The combined quarterly revenues of the five largest technology firms clocked in at 142 billion dollars. Of these five companies – Alphabet (Google’s mother-firm), Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft – three have their headquarter in Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Amazon find their head-bureaus elsewhere, nonetheless, both employ swaths of employees in the vibrant area. Furthermore, we find Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla Motors, eBay, Intel, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. Besides geographically referring to the southern part of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has become a metonymy for the tech industry as a whole. James Damore’s controversial memo, although first circulated via Google’s internal mailing lists only, has to do with the metonymical tenor of Silicon Valley, it has to do with the ever-growing technology sector by and large.
The technology industry is one of exceptional entrepreneurship, innovation and, evidently, growth. Despite its admirable results and profits, or ethical questions about its implications on privacy and freedom, talk of sexism is its most timely problem. And rightly so, women are often paid less, find themselves in top positions less often and, according to surveys, have to put up with unwanted sexual advances. With Silicon Valley seemingly synonymous with ‘cosmopolitan liberal’, sexism is oddly out of place. CEO’s wholeheartedly condemn sexism with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as his boss, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, for example, openly – albeit rather frivolously up until now – speaking against it.
“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”
James Damore was a Google employee who felt that his more offbeat and unorthodox opinions were suppressed by unwritten and written rules. I can only sympathize with Damore at this point; as an engineering student I agree with him that a hyper-biased and charged atmosphere at universities and larger technology firms might discourage some from being able to fully express their opinion. That would certainly explain why his pamphlet has caused such a stir.
Too bad that’s where the good points come to and end. As with anything that I deem remotely interesting for its daring boldness there is a substantial ‘but’. The pamphlet is reasonable and supremely sharp in its call for debate and “honest discussion”. The second part, however, falls flat on its phase in its fallacies and, sadly, negates the apropos first half. Damore starts to argue that underrepresentation of women is not a result of discrimination. On the contrary. Damore argues that innate differences make women fare worse in the industry. The alt-right – ever embracing of ill-informed foolishness – swiftly embraced his argument that congenital personality traits make women less suitable for a job in Silicon Valley.
Before I fall prey to expected criticism: however insignificant, personality differences between the sexes might indeed be present (nature v. nurture is an entirely different debate), it would be frivolous to argue that the two sexes are indistinguishable. However, to argue, as Damore does, that women are “more interested in people than things” or “look for more work-life balance” rather than “status” is utterly backward.
I am well aware of figures (such as Rebel media’s Gavin McInnes) who have consistently made the point that, by innate difference, women prefer spending time with their kids but have strayed away from ‘nature’s ideal’ because of feminism. McInnes backs these claims up by noting that women are, on average, less happy than they were a hundred years prior. His statistics are correct, his induction is short-sighted. Contrary to McInnes and hard-right publications, I don’t consider myself a credible expert without truly diving into the subject, therefore, I will leave comment to this article, which explains the differences in a most factual and well-referenced manner. Nonetheless, as per scholarly ideals, research is and should be available on the internet, some links can be found below for the interested reader.
Damore’s pamphlet could have been one for the history books. It wasn’t, to my dismay. Sharp arguments in favor of debate and openness are overshadowed by the poorly substantiated second half. My hope is that the media manages to pick up on this first section and shines a light on the fact that Damore also wrote that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. Honest discussion is, as I hope we can all agree upon, a fundamental necessity in any workplace.
Some interesting links concerning Damore:
- http://nautil.us/blog/outraged-by-the-google-diversity-memo-i-want-you-to-think-about-it – This one is especially interesting as it is one of the few to focus on Damore’s more sensible arguments. Furthermore, it is one of the few that dares to mention that there is a difference between the sexes – however small.
- The actual pamphlet can be found here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586/Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.pdf
Some interesting links concerning congenital differences between the two sexes:
- http://www.apa.org/research/action/difference.aspx – Includes links to several papers.
- http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v8/n3/full/nn0305-253.html?foxtrotcallback=true – If you only want to read one, read this one.
For a typical example of sensational media coverage: CNBC did not even mention Silicon Valley’s ‘ideological echo chamber’, it went for a more ominous ’10 shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto’.