Monday, August 14, 2017

Did we all read the same "Echo Chamber" memo?

A version of the memo with links to the references Damore was citing is available here, on Medium. The memo was on Gizmodo as well, but that site seems to have left out some charts with text, links to references, and formatting (not sure about other content).

After having read the memo, and reading interpretations that Damore thinks women are "unsuited to tech jobs", or that the memo is an "anti-diversity" memo, I wonder if we've all read the same text.

I recommend reading the memo -- the primary source -- before giving opinions about its content.

Before getting into my opinion, let me disclose my biases:

  • I am a "woman in tech". I have been working as a programmer for over 15 years.
  • My political views are basically libertarian.

These are the main points of the memo, in my interpretation:
  • The author thinks diversity is important, and would like to increase the number of women in tech.
  • The author acknowledges that sexism plays a role in the low representation of women.
  • The author believes that sexism is not the only reason for the low representation of women.
  • The author believes (citing references) that men and women have different traits, on a large scale, and that these traits contribute (in addition to sexism) to the gender gap in tech.
    • The author explicitly states that men and women are more similar than they are different. (This was removed on Gizmodo)
    • The author explicitly states that we shouldn't apply stereotypes to individuals. If women, on average, exhibit certain personality traits, we shouldn't assume that a given woman has this personality trait. (Same with men). (This was removed on Gizmodo)
  • The author believes that the current approaches by Google to increase diversity are discriminatory.
  • The author suggests alternative, non-discriminatory approaches, based on the statistical differences between men and women, to try to make Google a more appealing place to work for women.
  • The author believes that Google doesn't have an environment open to honestly discussing these points.
Nowhere in the memo did I understand that he believes that women are inferior, less intelligent, or less capable than men. He does say that, on average:
  • Women prefer people-oriented jobs.
  • Women are less likely to seek out stressful positions than men.
  • Men are more motivated by status than women.
  • Women are more interested in work-life balance than men.
Is this what has angered everybody? Why? Are these the "harmful gender stereotypes" he was "advancing", for which he was fired? I personally don't fit these stereotypes completely, nor are they the opposite of my personality, but that doesn't anger me. If the studies he cites have been disproven by newer or better-executed studies, why not open a discussion, or a point-by-point rebuttal, based on these and other studies?

Maybe the references he cites are flawed. Maybe his conclusions from the references are illogical. Maybe his own suggestions for increasing diversity are not workable. Maybe not. I honestly am not an expert in the field of women's studies or gender equality, or any other field of psychology or sociology for that matter, I didn't read the plethora of references he cited, and I don't know the specific context of the work environment at Google. But I would expect more from people who criticise the memo. More than just blanket statements that the author is sexist without addressing the specific points, anyway.  I would be intrigued by a discussion based on empirical evidence, in the search for truth.  But it seems that all I hear is noise and anger. And I am probably contributing to the noise here :)

Am I risking my career by not immediately condemning Damore as sexist? I hope not, but I feel very alone in my interpretation of the memo. It's a bit scary to see that somebody who spent the time to write a researched paper, explaining (citing references) why he believes a problem occurs, and proposing solutions, would get fired, apparently without a reasoned conversation about what he actually wrote. I would just be interested in reading/seeing more discussion about the specific points he raises, keeping in mind the entirety of the memo text (not forgetting that it seems that his goal is to find non-discriminatory ways to increase diversity!).

Below are the studies, articles, and opinion pieces he cites, regarding the differences between men and women and the various other points he makes.


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