James Damore’s memo about the gender gap, gender diversity, and biological differences just came out, so I thought now to be a good time to add in my thoughts about women in tech.
Let’s start with some statistics. Women made up 36% of the workforce in tech in 1991. Today, tech companies report 30% are female but only about 13-26% hold tech jobs (the statistics seem to range widely here). The quit rate is 41% for women, 17% for men – that’s more than twice as much. However, women as a percentage in tech companies *is* increasing. Isn’t it unfair to blame tech companies for the gender gap? Shouldn’t their gender makeup be a reflection of the degrees earned in college? Yes, and the statistics here seem to line up: today, of those graduating with a BS in computer science in the United States, 82% are male and only 18% are female. Let’s take a step back even further. From day one, when computers started appearing in the home, things did not look good for women. A 1985 report on the everyday usage of personal computers within the home found that men were both far more likely to use a computer and to use it for more hours per week than women. In 1985, the male/female ratio in tech was 63%/37% and the male/female ratio in tech degrees earned was about the same. Some final statistics, Intel has pledged $300 million toward building a more diverse workforce, including tying managers’ compensation to their progress in that area. Apple is donating $50 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the National Center for Women and Information Technology.
How do I interpret all of these statistics? What is my gut reaction? They’re hogwash and should be thrown away. Statistics aim to group people – something I despise – and this is harmful, dangerous, and counterproductive.
James Damore has been called a sexist claiming that he states men are genetically more suited for tech jobs. Is that fair?, he is simply looking at the data and trying to reach a conclusion. Frankly, I don’t think a genetic component is unreasonable given the large gender gap that exists, just as I don’t think it is racist to say a genetic component makes blacks more athletic. However, stating these things is harmful, counterproductive, and dangerous to society, and frankly I don’t care if they are true or not. The individual’s genetic makeup is *way* more important than the average genetic makeup of some group to which they belong. As such, what’s the point of James Damore’s memo? While it *may* be true, it serves to discourage women, even very qualified women – yes genetically qualified women – from entering the field, and in my opinion this is very sad and hurtful to our society. We still identify in groups. A woman who hears that men have a genetic advantage in tech may choose a different degree, even though she as an *individual* may have a huge genetic advantage in tech. Personally, I hate anything that labels us because it encourages more division and our individual makeup and background is 100 times more important than some group we are a part of. As such, while I like that James Damore is trying to understand the gender gap, and he clearly understands the ideas behind individuals and statistics behind grouping, he should have realized that any sort of grouping is harmful. Since he published the memo as an employee of a company, Google had no choice but to fire him, which was the correct decision.
My reaction and basic response to all the hubbub erupting around Damore’s memo, is to cool off and take a very basic approach: we should not compare women with men in tech (in fact we should stop comparing groups altogether because it only serves to divide and create prejudices), we should compare individuals and we should encourage all individuals to enter STEM fields as it benefits all of us.