Former Google employee, James Damore, sent out an infamous memo that has been getting quite a lot of media attention lately, so much that it seem nearly impossible to have missed it. After reading up on his document and what media has been saying about it, I wanted to express my thoughts on the matter, because what he wrote about was something I’ve thought about a lot lately; diversity and what it means to be a woman in tech.
I wanted to write about this yesterday, but between the poor statement given by Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai on the matter, YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki’s hysterical fit about it, and how James has been completely slandered in media I got really upset, because you see us women have a tendency to be quite compassionate. Thanks to how our differences can be recognized and talked about rather than denied and scoffed at, I can take steps towards learning to deal with the negative side-effects of this trait so that I can take full advantage of the positives. Just an example of insights that can be processed by acknowledging the kind of differences James is talking about.
Moving on. My interpretation is that James was very careful in expressing his views. He often clarified that what was being discussed were the differences between men and women on average, according to our most recent studies in the relevant behavioral, sociological and biological sciences, not that it applies to all women and all men. This seem to be a common mistake people make – we fail to distance ourselves from taking abstract statistics and discussions around archetypes personally, have a knee-jerk reaction and feel offended. He’s also very clear about that he in no way endorse any kind of unequal treatment, and that he on the contrary “strongly believes in gender and racial diversity”. A lot of his points are taken grossly out of context in the media and somehow it still surprises me how they always seem to be able to find things to create and distort out of seemingly nothing. Any person who has done any kind of serious, real research around what he’s talking about in his document would not perceive it in the way that is being portrayed in the slightest.
Furthermore, this document was written with the hope and intent of getting some constructive criticism from the people within the company that are supposed to have a deeper knowledge in these areas. Instead he ended up getting fired, slandered in media, and now (as the media is prone to do) accused of running with the Nazis, because he allowed himself to be interviewed by “right wingers”, the only people that seem to actually care to analyze what he actually wrote and want him to have his say.
Regarding whether or not it was right to fire him is a different story. I believe that private companies ought be free to hire and fire employees at their own discretion. However, the fact that he was fired because the company didn’t agree with a few of his choice of words sends a clear signal about the company’s work culture to the rest of us, which is especially ironic as he accused Google of being an oppressive echo-chamber in the memo.
I want to briefly elaborate on my own thoughts that I’ve had around our differences and how I feel that the response Google gave on the matter is the real harmful element here. But first, if you’re going to continue to read, please promise me that you can read my words without getting defensive or attribute views to me that are not mine and try to understand what I’m really trying to say, ok? Here goes:
In my experience, there are on average differences between women and men in tech. To describe it roughly, men in general tend to be specialists, while women tend to be generalists. Men in general tend to have a deeper understanding of the technology at hand, while women tend to be better at design, user interfaces and user experience. This is how I perceive it, it’s not necessarily a fact, and most important of all it’s not something I say to undermine women’s work. To me that is exactly the diversity that make us a stronger and more compatible team. So what kind of signal does it send to women when Google finds it offensive to claim that women are different from men? Are the difference between us that offensive that we have to pretend that it’s not there? Are our traits any less valuable? We need to be free to talk about our differences and understand the great value they bring to the table rather than pretending that we are all exactly the same. Why else do we value diversity so much? If men and women in tech bring exactly the same traits and preferences to the table, then it’s not about the complimentary value of diversity, it’s all just about filling gender quotas.
I am very thankful to be a part of a work culture that make me feel comfortable to discuss whatever is on my mind, and that has always shown complete appreciation for what I bring to the table as a professional in my field, not as a token tech-girl.