Misunderstanding diversity

There’s been quite a bit of discussion (to put it politely) as of late about an internal memo from a conservative Google employee.

The memo’s author claims that the unequal representation of males in tech and leadership jobs at Google, while partially due to sexism, is also partially due to inherent differences among men and women. Men are more inclined toward jobs that involve systematizing and assertiveness, while women are more inclined towards jobs that emphasize collaboration and social interaction. Since tech jobs involve more systematizing, men tend to gravitate to them more than women.

Progressives from all around moved swiftly to condemn it. They’ve asserted that the author is a misogynist, that he is threatening diversity and inclusion by reinforcing damaging stereotypes, and have called for his immediate termination. Google quickly granted them their wish.


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I find the response of many liberals spectacularly hypocritical and ironic. I am concerned that this response will actually impede progress toward diversity and gender equality and undermine the progressive agenda.

Here’s why.

The reality of patriarchy and gender inequality

First thing’s first. Let me be clear. The gender pay gap and lack of women in STEM jobs is a massive, critical challenge facing the world today. In my opinion, by far the biggest factor contributing to this imbalance is patriarchy and a long-standing bias against women. Men have a long history of oppressing women to maintain power and this dynamic is alive and well today. No question about it.

I am open to the possibility that there may be some biological differences between men and women, but I think these pale in comparison to the expectations and norms we socialize girls and boys into and continue to hold with us, often unknowingly, when evaluating job applicants.

We should do everything we can to address this injustice so that women get equal pay for equal work, and more broadly that women have equal opportunity for any jobs that interest them.

The memo is no work of art

The memo itself is riddled with unfounded claims, which I disagree with and which appear to be largely based on stereotypes rather than research or data. As just one example, in my experience, not only are women generally equally capable of leadership roles, I find them to often be more effective leaders than men – less likely to get into ego trips and more likely to inspire collaboration and organizational cohesion. The author seems to display a deep misunderstanding of what constitutes effective leadership. And, while I don’t have expertise in tech or engineering, I can reasonably guess that he likely misunderstands the factors that lead to success in STEM jobs as well.

With that said, the memo also clearly attempts to use reasoned argument and its tone is diplomatic, respectful, and even-keeled. In a time when many conservatives seem to take joy in how absolutist and crude they can be, for me, the memo offered a somewhat unique glimpse into the rational workings of the conservative mind.

That doesn’t mean I agree with everything in it. It just means I can discern a legitimate attempt at dialogue and reasoning from the outright lies and manipulation we see more and more often from the Trump administration. I appreciate that, even if I don’t appreciate every conclusion that he made.

Straw person arguments and ad hominem attacks

I have been shocked at how liberals and progressives have responded to what to me seems like a flawed and unsubstantiated, yet at least reasonably well-argued memo.

In conversations I’ve had on social media, people have consistently misrepresented its argument, saying for example the author believes that women are incapable of coding (when his argument is that men, on average, tend to be more inclined toward coding), or that he believes women should not work at Google. There is nothing in the memo that even comes close to claiming this. They’ve denounced him as “toxic”, ascribed intentions to him which he never claimed, calling him “hateful” and his memo “odious”, and so forth. All without even attempting to understand or consider his argument.

They have responded to attacks on diversity and inclusion by condemning, shaming, and calling for his exclusion from the company. They’ve done everything they can to make a caricature of his argument and to demonize him as a person.

To me, such straw person arguments and ad hominem attacks are antithetical to diversity and inclusion, the very things that we as liberals supposedly value. By shaming anyone who dares to critique a diversity policy, we immediately reveal that we were never actually concerned about real diversity or inclusion in the first place. We want diversity, but only of the people we like and feel sympathy for. We want tolerance, but only of those people whom we can easily tolerate. We cherish free speech and open dialogue, but only when that speech and dialogue fit within our preferred ideologies.

The hidden dimension of diversity

Diversity and inclusion cannot only be about ensuring opportunity and representation for marginalized groups. This, of course, is a critical, essential component of diversity – perhaps the most important. But it’s not everything.

Diversity and inclusion are also about having compassion and empathy for and attempting to understand those we vigorously disagree with. They are about creating a society where conflicting worldviews and belief systems can operate beside one another with at least a modicum of respect and civility. Diversity operates on the assumption that we are better off when there are more perspectives, a wider range of ideas competing with and interacting with one another. This diversity of ideas offers an important defense against confirmation bias and groupthink. It keeps life interesting and our minds engaged.

The paradox of diversity and inclusion

We can think people are terribly misguided in their beliefs. And we can use our political, social, and economic clout to undermine and weaken the impact of those beliefs in favor of the beliefs we prefer. And there can and even should be some beliefs that are so dangerous and destructive that they don’t have any place in our society. (The idea that women are across the board less effective and valuable in the workplace comes to mind).

But if we truly valued diversity and inclusion, then we would have a preference for accepting and welcoming conflicting viewpoints. We would welcome those who hold opposing beliefs as neighbors and work on the assumption of good intentions.

If we want to genuinely value and practice diversity and inclusion, we must respect and welcome those who don’t.

The pragmatism of radical diversity and inclusion

This point, I believe, stands on it own, simply as a matter of integrity. If we want to preach diversity and inclusion, we must actually live it, even when it challenges us.

But beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, I think practicing inclusion is actually a more effective tactic for promoting gender equality, compared to exclusion. That’s one of the reasons I hold it as a core value.

When we exclude and shame someone for critiquing diversity policies, we only further push our society into silos and foster contempt. We give critics a reason to retreat to their conservative bastions, resentful at how shaming and intolerant liberals are.

We would do much better by enacting and vigilantly enforcing diversity policies, yet remaining welcoming of people who question them. We would do much better by responding to critiques with reasoned arguments rather than simply firing the individuals who write them.

Let them stay and observe all the women around them clearly excelling in STEM and leadership roles. Let them see with their own eyes the flaws and inadequacies of their worldview. Let them stay in an environment that values and demonstrates diversity, rather than send them off somewhere that doesn’t.

How else is anyone ever going to change their mind?

 


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2 Comments
  1. I sent my comment already. I hope it did not disappear. You could let me know whether you received it. I failed to enter my name, and email addrdess.

    1. Hi Lemuel. Thanks for writing! Unfortunately, no. The message above is the only comment that was submitted to the system (that I can see). Can you send your initial comment again?

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