Why do so few women work in Sil­i­con Val­ley?

The Week Middle East - - News -

It has been a very bad sum­mer for the “bros” of Sil­i­con Val­ley, said Melissa Batch­e­lor Warnke in the Los An­ge­les Times. Re­cent weeks have brought a se­ries of scan­dals re­lat­ing to sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the tech in­dus­try. The lat­est in­volves Google, which fired one of its soft­ware en­gi­neers last week for air­ing con­tro­ver­sial views about gen­der. In an in­ter­nal memo, James Damore ques­tioned the value of the com­pany’s di­ver­sity pro­grammes and ar­gued that women’s in­nate dif­fer­ences from men – such as “their stronger in­ter­est in peo­ple rather than things” and “higher lev­els of anx­i­ety” – might ac­count for their un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the tech field. Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai fired him, point­ing out that, “to sug­gest a group of our col­leagues have traits that make them less bi­o­log­i­cally suited to that work is of­fen­sive and not OK”. Damore’s memo has been widely por­trayed as a sex­ist “screed”, said Rich Lowry in Na­tional Re­view, but that’s a wil­ful mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Damore states re­peat­edly in the memo that he be­lieves in di­ver­sity. He also takes care to qual­ify his points about gen­der dif­fer­ences, mak­ing a point that “many of these dif­fer­ences are small and there’s sig­nif­i­cant over­lap be­tween men and women, so you can’t say any­thing about an in­di­vid­ual given these pop­u­la­tion-level dis­tri­bu­tions”. That’s not good enough for his crit­ics, said The Wall Street Jour­nal. They de­mand “ide­o­log­i­cal con­form­ity”. Alas, the “pro­gres­sive cul­tural taboos” that are smoth­er­ing de­bate on univer­sity cam­puses are fast spread­ing to cor­po­rate Amer­ica. The “hys­ter­ics” would have us be­lieve that it’s en­tirely down to sex­ist bias that 80% of Google’s tech em­ploy­ees are male, said Jonah Gold­berg in Na­tional Re­view. But it surely owes more to the fact that, on av­er­age, women are less in­ter­ested than men in be­com­ing pro­gram­mers and soft­ware en­gi­neers: more than 80% of com­puter sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing graduates in the US are male, while women re­ceive 75% of psy­chol­ogy de­grees. “Women have flooded into, or even come to dom­i­nate, all man­ner of fields.” Isn’t it pos­si­ble that their un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the tech in­dus­try is a prod­uct of per­sonal choice? “I don’t hear many peo­ple bleat­ing about the lack of sex­ual di­ver­sity among trash col­lec­tors.” Self-se­lec­tion no doubt ac­counts for much of the dearth of women in the tech world, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. But it’s also the case that a male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion can be “dis­tinctly un­pleas­ant for the women who work in it, in ways that can jus­tify spe­cial scru­tiny”. That’s surely the case with Sil­i­con Val­ley, the “land of nerd kings and bro­gram­mers”. The fact that Ap­ple’s new head­quar­ters has a 100,000 sq ft fit­ness and well­ness cen­tre but no child­care cen­tre is “a more telling in­di­ca­tor of what re­ally mat­ters to Sil­i­con Val­ley than all the pro­fes­sions of gen­der egal­i­tar­i­an­ism that have fol­lowed James Damore’s hereti­cal com­ments about sex dif­fer­ences”.

Damore: vic­tim of “wil­ful mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion”?

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