Stereotypes should be debunked, not categorically denied
I’m sure by now you’ve all read that memo by James Damore. But I’m not here to talk about the memo — I’m here to talk about Google’s response.
Clearly panicked about what the leak of this document would do to its efforts to recruit and retain women, executives at Google quickly released multiple statements. Here are their responses to the memo’s contents:
- Google Vice President of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance, Danielle Brown: “I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender”
- Google CEO, Sundar Pichai: “First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
- YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki: “No, it’s not true.”
In addition, James Damore was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.
After reading these responses, it was clear to me that Google believed that the arguments in the memo were “incorrect,” “assumptions,” “stereotypes,” “not OK,” and “not true.” I suppose as a woman, I should have felt relieved. But I didn’t.
Because I’m not just a woman, Google, I’m a woman who works in STEM. I chose this field because I like facts and I have profound respect for scientific discourse. When I argue that a hypothesis, a belief, or a statement is wrong, I’m expected to provide supporting evidence that refutes the argument. I’m sure that your employees are expected to do so as well. So why didn’t you hold yourself to the same standard? If James Damore is so wrong, then countering his arguments based on the merits should have been easy.
And beyond that, my job as a data scientist basically consists of looking at data and making generalizations about populations, so the reason you gave for firing James Damore concerns me quite a bit. Are you saying that all generalizations about gender are unacceptable? Only the ones not supported by data? Only the ones that are harmful? Only the ones that are seen as stereotypes? Only the ones that are not politically correct? Only the ones that are inconvenient when you are being sued?
As someone who works in STEM, I have been trained to look at studies and tear them apart for the smallest inconsistencies in logic. Did you really think you could say that “much of what was in that memo is fair to debate” and “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace” without me asking you to clarify which sections you found fair for debate and which portions violated which specific portions of your Code of Conduct?
To be absolutely clear — I find James Damore’s memo poorly written, his arguments fundamentally lacking, and his conclusion flawed. But this post is about you, Google. Your response could have been clear, precise, and well-cited, showing your commitment to both women and the values that underpin STEM.
But instead, Google, you’ve done the most sexist thing of all. You’ve shown that when you need to appeal to me, you primarily see me as a woman, not as someone who works in STEM.