Like other biases, sexism and racism are often spread with the use of insidious coded language, inappropriate appeals to freedom of speech and harmful pseudoscientific data promoting biological difference as "inferiority."
For example, as a Latina in Silicon Valley, I've noticed that women and minorities promoted to leadership roles are often characterized as "unqualified." It grates on me, because it's a word rarely used to describe male leaders, even those fired for lack of performance. Funny, because studies show men, on average, apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, where women don't apply until they've met 100 percent of them.
Perhaps it's this fatigue with unfair generalizations that elevated Silicon Valley's latest gender war to new heights following publication of an internal memo from a Google engineer asserting that women are ill-suited for technical jobs for biological reasons. (Read 10 of the most shocking quotes from the memo.)
The incident underscores a problem that's endemic at Google and much of the tech world — not only do tech companies often fail to create a diverse workplace, but they have a culture where employees feel empowered to claim that efforts to strike a balance put them under duress.
To be fair, the primary purpose of the memo was to condemn Google's purported "ideological echo chamber" and alleged "discrimination to reach equal representation of women in tech and leadership." A number of supporters have come forward. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, for example, suggested that the employee may have been fired for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" or expressing views that are antithetical to Google's political culture, which the Journal characterized as "left wing."
While the WSJ acknowledged expressions of gender stereotypes may rise to unlawful sexual harassment (especially in the context of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor into Google's treatment of women employees), I believe firing an employee for expressing antithetical views to his employer, if true, would be permissible grounds for termination by most private employers.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to government interference with individuals' free speech rights. Nearly all tech employees are at-will employees who may be terminated with or without cause for any lawful reason. Private-sector employees do not enjoy constitutionally protected rights of free speech or privacy or freedom from search of tools such as work-issued computers and telephones.