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This article was published on August 9, 2017

All the reasons why that controversial Google memo is a sexist mess

All the reasons why that controversial Google memo is a sexist mess Image by: Denis Linine/Shutterstock
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

A developer from Google that you’d probably never heard of before yesterday wrote a manifesto detailing his views on diversity. The author of the memo was subsequently fired. Google issued a statement saying the man was dismissed for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

TNW has been keeping up with the drama and making updates as needed. But one question remains: should the man have been fired?

I don’t work for Google, nor am I a developer. I do, however, have insight into the integration of women into traditionally male-centric work-forces. I spent ten years working with men and women in life-and-death situations as a Petty Officer in the United States Navy. I’m here to tell you that gender stereotypes in the workforce are bullshit.

Let’s examine the 10 page diatribe called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” in-depth.

The manifesto opens with a call to examine our biases:

Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices.

So this is about politics. Okay, I get it now. I thought it was about Google, women, diversity, or something like that — nah it’s just a very basic right-wing vs left-wing debate.

Next, he presents the ipso-facto bedrocks in everything that comes after:

Left Biases

  • Compassion for the weak
  • Disparities are due to injustices
  • Humans are inherently cooperative
  • Change is good (unstable)
  • Open
  • Idealist

Right Biases

  • Respect for the strong/authority
  • Disparities are natural and just
  • Humans are inherently competitive
  • Change is dangerous (stable)
  • Closed
  • Pragmatic

It doesn’t take the detailed mind of a programmer to understand it’s possible for someone to have compassion for the weak and to respect authority without being forced into a situation of bias towards one or the other. You can also believe humans are both cooperative and competitive – and that both are necessary for advancement.

Those lists present the first major set of “things we have to agree with in order for the next statements to make sense,” which happens throughout. We’re not off to a good start.

The next few paragraphs describe a state of left and right bias. He takes the time to present a background argument that there is only the right and the left and both are necessary. According to him: Google leans to the left and that’s a problem. We’re not sure what the problem is yet, but it’s clear we’re getting there:

Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.

Well, that doesn’t sound good. He’s saying you either see things Google’s way, or you get shamed for having differing viewpoints. But is he talking about Google’s way, or just general “left leaning” morality? We’ll need more:

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Okay, well, that’s more. Let’s just get this over with:

There’s no universal view of women across all cultures, that’s a phallacy. Just kidding, it’s fallacy, a lie.

I’m also not sure where he’s getting his data on biological males that were castrated at birth, but I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not scientific or peer-reviewed. Nor applicable, unless Google has a significant population of castrated men.

You see, men don’t become women if you cut off their testicles. Not even if you emasculate them and cut off their penis. I assure you that male service-members who suffer catastrophic injury to their genitals shouldn’t be considered women because of it. Unless they wanted to, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

As far as heritable traits: I call bullshit. Bias is developed, not inherited. Psychology Today covered a study about twins, and how people find it remarkable how very similar a pair can be, even if they were separated at birth and have never met. People think this proves we can inherit bias. Why would two people, who’ve never met, behave the same?

The study points out that there’s a thing called confirmation bias. This means there’s no scientific value in the former Google developer’s anecdotes. Just because you’ve worked with some women who didn’t impress you, you can’t suddenly confirm that all women are bad at coding.

Of course, it’s easy for me to tear up his arguments. I’m just reacting to what he’s writing. What’s he really saying if I stop nit-picking?

He’s saying this:

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

Which is an opinion that’s better worded: women are good with people, men are good with systems. You won’t find a single scrap of scientific evidence to support this ridiculous “observation” that he’s made due to his actual bias.

The women I served with didn’t have a problem with ‘directing their openness’ towards ideas rather than aesthetics. I can assure you, they didn’t care more about their uniforms than why people were dying in them.

It’s a nasty stereotype to perpetuate: women somehow care more about how things look than men. It’s hard to keep taking the author seriously, but in the spirit of fully hearing him out, here’s more:

These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.

This is the laziest study on the subject I’ve ever read. Basically he said “there’s not many women in code, they must not like it” and used that to dismiss the entire argument that women are discriminated against and thus unable to occupy the spaces that men have held.

There are, quite literally, thousands of well-funded, scientific, peer-reviewed studies on the subject. We’ve written about one here, and talked to an expert here. You’ll find links to a number of studies throughout those articles, and by doing a Google search.

Let’s hear him out though, we’re still not through these particular bullet points:

Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

He does state several times that what he’s describing isn’t applicable to every individual. He’s pointing out averages, he says, not absolutes. Averages he absolutely has no resources for backing up, nor does he even try. That’s the distinction. He’s countering, literally, thousands of studies with: his opinion. It gets dumber:

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Sheryl Sandberg, wanna take this one? As a tech journalist I speak to female executives, like Woebot CEO Alison Darcy for example, regularly.

Allow me to point out that while yes, women are underrepresented in tech, it isn’t because there’s too much stress. His arguments fall apart when you realize that he probably doesn’t have the same kind of stress at Google (where he used to work) that, for example, Sheryl Sandberg faced when she lost her husband, yet managed to return to work stronger than ever.

Again though, I’ll point out that he spends a lot of time stating he’s not trying to say all women. Just some, including the ones he hasn’t met yet — they’re probably average. He’s just getting started though:

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on[4], pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

[4] For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal.

He’s saying 93 percent of the time a man dies at work it’s because of a woman. He’s blaming women for men doing dangerous jobs like collecting garbage. There’s nothing logical to argue against here. It’s the fever-pitch part of his manifesto where you have to imagine Alex Jones’ chins (all of them) globulating (that’s vibrating in a glob-like way) with rage as he spits fire-and-brimstone about women needing to start acting like women again. But I digress. The author continues:

[5] Stretch, BOLD, CSSI, Engineering Practicum (to an extent), and several other Google funded internal and external programs are for people with a certain gender or race.

He doesn’t like the fact that there are several diversity programs that you have to be a woman, or non-white to attend. He points this out to show that Google discriminates.

It isn’t equality if men can’t attend right?  This argument falls apart immediately. A diversity system doesn’t provide equality. It provides equal opportunity. If everyone has equal access to stairs, a wheel-chair bound person doesn’t benefit from this equality. They need equal opportunity, not equality. If men think women aren’t, on average, capable of doing a job as good as a man they won’t hire as many women. In order to correct for that, you have to build ramps — diversity programs help compensate for a lack of opportunity.

He goes from bitching about diversity programs, to his next point (dear reader, I’m not cherry-picking here, every single line is a non-sequitur of bullshit after a non-sequitur of bullshit) which is that communism breeds corruption. Yep, communism. Here’s three points in a row, unedited:

[7] Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”

[8] Ironically, IQ tests were initially championed by the Left when meritocracy meant helping the victims of the aristocracy.

[9] Yes, in a national aggregate, women have lower salaries than men for a variety of reasons. For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employees sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power.

Look at point number nine. That is in direct contradiction to the aforementioned thousands of studies that indicate that women get paid less for the same amount of work. Is he so naive to think that the big problem with women in tech is that they get paid less, for LESS work?

Moving along, again, just in case you think I’m picking on him and missing his point, here’s more:

In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and areeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner[10].

He then drops this on us, letting us know he’s gonna go over some stuff:

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech and without resorting to discrimination.

He, in fact, does not do that, instead he points out that women show more interest in people than things, so Google should make software engineering more people orientated, you know… because this guy knows women. He says women are more cooperative, he says it again in his next set of bullets, in fact it’s another lynch-pin. Women are nice people who want to work hard, they’re just too neurotic and stressed out to be effective. He extrapolates on how women just aren’t ready to work as hard as men:

Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.

Here’s the next important sector of his work, the discrimination in play at Google:

The Harm of Google’s biases

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]

Let’s break these down.

  1. Programs, mentoring, and classes for minorities is intrinsic to overcoming wage and hiring gaps. Calling them practices of discrimination is a method of protecting privilege. Again, there’s been a ton of studies on the matter.
  2. Same argument as above. If more white men are hired than any other demographic, and you’re asking that no steps be made to radically change the status quo, you’re ensuring minorities don’t have equal opportunity.
  3. This makes no sense, how does a false negative hiring practice lower a bar? I’ll assume you mean that Google hires under-qualified people to fill diversity positions. I’m sure Google would disagree, but I’ll concede I have no way of knowing.
  4. The reverse of reconsidering a not-diverse-enough-group is claiming that a group can be too diverse. How’s that?
  5. I don’t work for Google, but I’ll assume you just mean that Google incentivizes discrimination – if this were true, you’d think the entire post could be about this. In fact, as a tech journalist, I have a huge interest in any proof that Google incentivizes discrimination.

He also says:

Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

He sounds paranoid, as though anything anyone says to point out a difference between men and women sounds like an attack. Here’s more:

The same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness[11], which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftists protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silence, psychologically unsafe environment.

Here he’s pissed off that ideas like his are considered politically incorrect. He doesn’t understand why he can’t have a rational conversation about the inferiority of women without being called a misogynist or a bigot. He blames this, repeatedly on one fact:

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

And that’s why he can’t prove his arguments or offer statistics. The deck is stacked against him. When he writes 10 pages to point out that women are inferior, and Google is too stupid to understand it, he expects people to nod their heads and rub their beards and say things like “Hm, well, I disagree with some of what you’re saying, but I think you’ve brought up some valid points.”

That’s dangerous.

People wouldn’t be accusing Google of censorship if we substituted a race for a gender in anything he’s said. He takes the less controversial path of pointing out that women suck at tech, instead of saying Blacks or Asians do — but he makes sure to include all diversity programs and initiatives in his cross-hairs, not just the ones about women.

It’s ignorance masquerading as discourse. You absolutely have to accept the idea that women are inferior to men in order to follow his train of thought. There’s more to extrapolate, diversity programs aren’t just about women, but I’ll keep it on point.

I absolutely refuse to entertain the ridiculous notion that women are less capable developers, per average, than men. It’s insipid. The idea that women can be astronauts, and brain surgeons, but somehow they’re too neurotic to code? Again, it’s bullshit.

Google shouldn’t be asked to expect the women who do work there to put up with a co-worker who feels this way. He feels so strongly, in fact, he wanted the executives at the company to reconsider the entire idea of diversity — based on his bigotry.

And yes, it’s bigotry. He wants to remove opportunity from women he’s never met before, because he assumes they are worse at their job than men he’s never met before.

It’s important to understand that here. The author of this hideous piece of misguided male-centric idiocy is taking pains to convince you that he’s figured out why women aren’t any good at tech. He thinks he’s being brave by letting the company know they’ve been had by a liberal agenda that tries to make women look competent when they aren’t. He’s wrong.

Google was right in firing him.