“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” Asks is it Discrimination or Biology?

by Evil HR Lady on August 7, 2017

“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.” This is the premise of a 10-page document, written by a Google engineer that questions Google’s diversity programs, as published by Gizmodo.

Is the fact that tech isn’t 50/50 men and women due to bias against women or are there truly other factors, unrelated to bias that keeps the numbers different? And is the notion that biology, not bias, causes difference career choices so offensive that women should leave Google? At least one Google employee thinks so (thanks to Motherboard who found this tweet, and covered the document first):

Think about that for a moment: Are we so delicate that we cannot address even the idea that biology may play a role in the types of careers we have?

To keep reading, click here: “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” Asks is it Discrimination or Biology?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Hogg August 7, 2017 at 2:57 pm

You ask, “Are we so delicate that we cannot address even the idea that biology may play a role in the types of careers we have?”

Unfortunately, it seems that we may be. In more and more areas of life the ability to pose questions, have a reasoned discussion, and consider varying options without fear of reprisals or of being shouted down is being diminished.

Thank you for presenting this topic in a balanced way … now if we readers of your blog can restrain ourselves and keep our attack dogs on a short leash, perhaps something positive can come of this article.

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grannybunny August 7, 2017 at 3:10 pm

“Are we so delicate that we cannot address even the idea that biology may play a role in the types of careers we have?” Biology definitely plays a role in the types of careers we have. Discrimination based on gender, including gender-based stereotyping beginning at birth, is a prime example — in fact, the major one — of biology playing a role. Opposing that has nothing to do with “delicacy.”

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Evil HR Lady August 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Differences aren’t evidence of gender based discrimination, though.

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Ponderous and Cautious August 8, 2017 at 12:55 am

As you noted: “Women Ask for Lower Salaries. It’s Hard to Fix.– The Gender Pay Gap can largely be explained by choices. Like how much salary to ask for.”
https://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/women-ask-for-lower-salaries-its-hard-to-fix.html

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Dawn August 7, 2017 at 3:35 pm

This! Yes. Believe it or not, men and women have different biology and that affects how we choose our jobs.

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J.B. August 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Best response to the google “manifesto” (I mean was it really called that?): https://www.themarysue.com/takedown-of-googlers-sexist-screet/

Here’s the thing. The bro who wrote his thing believes he is the best goddanged coder ever. And maybe he’s a great coder, but completing a project has much much more to do with working with other people than with writing code. But he is one guy, and I’m looking at these points he apparently made wondering a) what does he really know, and b) wondering just how old he is. Because I was able to write a piece of software several years ago-yay exciting! But some other projects failed because dealing with all the personalities involved killed another effort. So I obviously had more to learn, and chief among those are things that brogrammer seems to think are female traits:

“-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.”

***Nooo, I’ve never met a neuroitc man. No no never, can’t come up with legions of examples for you…***

The best piece of advice I ever received for dealing with a couple of (male, might I add) personalities was empathetic listening and reframing. “I’m hearing x from person a and y from person b here’s what we’re proposing as a solution.” Nice sweet calming voice…

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J.B. August 7, 2017 at 5:10 pm

As an engineer (degree, certification, plenty of years of work experience) I have found that entry levels are pretty even. It’s when you start getting to mid levels that there are clear gender differences *and differences across companies*. At some companies, the newly minted male PEs get the opportunities to get in front of clients. At other companies, both male and female PEs get those opportunities. You of course need those contacts to get into senior roles. So the fact that there’s differences among different companies in the same area tells me there’s nothing inherently different about the genders, but about the way different firms approach it. All PEs. All passed the test to demonstrate technical skills.

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Ben August 7, 2017 at 9:07 pm

Nowhere in the document did the writer claim to be the best coder. Your assertion is a baseless ad hominem. The writer, and Suzanne, point to relevant studies which outline the differences between men and women. That does not condone hindering those who are outside of their particular sexes trend. It’s trying to open a dialogue which considers an explanation for gaps in HR trends other than discrimination. Doing that doesn’t claim discrimination is a myth, nor does it condone it. The Google writer said as much many times in his document.

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J.B. August 7, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Umm, no the original article as shown on gizmodo contained endnotes…stating one man’s individual opinions. Nowhere was there a journal citation or related context. And it is entirely possible for there to be both some inherent biological difference and a whole load of societal expectations that “women do this” enough that it just isn’t worth fighting.

I’m also not clear how these traits that are supposedly female traits (hint that whole extraversion comment bullet point sure seems like women are silly and giggly, and “women are more neurotic”) are supposed to be anything other than offensive. Or how empathy is totally unneeded in leadership positions?????

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Ben August 8, 2017 at 4:02 am

The Google writer discussed the studies, and Suzanne cited some. It doesn’t take much effort to confirm/deny the claim, a simple Google search (irony intended) for “women study neuroticism” will return Chapman et. al’s (2007), which is published on the National Institute of Health’s repository, which cites many other confirming studies which support the Googler’s point. Neuroticism, as it is discussed in the five factor model of psychology is not inherently a bad thing; just because a person ascribes negative connotation to it so they can get offended, doesn’t make it bad or wrong. There are evolutionary explanations for why there is a trend of higher neuroticism in women as a dominant trait. Think about why a wife stresses about a dad tossing their child high in the air, while dad thinks its ok because he’s got it under control. The women is right because it is an important defense mechanism, while dad is right too (for a reason my wife would disagree with…) There are natural differences between men and women that should be celebrated because they complement each other. The Googler never claimed empathy wasn’t necessary for leadership, he was saying women tend to have greater empathetic tendencies. He did not connect the idea to qualification for leadership. His wholly separate discussion about attaining leadership positions attributed the higher number of men in the positions was a result of men having different motivating factors than women, which are status and material rewards while women tend to value quality time and emotional fulfillment more. Again, there are biological, evolutionary explanations for why these traits developed to allow our species to survive. Neither is better or worse, they compliment each other, evolutionary history is proof of their importance.

Though I shouldn’t have to, Ill qualify the claims with my earlier assertion, and the Googlers assertion. These are trends and there are many anecdotal exceptions to the trends. These exceptions should not be barred from progress by truly discriminatory practices, just as anyone of any sex or race shouldn’t be discriminated against, even if they are a majority. He/we are offering a reasonable, non-malicious explanation for my the pools of available competitors for a given job are lopsided, be it tech or be it elementary education. Sometimes it is because of discrimination, which should be fought, but sometimes (I would argue often) it is not. The Googler is suggesting we judge people in the workplace as individuals and measure their value to the organization by their performance without consideration for the group they’ve been lumped into for political purposes. Are these inherent traits going to affect their performance? Yes. Is there a way to address that without discriminating against those who deserve it? No.

Chapman, B. P., Duberstein, P. R., Sörensen, S., & Lyness, J. M. (2007). Gender differences in Five Factor Model personality traits in an elderly cohort. Personality and individual differences, 43(6), 1594-1603.

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J.B. August 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Do me a favor here. Go through the gizmodo article and tell me which studies are cited there. Because the only link I see is to a news article about google being investigated for wage discrepancies. Because end notes like the following are not citations and make a really really weak foundation for the argument you and EHRL are trying to make:

“[2] Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.

[3] Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.

[4] For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal.”

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Ben August 8, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Do me a favor and read my last post. He discusses. You’re getting hung up on him not citing . I have cited and you aren’t responding to it.

Andrew Garland August 10, 2017 at 11:33 pm

James Damore included citations and graphs. Gizmodo removed them in the version it publshed.

Damore’s memo was edited to protect your liberal sensibilities.

Eric August 7, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Didn’t this idea get Larry Summers pushed out of Harvard?

I agree that this is an important point to discuss, but I’m honestly afraid to forward articles about this topic to my wife for fear of getting yelled at. By the way, I’m a scientist, and her background is in PR/Journalism, which irony is not lost on me. We are self-selection data points.

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Anonymous August 7, 2017 at 10:11 pm

If you go through the chain to the full memo text and read through it you may notice that there are end notes-of the guys opinions-and gems like “difference in IQ” without sourcing anything or even explaining what the difference is. I’m assuming he assumes that white men are smartest but he doesn’t even come out and say that. Scientific it ain’t.

The article EHRL links to includes that tweet from Doogan and follow up nugget that she’s heard back from brogrammer that he’s gotten messages of support. And I know exactly where Doogan is coming from, haven heatd enough crap beginning with highschool classmates that women aren’t good at math. Most of those male classmates weren’t particularly sharp but at some point you get sick of the bs.

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Lora August 7, 2017 at 9:59 pm

Here’s the thing: The author sets up quite a lot of straw men, to which I say, [citation needed].

It seems to me that both the author of the manifesto and a great many people who aspire to have opinions on the subject are under the extremely mistaken impression that they are the very first person ever to think these brilliant thoughts.

Nope. There are entire sub-fields of sociology which have studied this phenomenon in great detail, very thoroughly. There’s plenty of 101 level information on the internets to gently ease the reader into the field of gender studies and workplace interactions and gender socialization and how pedagogy is affected in schools these past several decades. The manifesto author didn’t even trouble himself to do a simple google search (oh, the irony!) before he sat down to his keyboard. I’d fire him for that alone.

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Bobboccio August 9, 2017 at 7:48 pm

He does a PhD in Biology, so he must know something about the science.

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Kathy August 8, 2017 at 1:27 am

I strongly disagree with his opinion but you can’t win a debate by shouting SHUT UP! His opinion needs to be heard and debated on its merits. That said, the reason I disagree is that no one becomes a professional coder without about 20 years of growing up in our culture, which tends to push men and women to different skill areas, and to convince men that they are more intelligent and capable, while convincing women that it is not in their best interest to appear intelligent or capable.

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Lora August 8, 2017 at 4:38 pm

I guess my question is, are all opinions equal and worthy of consideration? Do the random dude shouting on the subway, a tantrum-throwing three year old who just broke his spaceship toy, a Reynolds Aluminum Foil representative and L. Ron Hubbard all get to sit on a panel with NASA scientists to figure out an interpretation of the telescope data from Black Rock that seems to conflict with data from Long Ridge?

Nobody is owed a platform for their views. Not everyone deserves a seat at the table, or to take up other people’s time with nonsense. Time is precious and while you have the right to say stuff, you don’t have the right to be listened to or anyone to care about your opinion. Especially when the individual in question didn’t spend any of his own time doing his homework on the subject to acquire an informed opinion – he doesn’t want to spend his own time, he just wants to waste everyone else’s. He can go set up a Geocities page to rant into the ether like every other tinfoil hat wearer, nobody’s stopping him.

Also, from an HR perspective, Yonatan Zunger did a very nice response to what people imagine about software engineering vs. what it really is at a senior level and why Google really had to fire this dude.

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Evil HR Lady August 8, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Lora thank you for the Yonatan Zunger tip. I used him in my follow up today.

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Chris Hogg August 8, 2017 at 2:28 pm
Andrew Garland August 9, 2017 at 4:33 am

James Damore’s memo included charts and references. The wretched Gizmodo chose to leave them out. Heavy.com discusses this. Motherboard discusses and presents the full memo.

http://heavy.com/tech/2017/08/james-damore-google-diversity-memo/

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/evzjww/here-are-the-citations-for-the-anti-diversity-manifesto-circulating-at-google

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Jen August 11, 2017 at 6:43 pm

When he said that women display a higher level of “neuroticism”, that is when I checked out.

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