James Damore doesn't understand women in STEM—or even STEM itself - Macleans.ca

James Damore doesn’t understand women in STEM—or even STEM itself

Tabatha Southey: James Damore is suing Google for discrimination over his memo. But his beliefs ignore truths about science—and his own industry


James Damore, right, a former Google engineer fired in 2017 after writing a memo about the biological differences between men and women, speaks at a news conference while his attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, listens, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in San Francisco. Damore discussed his lawsuit alleging that Google discriminates against workers with conservative opinions. (Michael Liedtke/AP/CP)

That James Damore launched a series of earnest “Is there a bias against women in tech?” stories by sending out a 10-page internal memo in August detailing his bias against women in tech, says so much about what many women in science are up against.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” as Damore grandiosely entitled his seemingly Reddit-culled cherry-picked pie of a manifesto, is quite a read. In it, the former Google engineer—who recently announced he’s engaged in a class action suit alleging Google “singled out, mistreated, and systematically punished and terminated” conservative white men—collected and catalogued many of the theories both common and exotic about the inherent inadequacies of women in STEM that fly about. Women see these notions in the field all the time, but they can be difficult to pin down. These sightings, when women mention them, are often dismissed as imagined, irrelevant, “just a joke,”or even a wondrous part of God’s design they ought to be celebrating. It’s best to think of Damore as the lepidopterologist of misogyny.

Women have been talking about the gender bias in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and the multiple ways that plays out in the lab, for a long time. Yet all of their collective-issue raising, all of the ass-grabbing anecdotes, and all of the many studies showing that women are at a disadvantage when pursuing careers in STEM combined have not been given as much attention as one of Damore’s Wikipedia-linking footnotes.

Thanks, James.

READ MORE: Why there are still far too few women in STEM

While he’s hardly alone, Damore’s laborious effort provides indisputable evidence of the attitudes that many women in STEM face. When a woman submits her resume, she knows it may be read by a Damore. When she negotiates a raise—an arena in which she’s damned if she does and, as the Google memo explains, too innately high in “agreeableness” if she doesn’t—she weighs the possibility that she’s negotiating with a Damore. When a woman takes maternity leave, she wonders how many of her colleagues are Damores, dismissing her as someone innately lacking the “drive for status.”

Damores are everywhere. Great flocks of Damores perch in their offices—or worse, on the corner of your desk when you’re up to your neck in stack traces—depositing their opinions on IQ differences on passersby and filling the air with their cry of “Women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.”

The percentage of women working in STEM has remained nearly stagnant for 30 years in Canada, and the reasons for this include having to work alongside the kind of man who might confidently explain, in defiance of the research, that differences between men and women “aren’t just socially constructed because they’re universal across human cultures.” Women comprised 20 per cent of the STEM workforce in 1987 and 22 per cent in 2015, while the number of women earning STEM degrees increased.

Despite what we’re sagely told, women are attracted to and are adept in these fields. That said, if research later shows that women are actually just biologically predisposed to accidentally earning a computer-science degree when all they wanted was to find LADY 101: Introduction to Cupcake Baking, I’ll bake James Damore cupcakes.

READ MORE: Science Minister Kirstie Duncan on women in STEM

Many critics dismantled Damore’s science. I won’t delve into it again except to say that prenatal testosterone is not, as Damore would have you believe, some sort of creepy in-utero guidance counsellor who pops in at about 14 weeks and tells you not to listen to loud music when you’re trying to form red blood cells in your spleen and asks you if you’ve considered a career in hospitality and tourism management: “I’ll just leave this brochure over here on the placenta attached to the wall.”

Damore’s plodding in the muddy field of evolutionary biology hoping to prove that women are “on average” (his favourite caddish caveat) born to run art galleries is in the long tradition of men asserting that women’s biology means they can’t, for example, build munitions or planes—that is, right up until men desperately need them to build munitions and planes, at which point we apparently genetically reengineer ourselves with a hairnet and get to work.

Certainly, launching his Hostile Work Environment as a Service platform with an unsolicited free trial foisted on all his coworkers was an unorthodox move by Damore, but hats off to him for proving that sexism is web-scale. Yet what struck me most about the rollout is not how little Damore seems to know about psychology, but how little he seems to understand tech.

After all, even accepting every gender stereotype ever, I can’t think how they wouldn’t make women first draft picks in tech. Programming was originally women’s work; why would a man who has his secretary write letters to other people, write his own letters to a machine? If I’d just invented the computer and suddenly had lots of coding to get done, and was inclined (I am not) to wonder which sex had the ability to sit and construct complex systems out of simple patterns, I’d say, “Get me whoever knits the aran sweaters.”

If women were genetically driven to nurture costly-to-maintain, temperamental, but desperately important things that melt down at critical moments, we’d all be systems administrators.

READ MORE: Canada’s digital economy rests in the hands of our girls

Producing good tech, even just determining just what products people want and how they’ll use them, requires the very empathy that Damore decries, not to mention teamwork. Facebook didn’t become a multibillion-dollar company because people were just that impressed with “Joe the Coder’s” mastery of database schemas. Indeed, next time you’re struggling to update your LinkedIn profile without sending everyone you’ve ever met an invitation to add you to their professional network, ask yourself if you don’t wish the interface had been designed by someone eager to please, with what Damore dismisses as an “interest in people rather than things,” instead of what I can only assume is a blind octopus filled with hatred for all mankind.

People often mythologize tech. As it became lucrative, something had to be done to delineate the field as masculine. In the public imagination, it’s a kind of priesthood. To a layman who isn’t sure what’s happening in Silicon Valley but senses it involves turning cat pictures into gold, tech can look like alchemy.

We invented an archetype to staff these tech temples: the cliche computer nerd, that celibate genius with a fibre-optic connection to the spirit realm. Coverage of the Google memo has reflected this perception. There’s sympathy for the notion that fully admitting women into this 21st-century clergy violates an e-sacrament, but tech is a business. And if Google has rightly concluded that they’re missing out on talent and has chosen to address this issue, they’re not blinkered by empathy-induced “irrational and dangerous biases,” to use Damore’s words.

They’re being savvy.


James Damore doesn’t understand women in STEM—or even STEM itself

  1. Wow, what a masterpiece of strawmanning based on total misunderstanding of what high tech is like.

    So a humour columnists understands high tech more than a Google coder and feels qualified to set him straight? Now THAT is funny, indeed…should we call it womansplaining, or humouristsplaining?

    And she obviously either has not bothered informing herself on the full story behind how Damore came to write that memo, or deliberately ignored it because it would make this type of dismissal impossible.

    He wrote it in response to a request for feedback on the issue, and to propose more effective ways to attract women to the field (e.g. more cooperative work environment, part-time options, etc.). Google it! Plenty on youtube.

    How about actually dealing with the issue rather than just channeling Cathy Newman?

  2. Tabatha you must be a sucker for punishment you didn’t get smacked around for your hit piece on Jordan Peterson your coming back for more…

  3. Astonishing self-parody. Ideologues like you are quickly becoming the world’s laughing stock. You perceive James Damore honest, balanced, reasoned argument and based on peer reviewed facts, as the ultimate threat for the trillion dollars feminist victimhood industry ( and also your entire work based on the weaponization of post-modern relativism ). To save your own interest, you are willing to spark a gender war.

  4. I’m a female who has worked exclusively in IT since 1979. I’ve been a software developer, a designer, a software architect, and I’ve held senior management positions in both Canada and the U.S.

    One of Damore’s points was that men like him are more willing to stay late and sleep under their desks. As an employer, I’ll take the employee who wants to go home at five, any day. The desk sleeper might think himself a hero, but preventing problems is, by far, the more efficient and less expensive solution. People who want to go home at five have a vested interest in prevention. People who think that sleeping under their desks will gain them attention, applause, and maybe a promotion, have less interest. And let there be no mistake–most of the problems they fix, they also create. (BTW, the others are no less dedicated. They’re willing to do the work, when real problems occur. They’re simply not interested in manufacturing problems so they can play the hero. They also appreciate an employer who will meet them partway, by paying for a cab, for example, or setting up a home office, or helping to arrange emergency childcare.)

    As many studies have found, a software coder is good for about 4-6 productive hours a day. Beyond that, they make so many mistakes, they spend half the next day fixing them. For workaholic types, those stats get worse. They often have an inflated sense of their own worth and abilities, but they’re generally below-average performers.

    What Damore failed to understand is that women aren’t less suited to tech. Many problems with tech are caused by too-narrow hiring practices. They’re costing companies, not simply due to lawsuits or bad press, but because the current myopic view of how tech should run is blind to its own deficiencies. Hiring socially-inept narcissists is an expensive choice for any organization. Most software is written to be used by people. Designers and coders who lack empathy cannot understand the impact their choices have on those the software is supposed to help. That translates into huge additional costs to their company for rework, replacement, and lost productivity.

    Diversity in tech isn’t about creating pink ghettos with lightweight jobs. That’s what Damore doesn’t get about tech, or about STEM. It’s about strengthening the entire organization by building teams that incorporate a wide range of skills and experience. Companies that have done so consistently outperform those that haven’t.

    Would you build a hockey team with nothing but goalies?

    • This article has a number of ad hominem remarks about Damore and his memo, as well as a number of egregious misrepresentations of his ideas. The article also adds to a chorus from reviewers that he gets the science “all wrong”. It’s hard to miss that authors of most, if not all, disparaging articles about Damore and his memo are women. As with the above article, their articles are filled with ad hominem remarks, obvious misrepresentations of his views, and include an unconvincing claim that he “gets the science all wrong”.

      These articles, including the above, are of very low intellectual quality. They serve mainly to expose the bias and failure of objective thinking and reporting by their authors. That the authors are women is concerning in that the stereotype claiming that women have difficulty with objectivity and reason tends to be reinforced. The appearance is created that these women have simply adopted a left-leaning and pseudo-intellectual persona attempting to elevate their social standing among their peers.

      As to J Miller’s reply above, I am a software developer with extensive experience who has worked for several years at Microsoft. Software development tends to be a “work hard, play hard” culture in which work schedules vary according to need and enthusiasm. I’ve looked briefly for studies claiming programmers can code well for only 4-6 hours per day, without finding any. Her claim is not consistent with my own experience among talented programmers. I’m guessing that there is a general similarity in talent at Google.

  5. We like to say peoplekind. How embarrassing for you.

  6. The irony of a woman who extorts 17 thousand dollars a month from someone who actually earns their money talking about pay equity. A mother who actually cares about her children as opposed to making their fathers life a nightmare would only ever ask for what is actually needed to raise their children. Not to bleed anyone unlucky enough to have made children with you dry. The notion that you have any working class woman’s beat interest at heart is laughable. Unless you are planning on forcing women to take dangerous high laying jobs I don’t see the pay gap disappearing as it exists due to the freedom of choice men and women have. Would you stop mothers from taking maternity leave? Would you force part time workers to work full time? Differences in gender are a consequence of freedom. And I personally prefer freedom to big brother government getting to decide how I live my life and on what terms. You’re a truly awful person for how you treated David Foley and I only hope the number of idiots who will buy the nonsense you’re selling is few in number.

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