UPDATE [9:40pm, 8/7/17]: Google has fired an employee who wrote an internal memo blasting the company’s diversity policies. Identified in press reports as engineer James Damore, the man confirmed his dismissal in an email to Bloomberg, saying he had been fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told employees on Monday that parts of the anti-diversity memo “violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Pichai’s statement, however, made no mention of action against the employee.
A male Google software engineer’s internal memo about Google’s workplace diversity initiatives was made public this weekend, stirring a heated debate that has reverberated across Silicon Valley.
In it, the unnamed engineer said he believes women are underrepresented in tech because “men and women biologically differ in many ways.” According to the author, these genetic differences include that women have a lower stress tolerance and want more work-life balance, while men are born with a higher drive for status.
He neglects to mention any of the proven research on systemic stereotypes that hold women in tech back.
The key mistake of the manifesto is the assumption that diversity initiatives make it so that companies are not hiring the “best” people. In reality, research shows that companies don’t hire the best people until they strip away biases.
Male engineer: gender gap is due to biology, not sexism
There are many people at Google who share this guy's views. They do peer performance reviews and interview people. They discriminate.
— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) August 5, 2017
Danielle Brown, Google’s Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, responded to the manifesto with an internal memo. In it, Brown said that people with “alternate views” should “feel safe sharing their opinion,” but the manifesto “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender” that Google did not want to encourage and endorse.
This manifesto is the latest gendered controversy the tech giant has attracted in recent months. Google is currently being investigated by the Department of Labor for what the U.S. government says is an “extreme” gender pay gap.
Research debunks anti-diversity manifesto
The main assumption behind the engineer’s essay is that racial and gender diversity initiatives lower the bar at Google because they prevent the company from only letting in the most qualified candidates.
This goes against decades of research that have proven that diversity, in fact, raises the bar to success at work. Multiple research studies have found that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones because they make fewer factual errors, process outside perspectives more carefully, and are more innovative.
As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said about the issue, “Endless data show that diverse teams make better decisions. We are building products that people with very diverse backgrounds use, and I think we all want our company makeup to reflect the makeup of the people who use our products.”
The unnamed engineer also disparaged gender and racial mentoring programs, such as code camps, as “discriminatory practices” that are “just veiled left ideology.” But he included no evidence to back up his claims.
There is, however, evidence that shows the benefits of mentorship programs for underrepresented groups.
A 2017 study found that mentorship programs that taught women to see what they could become kept more women in engineering. In this study, female engineering students who had a fellow female engineering student as a peer mentor became more motivated and confident and were less likely to drop out of their engineering courses.
Science has also proven, time and again, that unconscious biases against women hold back careers — not inherent biological difference.
One study found that men judge women’s competence at work based on the color of their hair. Having a female name can also hold women back. A 2015 study found that online teachers who identified as a female would be rated lower by students in their evaluations than instructors who identified as male — just on their name alone.
Shoes can also make a difference. The Boston Symphony noticed that women were not being hired in blind auditions because the jury was being influenced by the sound of the women’s heels. After the Boston Symphony introduced carpet to muffle the sound of shoes, more women were hired. After other top U.S. orchestras copied this use of blind auditions in the 1970’s and 1980’s, women in U.S. orchestras increased from 6% in 1970 to 21% in 1993.
As for men having an inherent drive for status? That’s been debunked, too.
Women may be just as ambitious as men at work, but they face challenges with salary that make achieving status harder. Right into their first jobs, women make less than men.
The Pew Research Center found that millennial women make less money and achieve slower career progress than men despite equal resume qualifications and job choices. On average, women earn 79 cents to every man’s dollar. When they do negotiate their salaries and refuse to disclose what they currently make, they receive lower final offers.
And contrary to the manifesto’s suggestion that women are more motivated to seek work-life balance, research has shown that everyone benefits economically and socially with flexible work arrangements. To assume that female technology workers are women first and workers second, as this engineer has done, perpetuates a negative view about women’s commitment to work and their worth as tech employees.
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