Here’s your point by point refutation of the google memo.

Tl;dr

  • Biological differences do not explain the current gap in gender representation within tech.
  • Rather, there is abundant evidence that sociological patterns, ranging from overt discrimination to unconscious bias, are a significant factor of a lack of gender diversity within tech.
  • The central argument of the google manifesto appears to be that discrimination against men is required to achieve the diversity Google wants. This argument is based on several sexist assumptions which reveal the deep sociological problems we face:

Sexist assumption 1: A meritocracy would have more men than women in tech, because men are inherently better/more valuable than women.

Sexist assumption 2: Women’s issues are not relevant to men at all.

Sexist assumption 3: Women are not fulfilled by leadership positions.

Sexist assumption 4: Housework and childcare are enjoyable leisure activities, not real work.

Sexist assumption 5: Diversity efforts are only to make the company look good, because women’s work does not contribute to the company’s success or bottom line.

Sexist assumption 6: Gender bias is not a real issue. Anyone who thinks so is blinded by political bias.

Sexist assumption 7: The left values diversity because they like to to take care of and protect weak and helpless victims, like women.

Sexist assumption 8: Women don’t actually want to get ahead in the workplace.

Sexist assumption 9: Men should be able to promote sexist views with impunity.

These unstated assumptions are blatantly sexist. By promoting and re-enforcing these stereotypes without data that backs up his claims, the author contributes to a hostile work environment for women.

Rather than state his assumptions and examine their veracity, the author says he feels “shamed” and “silenced” by people who point out that his argument is rooted in sexism. My intention here is not to shame or silence anyone, but rather to open up these damaging assumptions to the light of day.

Importantly, many of the concrete suggestions he offered are good ideas, aimed at making a work environment where women and men of different temperaments can thrive. I think a lot of these appeared in Lean In. This means there is a substantial zone of agreement on what actions can help tech companies capture more of the benefits from gender, personality and ideological diversity. Maybe once we figure out how to talk to each other without insulting each other we can move on to actually doing more in this direction.

Now we begin:

Italics quotes are from the memo, based on this source

  • When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.

This statement implies that population differences will explain a significant chunk or perhaps all of the current lack of diversity. Great, let’s have an honest discussion and see what the data says.

First of all, how big is this gap in representation? Current state of diversity in tech at google:

How much of that variance, at least for gender, is related to inherent population differences? I did a quick Google search for meta-analyses on the topic because those are more reliable than any one study.

Conclusion: some gender differences exist, many are decreasing over time, and there is no basis for the claim that men are biologically better at software engineering or leadership.

How much of the gap is related to social factors, including attitudes, role expectations and different treatment? Conclusion: Research backs up the claim that forms of bias including sexist assumptions and different treatment create significant obstacles to women’s careers in tech.

Seriously I don’t have time to look all this up. Here are some highlights:

You get the picture.

  • [the memo addresses] the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment

So, we have a bunch of research that shows women do receive different treatment in ways that are damaging to their careers. Does that explain 100% of the gap? Probably not. But it’s a big chunk. Inherent population differences, on the other hand, do not appear to explain very much of the gap, if any. I mean, the research says that women are better at math, better at finding that missing semi-colon, better at pattern-matching, working with constraints, remembering things, less risky, better at building trust, extraversion and caring which sounds like pretty good raw material for a rockstar software engineer and engineering leader. What gives?

  • An authoritarian element [is] required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

In case it’s not obvious, this is a very loaded statement. This statement implies that equal representation will only be achieved by discriminating against (white) men. Which implies that a true meritocracy would have more men than women represented in tech. This statement is true if and only if you assume that men are inherently better. If you change that underlying assumption to be that women are inherently better, or that men and women are about equally valuable even though they have differences, then the statement is false.

Sexist assumption 1: A meritocracy would have more men than women in tech, because men are inherently better/more valuable than women. I am not trying to shame anyone here, I am calling out an assumption so that it can be examined.

  • Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

Following this logic, wouldn’t we expect to see more women than men at the people-manager level within tech? Or at least promoted to that people-manager more frequently? More women than men PMs and Designers? We see none of these things. There must be something else to explain it…what could it be….?

  • Having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading…is seen solely as a women’s issue.

Exactly who sees it that way? How about all these books about those subjects authored by white males?

This statement reveals another unstated sexist assumptions related to the observation that “men are still very much tied to the male gender role” that the author references later on.

Sexist assumption 2: Women’s issues are not relevant to men at all.

If something is seen as a “women’s issue” then a sexist man who experiences the same hardships will see himself as “womanly” and therefore “weak” or “lesser” because he assumes that women are inferior to men. He’ll try to distance himself from these issues and resent that he’s excluded from having these hardships. A non-sexist man who experiences “women’s issue” hardships will say “wow, this is hard!” and ask women for advice & support.

It’s extremely common for people in our society to have these sexist assumptions, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you someone who lives in this world. The most constructive way to handle these assumptions is to name them and question them. Is it helpful for a man to feel ashamed that he’s worried about negotiating a raise because “that’s a women’s issue”? Of course not. That’s super damaging to everyone. No one should feel ashamed to have these issues, because women are not inferior to men and women’s issues can also be men’s issues.

  • This leads to exclusory programs like [internal Google program for women] and swaths of men without support.

Perhaps he underestimates the support he has. How many people can you find who look like you who and have successfully negotiated a raise/promotion at Google? Consider asking them for advice? See the books list above, which aside from Lean In is mostly written by men and assumes a male audience.

Many of the claims about personality differences imply that women & men might need different tactics to negotiate and lead effectively. I have no knowledge of the specific internal program and what it tries to address, but training oriented towards women seems reasonable given that women face some different issues in the workplace than men, regardless of what causes those issues.

  • We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

Again, who exactly assumes that? This memo alone shows that sexism exists, at the level of underlying assumptions about what and who is valuable. Sexism exists. Right here. In tech. Today. In 2017. Gender gaps are a metric, that help us track what things work and what things don’t and how much (if any) progress we’re making towards a true meritocracy.

Given the data shows that women are inherently as good at and possibly better than men at the raw skills needed for coding and leadership, plus the data that shows they face real and measurable obstacles related to gender bias in the workplace, gender gaps measure the extent of the bias problem.

  • [Leadership] positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Sexist assumption 3: Women are not fulfilled by leadership positions. Seriously, this one seems really self-explanatory. If you do not see this assumption in that statement, then I can’t help you.

About those long, stressful hours though…

Women and men work similar hours, when you include domestic labor. Contrary to underlying sexist assumptions, housework is not the key to a balanced and fulfilling life. Childcare perhaps is more fulfilling, but not necessarily less stressful.

Sexist assumption 4: Housework and childcare are enjoyable leisure activities, not real work.

The irony is that high-earning women end up doing *more* chores, presumably to compensate for threatening the man’s identity.

<koombaya moment>

This is the section I wholeheartedly agree with.

Ways to reduce the gender gap

  • Make software engineering more people-oriented with more collaboration.
  • Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive.
  • Make tech and leadership less stressful. (stress reduction courses and benefits.)
  • Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work
  • Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles. (my comment: like childcare and housework)

</koombaya moment>

Back to your regular programming:

  • Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women.

Multiple choice here. This statement is problematic because:

a) It assumes that aiming for more women in tech is arbitrary, not beneficial.

b) It implies that addressing gender bias is window dressing, and not solving a real issue that reduces employee productivity.

c) It assumes that the end goal is equal portions of men and women, when clearly the research shows that women are far more suited to this line of work than men and therefore women should be more like 80% of the tech workforce.

d) all of the above.

  • For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google — with Google’s diversity being a component of that.

Right. The whole “diversity for diversity’s sake” assumption. Do I still need to call out that this is problematic, obscures what is a well-documented real problem (gender bias), and reduces women’s substantial contributions to nil?

Sexist assumption 5: Diversity efforts are only to make the company look good, because women’s work does not contribute to the company’s success or bottom line.

Here is the real reason diversity is important for Google and other large companies. The reason they keep super secret and they don’t want you to know. Diversity helps the bottom line. Diversity helps the stock price. Womens. Work. Is. Valuable.

  • Google has created several discriminatory practices based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions.

I don’t know about Google’s specific programs, but I will say that gender and racial bias are tremendously well-documented in recruitment processes, and companies should rightly innovate to reduce it. This means doing blind resume reviews, including two or more women & minority candidates in each pool, and re-interviewing if there is any signal that bias may have affected an interview.

Onto why this statement is problematic. This statement implies that

  1. Programs addressing gender and racial bias are discriminatory (against white males).
  2. Assuming that gender/racial bias exists is a false assumption.
  3. If you think that gender/racial bias exists, it’s because you are biased by your political affiliation/the left-leaning media/etc.

These implications are at least internally consistent. However, it’s completely contrary to the data. Bias exists. Sexism exists. Racism exists. Proposition 2 is wrong, therefore the whole thing falls apart.

Sexist assumption 6: Gender bias is not a real issue. Anyone who thinks so is blinded by political bias.

Here’s the real deal:

  1. Gender bias exists. It is evidenced in numerous studies and this manifesto.
  2. Therefore, we should address bias with solutions to the observable problems.
  3. Proposing that bias doesn’t really exist, or that it is merely an un-examined assumption of “the left” is not only provably wrong, it is tremendously insulting to the people who are personally impacted by bias on a daily basis. It’s gaslighting. It creates a hostile environment for women and minorities. It prevents real problems from being addressed. It hurts the company’s bottom line. It shows the author is uninformed and insensitive. This is the ultimate way to shut down conversation about bias, and inhibit progress toward the type of equality the author claims to support.

Now, diversity practices can increase racial and gender tensions. This manifesto illustrates that point beautifully. But what’s the real root cause here? Is it more likely that bias does not exist and all the studies are a vast left-wing conspiracy? Or is it more likely that the author of this manifesto is faced with some uncomfortable biases of his own, and rather than examining them thoughtfully he is going all-out to justify them?

  • without evidence this is just veiled left ideology[7] that can irreparably harm Google.

Sexist assumption 7: The left values diversity because they like to to take care of and protect weak and helpless victims, like women.

This variant blends destructive sterotypes about women with ignoring their contributions, and also adds destructive stereotypes about a political group. Quite a feat!

  1. There is evidence for bias.
  2. This is not a veiled left ideology. Bias is scientifically observable in re-producable studies.
  3. Diversity is financially beneficial to Google. Bias is not.
  4. Unexamined biased assumptions can irreparably harm yourself and others.
  • “the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ[8] and sex differences).”

I am not about to speak on behalf of the Left, but in this document I have sought out the science (the kind with numbers attached to it). The science flat out does not support the sexist assumption that men belong in tech more than women. In fact, there’s a reasonable case that women should be better at tech than men.

In the nature vs. nurture debate, it is often hard to pinpoint the exact causes because our experiences shape who we are in very real and observable ways. For example, physical brain differences between men and women could be explained by upbringing and/or genetics. We will never really know until we have a true meritocracy.

The most rational assumption is that observable difference are caused by a combination of nature & nurture, not either/or. We can really only control one of those, nurture, for the time being, so that’s where we should focus our efforts. (Although genetic programming is coming soon).

  • [The Left] maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

At this point he’s just re-hashing Sexist Assumption 6. This is truly the most problematic of all the assumptions, because it prevents reflection. It prevents the author even seeing the existence of his own bias. It is the psychological self-preservation of a scared and wounded animal.

  • We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner[10]. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression.

When a man complains that he‘s not allowed be worried about negotiating a raise because that’s a “woman’s issue” then he is a misogynist and a whiner.

When a man complains that he’d rather spend more time with his family and have his wife contribute more financially, he’s labeled as a feminist and a hero.

We have legal and social norms and fields of study that protect men. For example: Computer Science, Engineering, Business, Finance, Economics, Law, International Policy, Health, Organizational Behavior, Science, Psychology, Domestic Violence, Rape, Sexual Assault, Viagra subsidies, I could go on.

  • As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

I think I see the real issue here. Maybe the author really does want to quit that grueling corporate gig and spend more time leisurely doing housework and childcare, only his own unexamined sexist bias won’t allow him to do that. Thing is, denying bias exists is not the path to that happy life that awaits him. Policies like Paternity Leave can help both women and men . Maybe he could marry a high-earning woman (less likely after publishing this, perhaps.) Maybe we can all work together to get more of that flexibility in place, so that men don’t need to be confined by sexism.

The problem with framing the issue of gender bias as a “grass is always greener” phenomenon is that the statement carries an unstated assumption that women don’t realize the amount of work it takes to get ahead, and if they did, they wouldn’t want to do it. That is flat out wrong, especially for women already working in tech. They have been watering the damn grass for years, time to take down the fences and see just how fast they can run on it.

Sexist assumption 8: Women don’t actually want to get ahead in the workplace.

  • The same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness[11], which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftists protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silence, psychologically unsafe environment.

Right, the old ‘shame the shamers’ trick. Political Correctness is only inhibiting to those who are trying to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. Since the sexist assumptions underlying this manifesto quite clearly insult, exclude, and marginalize a group of people who are already socially disadvantaged and discriminated against, this manifesto is not Politically Correct. The primary argument rests on sexist assumptions that are not backed up by data. This is just a factual observation based on the definitions of those terms. Not an attempt to shame.

Sexist assumption 9: Men should be able to promote sexist views with impunity.

The assumption underneath the anti-PC crusade is that men should not be punished in any way for promoting sexist or racist views. Sure, you can choose to promote sexist views that are not based on data, but there are consequences to doing so. For one, it is illegal for workplaces to foster an environment where this is the norm.

The interesting thing is the the author feels shame. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be the guy that carries around so many harmful sexist assumptions. Real sexists would stand by the statement that men are superior to women. Someone who values equality, as this author repeatedly states he does, might cringe. He might examine those assumptions more carefully.

Honestly, I have a hard time telling the difference between well-meaning mistakes and right-wing trolling. The sexist assumptions in this document are so obvious to me that I have trouble thinking a college-educated person with average critical-thinking skills can be oblivious to them. It’s easy to assume that the author is being deliberately sexist and react as such.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to have the kind of psychological safety where people can make misguided arguments like this, get their sexism and racism called out in ways that they’ll actually examine, and move on to creating more mutually-beneficial freedom and opportunity together. I’ve tried to do that here, but it’s more likely that I’ll get death threats from right-wing trolls than open any discussions.

Final Suggestions: A contract for further discussion.

The following list is the recommended steps from the manifesto. Most of them are requests for how the “Left” should treat “Conservatives”. Rather than continue to call out sexist assumptions here (and there are plenty), I am going to frame this as what we need to offer each other if we’re going to have constructive discussions about gender and racial bias.

  • De-moralize Diversity. Treat Diversity as an economic issue. Conversations will be more productive if conservatives don’t assume that diversity exists to protect weaklings and has no economic benefit. If everyone is contributing to the max of their potential, and no one is shut out because of race or gender, then our economy will be better off.
  • Stop alienating conservatives. When someone shares that they observed bias, choose to engage. Conservatives have a role to play here too. If conservatives accept observations of sexism and racism as just that — observations — instead of character assassination, maybe they can engage in more productive conversations about race and gender. Every person has a choice when confronted with racism or sexism; engage or alienate. Engage = be curious about why something seemed sexist or racist to someone. Examine your unstated assumptions more closely. Alienate = dig in to defending your assumptions at all costs without even consciously knowing what your assumptions are. Conservatives are fond of personal responsibility; take personal responsibility for your decision to engage or alienate when racism and sexism get called out. On both sides, we should count every attempt at mutual engagement as a win.
  • Confront Google’s biases. Don’t limit gender and racial equality to one political side. This is hard for gender, because research shows that gendered family mental models correlate strongly with political affiliation.
  • Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races. Attend Grace Hopper
  • Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs. Increase transparency about what outcomes diversity programs are aiming for, and what they actually achieve.
  • Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity. Focus on psychological safety in order to support more productive discussions on race and gender diversity.
  • De-emphasize empathy. Emphasize examining your own underlying assumptions.
  • Prioritize intention. Ask a woman and an underrepresented minority what life in tech is like for them.
  • Be open about the science of human nature. Be open to the possibility that science could show women are *better* than men at coding and leadership.
  • Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees. Consider using this as an example in Unconscious Bias training.