Diversity IV: Google ideology

Senior Google engineer James Damore wrote a memo criticizing the Google mantra that the underrepresentation of women in tech and leadership is solely caused by biases. He poses that there are scientific indications that biological traits may make women on average less interested or even less suitable for such roles. Note that he is very careful in underlining the “on average,” explicitly stating that there is an enormous overlap between the populations of men and women in all their attributes, and that people should not be assessed as the average of their groups, but on an individual level. He also explicitly states that he does not deny that sexism or biases exist, and that he values diversity and inclusion. His main issue is that he found that he is working in a psychologically unsafe environment, since even suggesting that anything but biases are the cause for different representations of men and women in the tech industry is cause for shaming and misrepresentation, and risks being fired.

Google promptly confirmed his statements by firing him for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

Contrary to many of those who accused James Damore of sexism, I read his 10-page document and examined the links he included (which, unfortunately or maliciously, were removed by Gizmodo when they republished his memo). It is a well-spoken treatise, in which the only sexist statement that I could find amounts to the suggestion that there are biological differences between men and women, and providing scientific support for that statement. I know that in many circles such a statement is considered sexist, but that means that in these circles scientific facts are considered sexist.

I do not agree with everything that Damore states, as I think some of the underlying science is oversimplified. But the point is not whether Damore is correct in everything that he says. The point is that bringing up viewpoints which challenge the reigning ideology should lead to an open discussion, not be a reason for getting fired.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that there are biological differences between men and women (it feels weird to even have to make such a statement — I mean, most people know how sexual reproduction works, right?). There is evidence that these biological differences lead to some innate differences in interests and aptitudes between men and women on average (emphasis on the “on average”). Even if you wish to marginalize the biological causes for the average differences in interests and aptitudes between men and women, these differences can be observed. That means that yes, the stereotypical man differs from the stereotypical women. It does not mean that every person is like the stereotype of their sex. It just partly explains the differences that we can observe on a population level. To what extent are these differences caused by biology, and to what extent are they the result of cultural biases? We don’t know. And if we are not allowed to have a discussion about it, we will never know, and we can never come to diversity programs which tackle the biases in an effective manner.

I have argued before that some of the enforced diversity programs that I have observed are misguided. I have been cautious in expressing that opinion, as I know it can lead to fast accusations of being sexist, which is a label that you better avoid. However, I still felt sufficiently safe in expressing that opinion as I think that I am working in an environment where people are at least willing to examine and discuss evidence rather than condemn automatically. Having to work in an environment where expressing a well-founded idea can lead to getting fired seems horrifying to me.

Science stops where ideology takes over. It seems to me that a company such as Google, which is founded on technical and scientific research, is doing itself a great disservice by trying to silence those who hold a contrary opinion or are trying to challenge ideas.

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