By Robert VerBruggen
Saturday, August 05, 2017
An anonymous ten-page memo by a Google engineer has set the Internet aflame. The tech site Gizmodo published the full text of what it called the “Anti-Diversity Screed” today. Engadget used the same formulation.
But it’s not anti-diversity, and it’s not a screed. It’s written calmly and reasonably well, and it makes entirely legitimate points.
The author claims that Google’s diversity efforts are coming up short because the company misdiagnoses the problems that lead to a gender gap in tech. Discrimination may be part of it, but it is also true that men and women differ, on average, in ways that might affect their representation in the field (and indeed in different departments within Google).
To wit: Men are more likely than women to find it rewarding to work with things rather than people; men are more aggressive and status-seeking than women and thus more likely to climb the corporate ladder and ask for raises; women rate higher on other psychological traits such as anxiety. These differences are all well-documented and will not shock anyone familiar with the research on them. And while there’s some debate about the extent to which these gaps are cultural instead of biological, there’s good evidence that biology does play a role at least some of the time. As the memo’s author writes, gaps like these are found across cultures, and for some of them we’ve identified specific biological underpinnings such as testosterone.
The conclusion from this isn’t that Google should abandon the quest for diversity. Instead he (reports indicate it’s not a she) suggests ways of incorporating this information into Google’s efforts, such as making “software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration.”
He also decries what he says is a culture at Google that silences views such as his. I suppose we will know soon enough how right he is about that. Google’s “Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance” released a statement about the memo containing this rather odd paragraph:
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.