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November 20th, 2017

Insight

Scapegoats, Gulls and Google

Suzanne Fields

By Suzanne Fields

Published August 18, 2017

Scapegoats, Gulls and Google

Identity politics has gone over the top, and the flood of intolerance is drenching everyone. What began as a campaign to re-right injustice has created injustice. What was meant to change attitudes toward intolerance has become intolerance enthroned.

When politicians, notably Sen. Bernie Sanders, said that "all lives matter," the Black Lives Matter movement bullied them into silence. Tyranny took charge. When a Yale professor received backlash for suggesting open-mindedness toward politically incorrect Halloween costumes, she resigned from her position as associate college master — a title changed to "head" because "master" suggested "slave owner," despite the long and honorable lineage of masters on every university campus.

These examples run in a direct line to the furor over a memorandum at Google written by James Damore. He dared suggest that maybe, just maybe, one reason more men work at Google is that biological and psychological predispositions lead men and women to pursue different choices and goals. Such thinking outside the box at a company built on thinking outside the box quickly got Damore sacked.

Nevertheless, no one, not even the frightened men in the executive suite at Google, can explain beyond reasonable argument why, according to The Atlantic, women make up only 18 percent of the computer science majors in colleges and universities; or why initial tallies a couple of years ago showed that the female technical force was only 10 percent at Twitter, 20 percent at Apple and 15 percent at Facebook.

Many voices blame sexism and male bias, but few executives are brave enough to openly discuss why. Finding scapegoats is easier, and there's no risk.

Damore insists he values diversity and inclusion and opposes stereotyping. The disparity between the sexes at Google may not be just because of bias. He picked an unfortunate time to write his memorandum, because it was circulated through the executive suites as Google is trying to explain its wage scales to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Such disputes are not new. In 1973, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission waged a famous discrimination case against Sears, Roebuck and Co., then the largest retailer in the nation and the second largest employer of women. It argued that Sears tolerated dramatic pay and position disparities between men and women. After a 10-month courtroom struggle, the judges determined that personal choice, not willful discrimination, was the reason men were usually paid more than women. Among the more than 13,000 employees represented, the court observed that women often didn't want to work weekends or deal with specialized equipment, which meant longer hours and less comfortable working conditions, despite the higher pay that came with it. Pay policy was not discriminatory, though the statistical data was initially interpreted as if it were.

If math can be misleading, reactions to ambiguous data can be merciless. Although Damore's 10-page memo was largely ignored when he first distributed it to diversity groups and scattered Google employees, once it was leaked and went viral on the internet, the company and the wider tech world went on the offensive.


Diversity dogma nearly always trumps complexity. Those most "zealously committed to the diversity creed — that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same — could not let this public offense go unpunished," Damore wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "They sent angry emails to Google's human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement." At that point, his firing became inevitable, and Google fed him to the mob.

No one can doubt that women in the tech world are sometimes treated badly by men with lingering macho sensibilities, but there's no similar examination of the way certain female bosses sometimes exert authority with dictatorial power, confident they are protected by their gender and injustice being camouflaged by feminist rhetoric of "leaning in." Language confers protective coloring.

Some apps measure what women are likely to respond to positively and what's likely to repel them, which to me sounds as condescending as anything Damore suggested in his memo.

Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio, which uses data to scan job postings and flag phrases that discourage women, says terms like "hard-driving" and "crush it" exhibit subtle masculine bias. The software suggests gender-neutral alternatives. Words like "nurture" and "collaborative" work better with women; if men were required to tailor their language, maybe such words would work for them, too.

James Damore suggests that if society were to allow men to become more feminine, men would leave demanding high-tech jobs for more feminine roles and the gender gap would shrink. And then what?

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