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/programs/business-ethics-partnership/partnership-summaries/
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/mooc/
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4AE76B235A9EB6FE
10/30/2018 Raiding Customer Assets at MF Global – Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/raiding-customer-assets-at-mf-global/ 2/2

Targeting a Broken Heart – Internet Ethics Resources – Internet Ethics – 1 comment • a year ago

Vimmy Arora — The ‘Doing Ethics Methodology’ 1 What is going on? – What are the facts?

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics 1 comment • a year ago

Milo Imrie — This is crap. Sure some of those things are legitimate concerns, but the main question should be “can we

Reflections on School Shootings 1 comment • 8 months ago

JFSEB — To some degree, students of virtually all schools operate on practically the same code of silence as “prison rules.”

Showing Up: Why our Bodies Matter in Protest 1 comment • 7 months ago

Robin Rhein Hurwitz — Good point. I worry that our bodies aren’t ‘counted’ as much as our signs. Voting remains key.

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