At the beginning of August one of the world’s most famous and powerful companies was caught up in an almighty row over the Almighty’s design blueprint. Google found itself fighting about what it means to be male and female (and how it goes about hiring men and women). James Damore (a then employee) wrote a memo which got him fired.
Having read the memo its tone is one of debate and discussion even if you don’t agree with its arguments. But there are some things you just can’t say and saying that men and women are different would seem to be one of them. It was deemed discriminatory and Damore had to go. The row that followed showed up the classic split between liberals and conservatives.
There certainly is a body of research (published in proper science journals at proper universities) that suggest there are cognitive differences between men and women. Then again there are those who argue that despite some physical differences between the male and female brain,
No study, even those finding strong differences, has ever found differences in cognitive ability. If women are underrepresented in any intellectual pursuit, there is no evidence—none—of a biological reason for it. This is despite more than a century of looking.
So if you’re scientifically inclined you should read The Most Authoritative Review Paper on Gender Differences. One of the findings (not new) is that men tend to clump at both the top & bottom of IQ. So plenty of male dunces and more male genius’ – I’m not sure there’s been a good explanation of this but there you go. Either way it explains why men and women don’t play much chess against each other.
As an aside Siddhartha Mukherjee has written a long and fascinating article Why Sex Is Mostly Binary but Gender Is a Spectrum which gives weight both to conservatives (sex is mostly binary – intersex and Swyer syndrome explains in part the ‘mostly’) and support for progressives (gender is a spectrum).
Then there were those who were puzzled, baffled or angered by Google’s decision to fire Damore. Alan Jacobs was struggling to work out why Google fired Damore; David Brooks of the New York Times thought Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, should resign.
Then of course, we’re left wondering what it all means and has the row left us more polarized or is there anything useful we can learn.
Sabine Hossenfelder argues that,
But one also doesn’t solve a problem by yelling “harassment” each time someone asks to discuss whether a diversity effort is indeed effective. I know from my own experience, and a poll conducted at Google confirms, that Damore’s skepticism about current practices is widespread. It’s something we should discuss. It’s something Google should discuss. Because, for better or worse, this case has attracted much attention. Google’s handling of the situation will set an example for others.
Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies. But however imperfect his attempt, he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?
As the question of how contemporary culture thinks about men and women has long been one of interest for me; I’ve collected relevant articles and here’s a few pieces of interest.
Scott Alexander wrote a post called Gender imbalances are mostly not due to offensive attitudes. It’s interesting because he thinks evangelicals who think there are gender differences are the ones with the offensive attitudes but,
And however different postmodernists, evangelicals, Islamists, Muslims, crystal-healers, and Trump supporters might be, there actually is one thing they have in common: all these groups have great gender balance. You’ll never find a Wiccan circle or a gender studies class that accidentally ended up as 100% male.
And computer scientists, mathematicians, economists, utilitarians, libertarians, movement atheists, skeptics, transhumanists, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, et cetera – are an equally sundry non-coalition. But they also have something in common: a serious skew towards men.
Which given that it was written just days before the Google fiasco turned out to be rather prescient.
It also points to a deeper problem as Ross Douthat highlights
This is why the new Apple headquarters, which has a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness center but no child care center, is a more telling indicator of what really matters to Silicon Valley than all the professions of gender-egalitarianism that have followed James Damore’s heretical comments about sex differences.
For all the fuss made over the church and it’s (admittedly) often suffocating treatment of women, the world clearly hasn’t got it all figured out either.