-Written by Mai & Martyna, Board Members of DevelopHer –
As we reflect on how a Google employee’s memo caused up a stir in the tech world, it had the whole DevelopHer team talking. A software engineer at Google’s Mountain View’s campus claimed that biological differences between men and women were responsible for gender gap in technology. He criticised Google’s efforts on inclusivity and proposed suggestions on how to integrate women into software engineering better.
Since major media companies reported the manifesto going viral a lot has happened: Danielle Brown, Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity and Governance publicly responded to it, reaffirming her belief in the company’s strategy for diversity. Many people have expressed their opinions about the issue, including female and male software engineers. DevelopHer also contributed to the BBC Newsbeats’ piece. It took several days for Sundar Pichari, Google’s CEO to release a statement confirming that the article’s author had been fired.
The DevelopHer Team wanted to share their opinions on the article and the events that followed.
Cloaking harmful statements with ‘on average’ and ‘this may imply’ does not make them scientific or acceptable. Many ideas expressed in the piece are largely based on conclusions of evolutionary psychology – a field that is often criticized for ignoring cultural context and leaping to conclusions with inadequate evidence, and previously used to justify claims that certain groups of people are inherently more intelligent than others. While humans have always used ‘science’ to explain why groups of people are better than others, science has studied these differences extensively and they are not biological, but mostly cultural.
Statements such as saying that women, on average, have more ‘Neuroticism’ are harmful as women could, as a very simple real life scenario, be given easier technical projects in their workplace which could harm their career progression as a result. It also ignores the fact that these are likely to be symptoms of our patriarchal society rather than the causes.
If all he was saying was simply that there are differences between the sexes then that would be fine, as the point of gender equality is to fix some of the points he raised such as the male gender role being so inflexible. However, we can see that he is in fact only framing points to support his view. Saying that women on average have a ‘stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men’ could actually be an argument for why more women should hold senior software engineering jobs that involve managing teams.
However, I also do think that Google should have offered a more public rebuttal of Mr Damore’s argument rather than dismiss him in the way that they did. For such an innovative company, they could have done even better and used it as a bigger opportunity to facilitate political discourse and counter being called an ‘ideological echo chamber’.
The article reads like it’s a mostly logical argument made by a reasonable and opinionated person. I feel like the author admits gender gap in tech is a problem. He seems to understand it’s an issue we can all tackle by discussing it honestly and openly, and by including men in the dialogue. And it’s great that he’s speaking up about it. Yet, it feels like there’s something wrong and dodgy about it which makes me very uneasy – because it’s all rooted in the wrong assumptions.
Gender gap is a result of social, NOT biological differences. He seems to have based his “science” on his own, shallow perception having forgotten that human brains (irrespective of gender) are capable of learning. Both hard and soft skills if we work on it. The problem, however, is that women are very often deprived of the opportunity to even learn and accept that career as a software engineer is an option. We are socialised into wanting a “feminine” job, because that’s what the society thinks we should do. Those differences he says are natural are in fact a result of the way we are brought up and exposed to the modern world.
I do, however, agree with the author that we need to be able to talk openly and honestly about gender gap, and not exclude men from the conversation. That’s why I was a bit disappointed he was fired so quickly. I would have liked a dialogue to start – an exchange of facts and opinions to educate people. I feel like he wasn’t given the chance to learn more and change his judgement. Instead, he’s been left angry and jobless. And it all got a little ugly.
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