About That Google Memo: Was it Really Sexist?
Shutting down dialogue with name-calling and shaming doesn’t help anyone.
Note from the editors: The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous. He is a professor whose academic unit contains computer science faculty, and he wishes to avoid trouble with and for his superiors.
Google is being investigated by the Department of Labor for extreme gender pay discrimination against women. Against that backdrop, a 10-page memo written by an unnamed Google employee has everyone talking. (He’s since been identified and fired.)
The author’s main point is that: “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.” Many find this offensive: Is the author suggesting that the women at Google are less competent? Or that their gender is why they were hired? But if you read his piece, you’ll see that’s not what he’s saying.
The author believes that men and women, on average, have personality differences. He thinks these differences lead to different preferences. And these different preferences— at least in part — explain the lack of female representation in tech firms. He claims that women tend to be more into people than things, so they may be less likely to pursue certain types of programming jobs. He claims that women tend to be less assertive, so they may be less likely to negotiate on salary. He claims that women tend to have less stress tolerance, and a greater desire for work-life balance. So they may be less likely to want demanding, high-profile positions, like management at a tech firm. He points to an internal survey which found that female Google employees reported higher stress levels.
He’s careful to note these are “averages.” Many women are more assertive than many men, and so on. Using gender stereotypes runs the risk of painting with too broad a brush. But the ideas are similar to ones conservatives have appealed to in response to the myth of the gender wage gap.
Respect Free Choices
The author believes that we live in an increasingly wealthy, free, and fair society, where overt sexism is on the decline. As a result, women and men are able to do what they want with their lives — regardless of what stereotypes may exist in the minds of some. Still, fields like computer science tilt male. The author doesn’t say it, but other fields, like nursing and elementary education, tilt female. The author’s point is that we should “stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.” Instead, we should “treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group.”
This rings true for many of us, particularly women and minorities. We want to be treated as individuals. We don’t want to be lumped in and treated as merely the member of some tribe. Treating people as members of groups actually reinforces stereotypes and encourages friction, not unity.
For example, the perception that women are hired or promoted because they are female can result in a backlash of disrespect from others, and a self-esteem problem among the women themselves. That doesn’t serve anyone. It’s arguably more strategic to make promotion decisions on merit alone, regardless of how that impacts female representation. That’s the kind of question this author is raising. And for doing so, he’s apparently been fired.
An Inclusive Workplace
The author made clear that he wants an inclusive workplace. Part of his memo is devoted to suggested ways to increase female representation in tech without discriminating against men. One thing he suggests is to “make tech and leadership less stressful.” While he doesn’t say exactly how to do this, it’s worth noting that his intentions seem to be the same as Google’s: More women in leadership.
The author is also pressing for another kind of inclusiveness: viewpoint diversity. He claims that conservatives are alienated at Google — a topic that also came up at a Google shareholder meeting in June. As a result, the author claims, certain perspectives can’t be shared without the (left-leaning) majority resorting to name-calling. The open hostility he’s received, and the fact that he’s been fired, actually supports his point.
The author writes that “allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work … can keep more women in tech.” If we assume women have the exact same interests as men, we can’t even have this discussion. Remember the ridicule Mitt Romney received for his talk of “binders full of women” in a Presidential debate? Romney noted that he had an inclusive Cabinet as Governor — the most inclusive according to a survey from the University of New York in Albany. Why? Because of the flexibility he gave his workers, including a female Chief of Staff who wanted to be home for dinner with her children. It’s not sexist to observe that women spend more time with their children then men, even when they command high earnings potential.
The now jobless man raises concerns that Google should consider. As a leading evangelical wrote, “This is what would happen if we could have adult conversations, making arguments and welcoming counter-arguments.” How sad that so many are dismissing his memo out of hand. Reply with facts and reason. Where he’s sloppy, offer pointed correction. But shutting down dialogue with name-calling and shaming doesn’t help anyone.
Dr. John Doe is a professor in a technical discipline. Previously, he held positions as an engineer in several technology companies.