I’m An Ex-Google Woman Tech Leader And I’m Sick Of Our Approach To Diversity!
Vidya Narayanan
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I’m a mother of two kids — a 7 year old boy and a 9 year old girl. They both generally have a reasonably good grasp of math and logic. You could say they are biologically meant to be fluent in math and analytics (with a mom that scored an 800 in GRE analytics and a dad that scored an 800 in GRE quants, anything else would be unexplainable).

This paragraph is a danger to your point.

We can actually easily rather easily explain why you could have a kid (or kids) who don’t “inherit” your math abilities, aptitudes, or interests. They are individuals. Indeed, if the parents are statistically well above the average population, they are more likely to have average children, c.p..

But the risk lies deeper, in that you are alleging a genetically identified component to the ability to do higher order math, while arguing against it as well. Either higher math aptitude is genetically influenced or it is not. If it is, that influence will be variable. If it is, there is a chance that the distribution of said genetic difference, and its genetic expression, is not equal between the sexes.

As parents we often want to lay claim to anything in our kids we like as being genetic — “it is in your blood” — and disclaim anything we don’t like. I don’t view that colloquialism as a big deal. But in discussions like his, I think it does matter. In mathematical ability the exposure and culture you expose your children to likely obliterates any genetic predisposition in either way. That said, it is not uncommon for children in the same family to have very different reactions to whatever they are raised in.

For example take the case of two boys who have a father (or father figure) who is a drunkard, is constantly in an out of prison, and generally a real arsehole to others. How will those two boys grow up? It is not uncommon for one to be “just like dad” and the other to be the opposite of dad. Yet when asked, both can say “how could I not have turned out this way — look at what I grew up in. Change the criminality to any academic or professional environment and nothing really changes.

This is were I think a lot of the extremists on each side go wrong. There indeed may be a genetic component. But that isn’t the same as it being a hard biological determinant, as what you’ve expressed in regards to your children. It may even be that men and women do have a genetic predisposition to certain types of activities. But that, too, is not a biological hard determination of destiny

Where that matters is in identifying them and at least reasoning about the magnification or reduction of such effects early on; then ensuring we do not artificially push them in any given direction.

In the name of diversity, when we fill quotas to check boxes, we fuck it up for the genuinely amazing women in tech.
And this makes me sick.

It makes my oldest daughter, who is going off this year to study marine biology, angry. We talked about this last night and she said if she found out a company did this she’d turn down an offer or leave it. She expressed most of the same feelings you have — that it hurts capable women (she also said it hurts capable men), that is is a terrible choice, and that it causes more problems than it can solve. She was emphatically against the notion of hiring someone because of their genitals in roles where it is irrelevant (eg. science).

Not surprisingly to me, this dovetails with my experience in the Army during the Clinton administration — when women in combat arms was a fairly politically hot topic. I was in combat arms, and we men talked about it. But, of course, nobody in the argument was interested in our opinion. Every single man in the unit was of the same opinion: “as long as she can do the job I have to do and standards aren’t lowered: I don’t care if the soldier next to me is male or female”. The women in non-combat roles I talked with similarly held that standards must not be lowered — that it would be insulting if they were.

I share my daughter’s opinion and attitude: if a company offers me a job because of my sex and it is not explicitly germane (i.e. I’m not being offered to play the part of Camille Paglia in a biographic film type stuff), and I find out, I’m refusing it with all the righteous indignation it deserves.

In a free society if there are indeed biologically orginated differences in interests (let alone capability, just think of interests) then the best outcome for the individuals in that society will be reflective of the distribution of said differences.

The great irony of the Diversity Movement (as opposed to individual diversity) is not that the results oppose the asserted goals, but that it presupposes men and women are different because they are men and women, but then proceeds to both proclaim and ignore it. Saying things like “we need more <men/women> in this field” and that it will make the field “better” implicitly states that the “preferred” gender is superior in that field — otherwise there would be no difference to the field.

“Having more male nurses will make nursing better”, for example, implicitly states that men are better at being nursing, just the same as “more women in tech will make tech better” says that women are better at tech than men. Either there is no net benefit to the profession or industry based on our sex, or there is — there is no in between. I’m not saying there is a net effect or not, merely that to say adding more of an “underrepresented” group to profession will make the profession better requires that the added group is better at the profession.

A while back I ran across some research which concluded that when women enter a male-dominated field they seek to change the field to their liking. That sounded a bit off to me, though I’d never given such a concept any thought before. So I mentioned it to a friend of mine who was working on her doctoral thesis (in psychology) on the effects and integration of women in the various military occupations.

She quite eagerly said “hell yes, we absolutely do that!” and proceeded to elucidate (from memory) a wide range of data of that happening in the military alone, and that she had seen similar research on the outside. I’ve seen no data supporting the opposite, though it may exist. But for sake of discussion, what if it is true?

If what my friend said the research indicates is accurate, then it means women and men have different views on how a given field should operate. But it actually is more broad: the changes are nearly identical across disparate occupations. Women coming into a field push for more time off, lower hours, etc.. Now this would mean men either like having less time, or are more accepting of it. The other aspects she mentioned are more along the people vs. things line, but since that is more broadly interpretable we’ll leave that out.

Now maybe men tolerate or enjoy the more intense occupational situation by genetic predisposition or maybe it is from socialization — we are taught as boys to “man up”, to “work hard”, “nose to the grindstone”, etc., after all. But either way, that isn’t sexism against women. So the next question is what happens when women make said changes in a field? If men actually sought/seek/want the more rough and tumble, higher pressure nature of a field, then it seems to me they would leave it. So do they?

Again the (IMO limited view) of the research indicates they do. Again, whether the cause is genetic disposition, socialization and cultural expectations, or (most likely) a mix of those is actually irrelevant. What matters is the action today. There is no evidence to support a notion that this occurs “because sexism”. But it is evidence that men and women are actually different regardless of aptitude.

Now I was raised in a culture/environment which acknowledged and celebrated the differences between people without attaching a moral stigma to it. So tall people have an inherent advantage in basketball (and football, and volleyball, among others) — so what? We don’t say that the short but excellent player is somehow personally inferior to the tall one. So why should we say that if men or women have more or less interest in a subject there is some moral and personal judgement on it? In my view, we should not. We neither let its presence become exclusive (men can’t be nurses, women can’t code, etc.), nor ignored as a factor (“it is all just sexism, even when you don’t know it)”.

There are very few women working out on the seas hauling heavy fish nets under terrible and very risky conditions. There are even fewer feminists and “parity/diversity” figureheads and spokespersons pushing for “proportional representation” in those fields. In my estimation it is because those fields are not presently held to be glamorous.

Right now there is a big push that programming, tech, etc. are glamorous and highly desirable. Same with upper level business roles. I just don’t think you can whip up much outrage over women (or men) not wanting to be in drudge work and thus not being “proportionate”. I don’t see much saying we need more women plumbers, electricians, automotive mechanics, movers, and appliance repair technicians. In a sad irony, we really need a lot more of those regardless of sex than we do more programmers. Not to mention those jobs are more stable; fixing your leaky bathtub or installing your new air conditioner isn’t being outsourced to India anytime soon. But in either case, they aren’t “glamorous” work. Hell we don’t even call those “good jobs” anymore. But I digress.

Personally I think women tend to be more sane in avoiding such work, opting for things that are more exciting. To me the real question is not why women tend to prefer lower stress lives, by why so many men prefer the high stress ones. Examining only one side of an equation doesn’t really tell you anything of value compared to both sides.

But the path to increasing women in STEM is not by pushing it on girls, but by increasing its base appeal broadly. STEM needs to be about STEM, or it isn’t STEM. Regardless of sex, it is those who have the most passion and inspiration for, and in, their chosen science that accomplish the most in the field and have the highest personal satisfaction.

Rather than pushing boys or girls into it, we should instead inspire them. Kind of like how a generation of people, men and women, inspired by Star Trek went out to become the people who put, and went, to the moon. We don’t inspire by making a field glamorous, or do we inspire with six figure incomes. We inspire by demonstrating accomplishment and dreaming big. Accomplishment alone is not enough, you need to have the bigger goals to show there is opportunity to do something important in the field — even if you never rise to prominence as an individual.

And in an interesting twist on that my youngest daughter is discovering an enjoyment of Star Trek because of a visit to the Johnson Space Center (where she joined me in serious oogling over the Saturn V). :) As a parent, I want my girls to go into a field because they enjoy the work (or because they like it well enough to do it as a day job while they have their enjoyment outside of work but that is a different discussion), not because someone told them they can make a gob of money, or that the profession is currently “cool”, or because that field “needs more women”. The truly important women in my life feel the same way, so that matters to me a lot more than someone’s untenable notion that all (glamorous) jobs should somehow be distributed among sexual lines, despite it probably being more than a bit of confirmation bias.

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