“The Ideological Echo Chamber”

This story only hit my screen yesterday, but on Friday Google employees began tweeting about a document circulating within the company that termed Google’s efforts to increase diversity “discriminatory practices” and calling upon the company to “stop alienating conservatives” and “stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races” (that is, to stop running programmes aimed at increasing opportunities for and representation of women and people of colour).1 According to this Google engineer, the real reason that women are underrepresented in “tech and leadership” is not bias but biology. It would seem that the author, now named as James Damore, has since been fired; a controversy rages (anti-sexism and anti-racism vs. “freedom of speech”, roughly), but if you haven’t read all about it already you can look that up for yourself (and you can read the almost-full text of the memo here, obtained by Motherboard and made available by Gizmodo); I’m going to focus on the “biology” bit.

Below is an extract:

Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech [3]

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures

  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone

  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males

  • The underlying traits are highly heritable

  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.

  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.

  • This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.

  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.” Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on[4], pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.2

 

… Towards the end of the document, in the ‘Suggestions’ section, Damore recommends:

Be open about the science of human nature.

        • Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.3

 

And that’s the extent of his “science.” I’m going to post this while I knock together my critique; it would be great if anyone were to offer their own in the meantime…

 

1 James Damore, ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,’ cited in an article by Kate Conger, Gizmodo, 5 June 2017. https://gizmodo.com/exclusive-heres-the-full-10-page-anti-diversity-screed-1797564320 [accessed 8 June 2017]

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

Introduction

I began dipping into the science of the sexes this spring. It was an instinctive antipathy for the tenets of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology (such as the much-popularised idea that men adapted to be promiscuous while women have inherited genes for choosiness) that set me in motion; one day I found I couldn’t dismiss them out of hand anymore, but felt I had to investigate for myself.

My reading has taken me through alternative evolutionary psychologies (for example, that it is equally advantageous for women to be promiscuous, evolutionarily speaking, and that if left to themselves they would behave rather more like our bonobo relatives and copulate with gay abandon), the development and sexual differentiation of the gonads (including the truly wonderful occurrence in some individuals of combined ovo-testes: gonads with both egg- and sperm-producing tissue1), and endocrinology (the study of hormones, featuring thrilling tales of testosterone fluctuation in fish).

I’d like to share some of these discoveries here, in dribs and drabs, the idea being to disseminate not only information but some of the tools that I’ve acquired for critical analysis of “scientific” studies; I’d like this to be an interactive process, with readers commenting on material as we proceed. For instance, I’ll post outlines of studies and invite you to offer your opinions and criticisms before I go on to share the analyses that I’ve developed.

As an English graduate I have no qualification for this work other than my ability to read and to think critically, but I have spent the last seven months reading (almost full time) the works of other more eminent scholars, and theirs are the ideas I want to share. My principal guide has been Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Brown University. In case you were wondering, her laboratory work has included studies of the genetics of development in fruit flies and the developmental ecology of flatworms. She is best known, however, for her work in which this “hard” background is brought to bear upon the science of sex differences in humans (although, importantly, she would argue that even the hardest of sciences, such as chemistry and phsyics, operate within cultural and political frameworks and can never be “completely objective”2).

In brief, her theories bridge the nature/nurture divide in the debate on human development: the dichotomy is false one, she argues; instead, she offers a model for the way in which environment and biology interact to coproduce bodies and behaviours. Her current work takes Dynamic Systems theory, which others have applied at the level of cell biology and to the development of motor skills in infancy, and applies it, in her own words, “at different levels of human organization (organ physiology, sex differences in behavior, human sexuality and gender identity)”.3

That’s enough introduction: we’ll come back to Anne Fausto-Sterling later, but for now let’s look at a hot new topical example of how sociobiological ideas are used.

1Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New York, 2000), pp. 51, 54, 64, 93, 111, 117 and 174.

2Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men, 2nd edn (New York, 1985), pp. 9-10.

3Fausto-Sterling, Dynamic Systems Theory, http://www.annefaustosterling.com/fields-of-inquiry/dynamic-systems-theory/ [accessed 9 June 17]