Earlier this week, a technology website published an internal memo written by a Google employee called James Damore criticising the company’s efforts to diversify its workforce. This is ‘where angels fear to tread’ territory. The American technology sector has come under fire for years for failing to hire and promote enough women and Google is being investigated by the US Department of Labor for allegedly underpaying its female employees. What makes this memo particularly controversial is that Damore takes Google to task for discriminating in favour of women.
He begins by saying that he is pro-diversity and accepts that sexism is one of the reasons women don’t constitute 50 per cent of the workforce in the tech industry. But then he goes on to say that psychological differences between men and women are also a factor and that these differences are, in part, biologically based. For instance, he points out that women in general are more interested in people than things, which helps to explain why fewer women than men study computer science at university and apply for programming jobs. He also says that women in general value a good work-life balance, whereas men are more inclined to work long, anti-social hours to further their careers — probably a more important reason than ‘unconscious bias’ when it comes to explaining why there aren’t more women in leadership positions in tech. And he argues that, in light of these differences, positively discriminating in favour of women may end up harming Google at the expense of better-qualified, harder-working men.
Damore also laments the fact that it has become dangerous to challenge the progressive orthodoxy within Google. ‘When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct mono-culture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,’ he writes. ‘This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.’
So how did Google react? It fired Damore for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes’, thereby confirming his point. This was after his memo had provoked a tsunami of moral outrage across the liberal left. The Guardian reported the story on its front page under the headline ‘Google apologises after employee’s anti-diversity tirade’ which was doubly misleading: Damore is pro-diversity and his carefully argued, 3,300-word memo is the opposite of a ‘tirade’. In a similar vein, CNN referred to the memo as an ‘anti-diversity manifesto’ and Gizmodo, the website that published it in full, called it an ‘anti-diversity screed’. As far as the liberal media is concerned, there is no such thing as a nuanced position when it comes to diversity and inclusion. You either embrace the progressive narrative about why there aren’t more women in high-powered jobs; i.e. it is solely due to bias, or you’re ‘anti-diversity’.
Almost everyone who has condemned Damore misunderstood what he said. When he claims women in general have certain characteristics — such as a lower tolerance for high levels of anxiety — he is not saying that is true of all women. Rather, it is true of women in aggregate. To illustrate this distinction, take height. Saying American women are, on average, five inches shorter than American men is not to say all American women are shorter than American men.
This is a distinction Damore makes repeatedly, pointing out that it would be irrational to discriminate against individual women by assuming they possess these population-level characteristics. ‘Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women,’ he writes. Indeed, when I first read the memo I thought Damore was guilty of belabouring this point. But he didn’t belabour it enough, because 99 per cent of those who’ve condemned the memo ignore these careful caveats.
But the most striking thing about the reaction is the number of s-eemingly well-educated people who dismiss his points about population–level gender differences as wrong, when they are in fact commonplace; so uncontroversial as to be banal among biologists and evolutionary psychologists. As psychology professor Geoffrey Miller says, the memo’s ‘key claims about sex differences are well-supported by large volumes of research across species, cultures and history’.
No wonder progressives try to silence people like Damore. They are rightly concerned that their dogma cannot survive exposure to some elementary scientific truths.s
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free