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5 Debunked Gender Myths In That Google Anti-Diversity Rant

The widely shared memo from a Google software engineer claims that biological differences are to blame for inequality. One problem: He’s totally wrong.

5 Debunked Gender Myths In That Google Anti-Diversity Rant
[Photo: Shrijagannatha via Wikimedia Commons]

UPDATE: The link to the internal memo as published by Gizmodo was not the entire document with a chart and links. We’ve updated to link to the memo in its entirety. We’ve also reviewed of all the citations which included, but were not limited to, Wikipedia entries, articles in the Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal, several older academic meta-analyses, a research paper that studied the effects of testosterone supplements given to 47 men, and another that examined media bias back in 2005. Taken together, they only serve to illustrate the exact opposite of the author’s attempt to show the “non bias causes of the gender gap in tech” and run counter to his “Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.”

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“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” a Google software engineer wrote in an internal memo titled: “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” However, the author of the now widely shared anti-diversity screed went on to claim that “on average, men and women biologically differ in many ways,” using mostly stereotypes as “evidence.” His memo only reinforced just how little he actually values diversity and inclusion and used widely disproven “science” to justify sexism.


Related: Everything You Believe Is Wrong: There Is No Such Thing As A Male Or Female Brain


He claims that men and women are inherently different, and it’s not just because gender is socialized:

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

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Every single one of those claims is false.  For starters, men aren’t the sole producers of testosterone at birth or afterward. Women also make the hormone, in addition to estrogen. And men produce estrogen, too.

Myth No. 1: Men And Women Have A Different Brain Makeup

As for more heritable traits, “Even neuroscientists can’t tell if an individual brain belongs to a man or woman,” says Christia Spears Brown, PhD, a developmental and social psychologist at the University of Kentucky. She cites the work of neuroscientist Daphna Joel and her team who examined the brains of 1,400 individuals and found that only about 3% of people have a brain that is fully “male” or fully “female.” Further, she says, research on over 1 million people conducted by behavioral psychologists reveals that “individual differences are much larger than any group-level gender difference, and that no individual fits the male or female stereotype perfectly.”

Myth No. 2: Women Are Naturally More Social And Empathic And Men Are Naturally More Systematic

On the personality differences, the Google engineer resorts to some familiar tropes, including that women have above-average empathy versus men’s systemization, claiming that’s a reason for the imbalance of women in social and artistic roles versus coding.

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According to the National Endowment for the Arts, 51% of visual artists today are women–hardly a massive majority.

Although there are undisputedly larger numbers of male coders, it’s not because women are too social or artistic to code. A recent survey from HackerRank found that women’s average scores on algorithms challenges (which account for more than 40% of all HackerRank tests taken) including sorting data, dynamic programming, searching for keywords, and other logic-based tasks scored well above average of between 121 and 224 points versus the typical upper limit of 115 points.

Myth No. 3: Women Aren’t As Assertive As Men, Which Is Why They Don’t Get Paid More Or Get Promoted

He also says women are more extroverted, which is “expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness,” which explains why they have a hard time negotiating salary, asking for a raise, and leading.

Carl Jung observed: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” Likewise, such traits don’t fall into gender camps. One only needs to see how Susan Cain became one of the most famous introverts to know that there are plenty of women who aren’t naturally extroverted. 

As for negotiation, men have a hard time advocating for pay raises, too. Nor are they always good at it. That’s why some companies push for salary transparency.

A report by DDI, which is a synthesis of assessments taken by 15,000 participants being considered for leadership from the front lines to executive levels, found that men and women score nearly equally in their ability to drive businesses. 

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Myth No. 4: Women Aren’t As Competitive And Are More Neurotic Than Men

The Google engineer seems to believe the old trope that women are just too delicate to handle high-stress jobs. He claims that neuroticism”may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high-stress jobs,” as compared to men’s drive for status.

Yet more than half of men would be willing to stay at home, provided their spouse makes enough money, according to a survey by Fatherly. “Fathers stress over work-life balance more than college savings or career advancement,” says Fatherly’s cofounder Simon Isaacs.

Myth No. 5: The More We Strive For Equality, The More We See How Different We Are

Finally, the author cites 2008 research that suggests when society is more prosperous and egalitarian, “the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider.”

However, Google’s own workforce doesn’t bear this out. As the company has been striving to be more diverse and inclusive, the result is that its male and female employees have been found to have no significant differences in their personality traits.


Related: Google Is Still Mostly White Guys, So They Hired A New VP Of Diversity


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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