Why do so few women work in Silicon Valley?
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”?