My Facebook friends are talking about the Google programmer’s memo regarding why there aren’t more coders at Google who identify as “women” and “Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.” Here’s a representative comment:
female VC: Even if it were true that there were “population level” differences in women/men, Google doesn’t hire nearly enough people to make this relevant. Back when I worked at Google, it was a haven of rationality. Said man should be fired for inane use of statistics.
her friend: Did you read the entire document?
female VC: No, just the first two paragraphs. It was very poorly written.
The article quotes the Google VP of Diversity:
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.
… we cannot allow stereotyping and harmful assumptions to play any part. One of the aspects of the post that troubled me deeply was the bias inherent in suggesting that most women, or men, feel or act a certain way. That is stereotyping, and it is harmful.
The Code of Conduct is available online. Will this guy ultimately be fired for violating “Each Googler is expected to do his or her utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination”? Among other things the guy says women are prone to “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.” [Update: these are precisely the parts of the memo and the Code of Conduct cited by CEO Sundar Pichai in a company-wide response email.]
Separately, is the memo ridiculous on its face? If an employer is short of Worker Category X, isn’t the first explanation that these workers aren’t being offered sufficient pay? Google could have plenty of female workers in any category if they were willing to pay up, no? Why would an intelligent hard-working woman want to be a coder at Google, get paid 1/20th the cost of a decent house nearby, and stare at a screen all day when she could instead be a physician, get paid 2X the cost of a decent house near her office, and interact with people all day? (Alternatively, she could realize the spending power of a programmer by having sex with a couple of programmers.)
Programming is considered by most people to be a disagreeable boring job, a desk-bound analog of sewer cleaning or garbage pick-up, so, absent much higher pay to women, wouldn’t we expect there to be a similar male-heavy gender ID ratio as in other disagreeable jobs?
I asked the Facebookers in the thread why Google didn’t stop with the fine sentiments about diversity and instead just pay whatever it took to get the workers it wanted. One guy said “It would be illegal to adopt practices that specifically aim to increase pay for women.” (But why not instead pay for some characteristic that women tend to have in a larger quantity than men?) Another responded with “A very small data point but I sat on a small committee which placed a few hundred elite tech grads at Google and FB. In this limited sample size of high performers, women were making 40% more.” (i.e., the market is working; women programmers are more valuable to employers and therefore can command higher pay)
Readers: What do you think? Is this guy a pinhead? Will Google fire him? Once his name gets out, will any other employer be willing to take the risk of hiring him? (thus opening themselves to a slam-dunk sex discrimination case because they have created a “hostile environment” for female coders)
[Update: I broached this topic with a female programmer friend. She said that she thought there was some truth to the heretic’s point of view, e.g., that men were more willing to put in hours of dreary solitude when learning to code. I was able to convince her, however, that the only real problem was money. I ran through a list of mutual acquaintances, all of whom were smart, capable, and had great jobs. She agreed that all of these women would have been able to become competent software engineers and would indeed have done so if the compensation and working conditions were competitive with the career options that they’d actually chosen (e.g., medical specialist, Wall Streeter).]
[Update 2: A friend sent me this post from Slate Star Codex: “About 20% of high school students taking AP Computer Science are women. … which exactly matches the ratio of each gender that eventually get tech company jobs.”]
[Update 3: “No, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science,” by Debra Soh, a professor in Canada with a PhD in sexual neuroscience, says “the memo was fair and factually accurate. Scientific studies have confirmed sex differences in the brain that lead to differences in our interests and behaviour.” Thus the Hillary supporters at Google who mocked Trump voters for being “science-deniers” now find themselves denying neuroscience whose implications they don’t like. (Separately, I must part company with Professor Soh on a non-scientific point. She says “seeking to fulfill a 50-per-cent quota of women in STEM is unrealistic.” Give me a stack of cash and I will fill any quota!)]
[Update 4: In response to a Facebook posting characterizing the memo as containing “logical errors,” her friend responded with “I’d love your thoughts on what you think is illogical. You may not agree, but to me it was all a reasonable position to state, and I agree with most of it. I’m a woman in tech, and a woman CEO, and I know full well why there aren’t more women in my position and it has less to do with discrimination or bias than biology and lifestyle preferences. Would love your thoughts as to which bits you didn’t agree with?” (note that the response kind of proves the Google Heretic’s point; she softens her disagreement with “would love your thoughts”).]
[Moderator is removing some comments to keep the total within the 50-comment display limit of Harvard’s software.]
the reason I left is that I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said “What did you do this weekend?”
I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: “I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,” and our co-workers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail.
At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.
- “‘I’m not a sexist’: Fired Google engineer stands behind controversial memo” (Washington Post), chosen for its subject-destroying headline (how do you ever recover from being quoted saying “I’m not a sexist”?)