It’s been a while since GorT has dived into the mailbag and this time, I drew two out of the bag.
The first one comes from Dr. (KN)J:
O most exalted robotitude: first of all, my apologies for my silence of late. It has been far too long since I last left any evidence of dropping by the Castle. Real life, you know, has a way of intruding on things…
At any rate, I did want to offer a modest corrective to your take on Mr. Damore’s now-infamous memo. Having spent my adult life in STEM academia and IT, I agree with the vast majority of what you had to say, especially about Mr. Damore’s (apparent) naive idea that his approach was likely to either end well for him or be helpful for Google. However, I would like to point out that he didn’t actually say that “biological differences hinder women from being good developers” – that is, at most, an implicit inference from what he did say. He did, at one point, say that biology affects “preferences and abilities” but all of his examples were pointed toward the (valid, in my experience) differences in preferences between men and women. Had he asked me for advice beforehand, I would have suggested to him (in addition to suggesting that he not take this approach at all) that he remove “and abilities” from that line, since it didn’t affect his subsequent argument at all. The only example he gave subsequently that could be argued to be an ability (or disability) is his reference to neuroticism, which, in the form in which it exists in the scientific literature, could also be characterized as a preference (preferring a low-stress vs. high-stress environment). I would also say that anyone who thinks that being neurotic is an obstruction to being a successful programmer must not have met many programmers. It may, however, be somewhat detrimental to success in software development as currently practiced in large corporate environments.Having taught numerous female mathematics students and raised two daughters currently working in STEM, I just don’t see any differences in native abilities between men and women. I do, however, see significant differences (at the population level, not the individual level) in preferences. This is also consonant with what I know of the scientific literature on the subject. Preferences do, however, affect which skills one is willing to work to acquire, and that seems to begin to play out, certainly by college (and possibly quite a bit earlier), in the overall low representation of women in computer science (and, to a lesser extent, engineering in general). This will inevitably affect the gender makeup of the population from which Google is hiring. I would point out, though, that mathematics undergraduates are currently nearly 50/50 (though most of the female majors are intending secondary math teachers, so that statistic is somewhat misleading), while biology and veterinary science are overwhelmingly female, so it appears not to be STEM as such, but very specific to CS/engineering. In fact, one way in which Google could increase the gender diversity of their applicant pool is to recruit more heavily from the biological sciences (ironically, Mr. Damore himself is trained in biology, so I’m surprised that this seems not to have occurred to him).
Sorry to be so pedantic about this, but having read the memo fairly early on, and then seen it described in the media as an “anti-diversity” (which it was not) “screed” (which it was not) just put a burr under my saddle. I would really, really like for arguments such as this to be engaged for what they really are, and not caricatured in any way. For the most part, you did exactly that, except for the one point that inspired this response.
Three final points:1. The other recommendations I would have given Mr. Damore are that he make explicit that none of what he was discussing had anything to do with the women who currently work for Google – it is really about how to attract more women who currently do not work for Google into the applicant pool. All indications that I have seen are that Google (and, indeed, most IT companies) have workforce demographics that are very similar to those of their applicant pools. I would also have suggested that he very clearly separate his suggestions for improving diversity from his echo-chamber complaints – it seems to me that those were conflated, much to the detriment of the concomitant discourse.
2. The best thing I’ve read on the subject so far (at least in terms of resonating with my experience) is Megan McArdle’s piece in Bloomberg View ( https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-09/as-a-woman-in-tech-i-realized-these-are-not-my-people ). The TL;DR on this one is that her experience led her to believe that the sexism that does exist in the tech world is the result, not the cause of it being a statistically male-dominated field.
3. Any actual engagement of this topic (it seems to me) must take into account the (surprising) facts that female participation in IT in the US has actually declined over the last couple of decades (in the face of a huge push to the contrary), and that a number of developing countries in which females DO face enormous hurdles to education and entry into IT, actually have higher female IT participation rates than we do. Something is clearly going on here besides stereotyping and bias. Here, I recommend Scott Alexander’s essay on the subject ( http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/ ).
As the father of two extremely talented women who are working in STEM, I have an enormous interest in making sure that they face no arbitrary barriers to flourishing in their fields of interest. As the grandfather of a precocious 5-year-old boy who seems destined for STEM as well, I have an enormous interest in making sure that the same is true for him.
Sorry for the length of the response – as the saying goes, “I didn’t have time to make it shorter..
All the best,
Royal Mathematician to the Gormogons
All good points and some great references for further reading. I appreciate the information!
Dear Mr. Robot Man,
Thank you for the recent post on the Google memo. I think that you brought up some good points and I definitely appreciate your points from your own experience. I really liked the part about teachers being 75% women and how companies should hire based on ability, period. That would be great and it should be a focus for colleges, too (were you all the ones to talk about how many minority folks do poorly because they were accepted above their level?).
I think that you may have missed some points about the Google memo at the time you authored your post. Apparently the guy who wrote it posted it only to a small group of people at Google and sent it to their HR department. It is said that someone else leaked it to the whole company. Also, in the memo he said that women were less likely to seek the field and less likely to be on the extreme end of ability based on population trends, not that they were unable to do the work or should be barred from doing so. That’s my take on later articles that emerged during the week.
Thanks for all that you all do at the site. Do you all plan on having your podcasts up on iTunes?
Operative J S
Yes, the details of how the memo was released was not quite clear when I first wrote the piece. And YES, the Gormogon podcast is on iTunes’ podcasts – tune in for some Gormo-goodness.
GorT is an eight-foot-tall robot from the 51ˢᵗ Century who routinely time-travels to steal expensive technology from the future and return it to the past for retroinvention. The profits from this pay all the Gormogons’ bills, including subsidizing this website. Some of the products he has introduced from the future include oven mitts, the Guinness widget, Oxy-Clean, and Dr. Pepper. Due to his immense cybernetic brain, GorT is able to produce a post in 0.023 seconds and research it in even less time. Only ’Puter spends less time on research. GorT speaks entirely in zeros and ones, but occasionally throws in a ڭ to annoy the Volgi. He is a massive proponent of science, technology, and energy development, and enjoys nothing more than taking the Czar’s more interesting scientific theories, going into the past, publishing them as his own, and then returning to take credit for them. He is the only Gormogon who is capable of doing math. Possessed of incredible strength, he understands the awesome responsibility that follows and only uses it to hurt people.