A blog by Michael Gurian, August 16, 2017
On the day Google software engineer James Damore was fired for writing a Memo about Google’s diversity programs that went viral, my daughter Davita, 24, shot me a quick text: “Dad, I can’t believe they fired the guy. That was the wrong move.” We met the next day and talked at length. The conversation was a wonderful blend of perspectives from a young millennial woman and a baby boomer man. Our conversation kept coming back to this point: Isn’t it time our culture and its businesses used science to solve gender issues rather than just ideological conformity?
For anyone who hasn’t followed this: Damore wrote a brief treatise on Google’s gender policies. His position was a moderate one, agreeing that there are gender gaps and calling for continued study and policy advancement to help women, but also suggesting that gender science, not just ideology, would help deal with the gaps effectively. Science, he argued, can bring more women in because it can help workplaces like Google make jobs more attractive to the various ways that women approach their work—some of those ways show difference from male approaches.
Let me say before I continue: I do not work at Google so I won’t speak for them; there may be other issues regarding the firing that I don’t know about. I should also disclose that I spoke at Google ten years ago. I think Google is a powerful culture-changer, and I generally support the company and believe in its platform. So, what I say in this blog is said with those caveats. I will stick with what I know well: gender science.
This science is crucial to this conversation because Damore based much of his Memo on it. Both Davita and I wished he had footnoted his research—this might have helped him make his case more strongly--but the research he refers to is available to anyone who wants to pursue it. A quick and detailed way to validate the science would be to use Leadership and the Sexes (2008) and its endnotes. My later books update the endnotes further and you can also go to the website, www.michaelgurian.com/Research where you’ll find references to more than 1,000 primary studies. You can also get books by neurobiologists such as Louann Brizendine (The Female Brain, The Male Brain), and, you can go onto Google and/or Google Scholar to get further references.
In Leadership and the Sexes, my co-author, Barbara Annis, and I report our collective four decades of studying the effects of sex/gender differences on workplace productivity, job choice, leadership advancement, management styles, and corporate profit. We identified multiple factors in tech and engineering gender gaps, including factors that grow from all three areas of human development—nature, nurture, and culture. Our research—and that of many others in our field—specifically calls for an end to the single concept (gender bias) approach to gender issues. There simply is no single cause for gender gaps; rather, gender gaps exist for multiple reasons.
In his Memo, Damore tried to make this point and his firing is reminiscent of what happened to Larry Summers, the president of Harvard University more than a decade ago, when he asked his academic community to expand its study of gender gaps in STEM to include all diverse areas of potential research, including neuro-biology. His call to push beyond ideological conformity to a multi-systems approach led to his termination and I felt for him and I feel for Damore. I also feel for academic institutions like Harvard and tech giants like Google. No one here is malicious; everyone is protective. Even Damore and Summers, who are accused of harming women by calling for expanded thinking, can see what Barbara Annis and other women have seen: ideological conformity is paralyzing real change for women.
The two firings hinge on the ideological concept that “gender differences” are really “gender stereotypes.” But Damore and Summers were right: thousands of studies show clear and significant sex/gender differences between males and females. This science of gender difference does not show every female and male on the gender spectrum to be different in the same exact way; rather, it shows gender trait difference. Gender trait difference does not grow from culture-based stereotypes—they are facts and they appear in all cultures and races.
They are factual because the X and Y chromosomes carry different chromosome markers for female and male, thus the female and male brain develop differently in utero and then in life. Transgender males and females have proven this recently as they report carrying gender trait neurobiological differences in conflict with their sexual anatomy. Whether one is cisgender or transgender, nearly every human being senses gender trait difference instinctively. Gender science has proven the differences over the last thirty years using brain scans, hormonal analysis, and psycho-cultural integration models.
With this knowledge in tow, a university or corporate hierarchy that posits the non-existence of gender trait difference is far behind the available science. It is like those people who claim evolution doesn’t exist or that climate change is a hoax. One can make those arguments ideologically, but that won’t stop evolution from continuing its growth patterns nor the earth from getting more climatologically volatile.
In the recent case, Google fell into the ideological trap for the same reason so many others do--in a non-scientific way of trying to protect women. Google execs confirmed that they were in this trap by explaining that Damore was being fired because his discussion of neuro-biological differences between women and men constituted gender stereotypes that were felt to be hostile by some of his female and male coworkers. Because Alphabet/Google, like every workplace, has a non-hostility policy, its executives felt that they needed to fire Damore.
The anti-science bias in this explanation has two faces, both well-meaning but both untrue. First, the science of gender difference is not gender stereotyping but, in fact, real, as the sources above will prove to any executive or person who studies them. Second, even if someone felt like that gender trait difference constituted untrue gender stereotypes, there is no hostility in the science. Hostility is, by its very nature, a violent attack on a person or group. Damore was not hostile nor violent; he was measured and scientifically accurate. Similarly, Larry Summers was not hostile, nor were Barbara Annis, my coauthor and I, in Leadership and the Sexes.
Even more stunning, in my view, is the fact that ideological conformity using hostility as its battering ram often biases itself into doing the very gender stereotyping it is trying to protect women from! This happens unconsciously and takes over a corporate culture. Without realizing it, the corporation stereotypes women as so fragile they can’t be involved in either free speech or, even more interesting, scientific discussion. Institutions that keep this kind of gender stereotyping alive and well think they are protecting women from scientific discussion that might seem unsafe to them but miss the fact that this kind of ideological conformity utterly disempowers women. Obviously, if a woman faces a hostile work environment, she should be able to change that environment. But talking about gender trait difference does not rise to the standard of a hostile work environment.
Tech companies are wrestling with fewer women in their workplaces by conforming ideologically to a very limited single-option framework (unfair gender bias) that is not solving the problem. These companies want to have more women in them (which is a wonderful thing) but they are asserting "gender stereotypes" as the ultimate harm. This assertion is just too thin to do the job. Google’s code of conduct, which was used as the reason for Damore’s firing, says “workers are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination.” In what way does talking about science and gender trait difference do any of these things?
I hope you will give feedback to corporations and colleges that science is the right tool to use when talking about sex and gender. I hope you can help advance our social conversation toward hard science—neuro-biology and neuro-psychology—so that these sciences can become integrated into our shared desire to advance more women in more STEM fields.
Fortunately, we already know this approach works on behalf of women. In Leadership and the Sexes, you’ll see our reports of corporations such as Deloitte & Touche that succeeded by training their personnel not just in gender sensitivity but in gender trait differences. They found that workers who come into the workplace believing male and female brains think alike end up making big mistakes with one another. Similarly, workplace and corporate systems that don’t account for sex/gender neuro-biological difference create workplaces that don’t work for many women and some men.
When, however, the workplaces integrate gender trait difference into their programming they improve workplace productivity as well as recruitment and advancement of women. Beyond Deloitte and Touch, a number of banks are training personnel in how women and men invest differently; save money differently; have different approaches to buying and selling; and even plan for retirement differently. In fact, when I have spoken at Fortune 500 corporations across the business spectrum—technology, financial services, government--there are few people in the room who don’t intuitively agree that women and men are different. In these training rooms and meetings most people agree we should talk about it.
So, let’s do that. Here’s a list of the multiple variables we need to discuss and develop policy to deal with if we are to fully look at gender disparities in workplaces:
Until we allow for conversation about all seven of these together, and until we alter social policies to deal with all of them, we will continue to see significant gender disparities and they will continue to cut both ways--against females in some cases and against males in others. They will also affect races and ethnic groups differently. While pretending there are simple fixes for situations in the human condition that were never simple, we will use science for every other human innovation—medicine, technological advancement, human psychology—but not gender in the workplace.
Ultimately, the question our corporate leader must ask is: “Do I really believe human life is a dance between hostile men and fragile women?” If we think it is, we will keep firing the Summers and Damores of this world, and we will keep the culture conversation simplistic, not rigorous. But if we can come forward into the new millennium and accept complexity, we will move our corporate life toward more science and less ideological conformity.
Not just Deloitte and others in business, but the parenting and education sectors are already doing this, too. Millions of people nationwide are calling on school districts to incorporate gender science into their programming. Schools are changing to realize that boys and girls learn differently. Teachers are receiving training in gender trait difference and gender spectrum applications. In schools that do this training, grades go up, test scores rise, student behavior improves, and STEM and literacy gaps begin to close.
Similarly, the courts have already accepted the science of gender difference. When Sears, Roebuck & Co. was sued over gender imbalances in their workplace, “the court accepted expert testimony that men and women have different interests on average,” attorney Hans Bader recently reported, “and that women tend to be more risk averse. In EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., the Circuit court upheld the district court’s conclusion that “interest alone can account for the [gender workforce] disparities computed under EEOC’s analysis.”
Albert Einstein said, “Science should not be left to the scientists.” Science is owned by all of us. Let’s encourage corporations to use science alongside ideology. Let’s give the corporations three years of training in the science of gender differences and then see which works best—ideological bias or scientific training. Science will prove itself useful to us, and more women like my own daughters, Davita and Gabrielle, will advance to live as they want to live in the occupations they want and need. I believe this approach will be seen by future generations as the most empowering for women.
By Katey McPherson