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“Are women biologically less suited to certain jobs?”: Tackling different points of view in the workplace

“Are women biologically less suited to certain jobs?”: Tackling different points of view in the workplace

A few weeks ago, Google employee James Damore was fired for writing a paper entitled “Google’s Ideological Eco Chamber” in which he argued that the “abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these difference may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership”.

In part of his paper, Damore said:

“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).
  • 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.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also higher agreeableness.
  • This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
  • 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.”

Unsurprisingly, many people found the suggestion that women were biologically unsuited to certain roles highly offensive and Damore was ultimately fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.

However, Damore claimed to have received “many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude” for speaking out.

Does this mean that many people do agree with Damore sentiments but are simply afraid to voice them? Damore’s paper was anonymously published and his identity has only become public through media reports which indicates he did not himself feel comfortable to make the statements publicly.

Google spends a huge amount of money on unconscious bias training for its employees, but evidently not all of its employees are on the same page in spite of this. Some commentators have suggested that companies that are focused on making improvements in this area should work out a way of testing any training programme’s effectiveness. In particular, it is important to understand what the employees’ views are on the importance of these topics and how they can help a business.

Ultimately, although some of the views in Damore’s paper regarding biological differences evidently crossed a line into offensive, many of Damore’s points were, as Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said, “fair to debate”. Therefore is a large failing here that Damore felt he could not  openly debate his points and had to resort to an “underground”, anonymous paper? Perhaps designers of equality training programmes need to make sure they understand the true views of the employees in the first place before working out how to influence them. Whilst hearing some points which may be considered unpalatable may not appeal to some people, driving different viewpoints underground cannot be the best way to truly change them.