It’s 2018, and this is still the hill men want to die on
James Damore, a former Google employee, published a scathing memo in July 2017 accusing the tech giant of engaging in discriminatory activities. Buried inside his bitter manifesto were several claims that maybe women weren’t interested in coding — which according to him is why there aren’t so many of them in the tech industry. The reason for the gender disparity, according to Damore, is situated in the interplay of biological differences and social ones. Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” Damore made several accusations against his employer that resulted in his firing. But is there any truth in Damore’s claims? Are women intrinsically drawn to subjects with more feeling than engineering or science?
Surprisingly, many women in tech were not enthusiastically denouncing Damore’s memo. Megan McArdle, a journalist for The Chicago Tribune described her reasoning for leaving her job in technology and finance.
“I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free,” she said. “Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.”
McArdle wasn’t disputing Damore’s claim that women are uninclined to tech — she herself acknowledges that, while she liked her job, it wasn’t something she could be overly passionate about. Many women like her enter STEM fields because of the security it provides. The prospect of landing a career that would mean a lifetime of financial independence is undoubtedly enticing. But the draw to stability isn’t a female trait — because if it is, then all men like to take risks. That’s certainly not true.
The reason the Google memo became so important was because Damore tried to make a scientific argument. Despite a disclaimer that it’s not right to make assumptions about individuals based on generalizations, that’s what people drew from it. The memo was pointed, but no one knew against whom. And that’s what’s so interesting about the fiasco. Damore did a lot of research — there were plenty of facts, statistics and other data that could support why men were drawn to the industry. It could have worked. But what lessened his argument was the use of negative emotional indices while writing it. And once you mix science and emotion, the gut reaction is to question the evidence that’s being used — more so if one disagrees with what it’s saying.
Yet, the more I tried to find evidence countering Damore’s claim, the less concrete it became. Psychologists Gijsbert Stoet of Leeds Beckett University and David Geary of the University of Missouri conducted a comprehensive study analyzing women in male-dominated industries all over the world. They found that “[countries] that minted the most female college graduates in fields like science, engineering, or math were also some of the least gender-equal countries, [positing] that this is because the countries that empower women also empower them, indirectly, to pick whatever career they’d enjoy most and be best at.” So fewer women in the tech industry might actually be a good sign, if you want to look at it that way.
Coming out of the gates enraged about Damore’s entire argument, that’s a bit disappointing. But there’s nothing to be ashamed about. Young women educate themselves to gain agency — and, depending on the country and the individual, there’s a different amount of agency one must secure. And once again, these are general trends. Plenty of women were sampled in this study, and surely some of them are truly passionate about their work, regardless of where they come from. So, while Damore had a point, his generalizations (or lack thereof, because of his disclaimer) rubbed a lot of women the wrong way.
Maybe it’s fair to say that not all women study STEM because they want to. However, that’s not an opening for our male friends to suggest the reason they lost out on that job opportunity was because a woman snatched it away from them. It’s also not an opportunity to dismiss an individual woman or suggest a female employee benefits because of her gender. That’s called sexism. And while diversity for diversity’s sake is wrong, there’s also enough evidence to show that women are routinely passed over for promotions, raises and other leadership positions. Women do not want charity — but a certain level of privilege still exists in being a man. Men like Damore should check it.
Written by: Samvardhini Sridharan — firstname.lastname@example.org
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