Earlier this week, a technology website published an internal memo written by an employee of Google called James Damore criticising the company’s efforts to diversify its workforce. This is where-angels-fear-to-tread territory. The America technology sector has come under heavy fire for a number of years for failing to hire and promote enough women and Google is currently being investigated by the US Department of Labour for allegedly under-paying its female employees. But what makes this memo particularly controversial is that Damore takes Google to task for discriminating in favour of women.
He begins by saying he is pro-diversity and accepts that one of the reasons women don’t constitute 50 per cent of the workforce in the tech industry is because of sexism. But Damore goes on to say that psychological differences between men and women are also a factor and that these differences are, in part, biologically-based. For instance, he points out that women in general are more interested in people than things, which helps to explain why fewer women than men study computer science at university and apply for programming jobs. He also says that women in general value a good work-life balance, whereas men are more inclined to work long, anti-social hours to further their careers – probably a more important reason than ‘unconscious bias’ when it comes to explaining why there aren’t more women in leadership positions in tech. He goes on to argue that, in light of these differences, positively discriminating in favour of women may end up harming Google at the expense of better-qualified, harder-working men.
Before I get to the reaction the memo has provoked, which I’m sure you can imagine, it’s worth noting one more thing. Damore laments the fact that it has become dangerous to challenge the progressive orthodoxy within the company. ‘When it comes to diversity and inclusion,’ he writes, ‘Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.’
So how did Google react? It fired Damore for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes’, thereby confirming his point. This was after his memo had provoked a tsunami of moral outrage across the liberal-left. The Guardian reported the story on its front page under the headline ‘Google apologises after employee’s anti-diversity tirade’ which was doubly misleading: Damore is pro-diversity and his carefully argued 3,300-word memo is the opposite of a ‘tirade’. In a similar vein, CNN referred to the memo as an ‘anti-diversity manifesto’ and Gizmodo, the website that published the memo, called it an ‘anti-diversity screed’. As far as the liberal media is concerned, there is no such thing as a nuanced position when it comes to diversity and inclusion. You either embrace the progressive narrative about why there aren’t more women in high-powered jobs, i.e. it is solely due to bias, or you’re ‘anti-diversity’.
Almost everyone who has condemned Damore, including the female Google employee who threatened to resign if he wasn’t sacked, misunderstood what he says about gender differences. When he claims that women in general have certain characteristics – such as a lower tolerance for high levels of anxiety – he is not saying that is true of all women. Rather, it is true of women in aggregate. To illustrate this distinction, take height. Saying that American women are, on average, five inches shorter than American men is not to say that all American women are shorter than American men.
This is a distinction the author of the memo makes repeatedly, pointing out that it would be irrational for Google or anyone else to discriminate against individual women by assuming they possess these population-level characteristics. ‘Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women,’ he writes. Indeed, when I first read it, I thought Damore was guilty of belabouring the point. Yes, yes, we get it, move on. But he clearly didn’t belabour it enough because 99 per cent of those who’ve condemned the memo have made this schoolboy error.
But the most striking thing about the reaction is the number of seemingly well-educated people who’ve dismissed what he says about population-level gender differences as flat out wrong, when they are commonplaces among biologists and evolutionary psychologists – so uncontroversial as to be banal. As psychology professor Geoffrey Miller says, the memo’s ‘key claims about sex differences are especially well-supported by large volumes of research across species, cultures and history’. No wonder progressives try and silence people like Damore. They are rightly concerned that their dogma cannot survive exposure to some elementary scientific truths.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.