The diversity row surrounding James Damore’s memo
Amidst the controversy of the Google computer engineer who wrote a memo regarding gender roles and diversity efforts in technology, many have expressed their views calling James Damore a ‘sexist’; while others have claimed his memo has more to say…
Titled ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion’, James Damore’s memo was written as an email sent to Google’s higher ups as an attempt to address their diversity hiring practices. The memo itself was not intended for public distribution, but was later leaked forcing Google to take action.
The topic of controversy in Damore’s memo is what he claims to be the psychological and cognitive differences between men and women; Damore argues that the left-wing bias of Google ignores that women, on average, are less interested in pursuing a role in technology due to their tendency to “have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men. (also interpreted as emphasising vs. systemising)” In contrast he claims that men have a “higher drive for status” and that is why they are more likely to be in positions that require long and stressful hours.
In a company memo, written by newly appointed Google VP of Diversity Danielle Brown, she commented on Damore’s memo saying she “Found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender” and “it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.” Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai also weighed in saying “parts of the memo violate our company’s code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
In response to Damore’s memo, he has received praise from the alt right while receiving criticism from more left-wing journalists. One of the more interesting aspects of the diversity row comes from the arguments within the scientific community. In an article on Quora, Suzanne Sadedin, PhD, an evolutionary biologist, said:
“This nature versus nurture dichotomy is completely outdated and nobody in the field takes it seriously. Rather, modern research is based on the much more biologically reasonable view that neurological traits develop over time under the simultaneous influence of epigenetic, genetic and environmental influences. Everything about humans involves both nature and nurture.”
Deborah Soh, PhD, a sex researcher and neuroscientist claims Damore’s memo was not sexist; she says that recent studies have refuted the idea that male and female brains are identical and that
“…differences exist at the individual level, and this doesn’t mean environment plays no role in shaping us. But to claim that there are no differences between the sexes when looking at group averages, or that culture has greater influence than biology, simply isn’t true.”
Depending on the research there are two trains of thought; either male and female brains are identical and form different traits through cultural factors, or, there is a biological distinction between the two. In either case it is only a matter of averages and Damore himself said in his memo that not much can be said about individuals regarding any differences.
Despite the diversity row, Damore’s memo speaks about much more; it talks about the need for an open discussion without alienating conservative views; he suggests that Google ought to confront its own left-wing leaning biases, but at the same time he clarifies his stance that neither the left or right are completely right when it comes to addressing diversity.
There is no doubt that the issue of gender diversity is a difficult one, but Damore’s call to have an open discussion was met with the termination of his employment at Google; ironically proving Damore’s claim that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” After his firing, Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange showed his support by offering Damore a job and tweeting “censorship is for losers.”
At first glance, it may be easy to see why Damore’s memo has been branded as ‘sexist’, but he shows that the issue of diversity is about much more than fulfilling gender quotas; it requires an open and honest discussion to discover the possible reasons behind the gender gap in technology to better address the issue as a whole, even if it does not conform to the political views that Google, or any company, holds.