Today I learned: something on sexism

  • “Sexism most of the time is subtle – you feel compliant to change your behaviour in order to fit in better with your workplace”: I haven’t had any experience with sexism yet, or maybe I am part that flawed society and thus, unable to see how sexism has influenced my development over the years. I expect myself to work in a male-dominated field and it is interesting to read this 10-page memo against Google diversity policy written by a male engineer.

Right from the start, the writer has put a “disclaimer”, stating that he values “diversity and inclusion” and doesn’t deny that “sexism exists”. No matter how different his idea may be, we need to treat it with mutual respect and acceptance, and not shaming or misinterpreting it. Quoting one block from the 10-page memo might seem like an un-holistic treatment to his argument, but essentially his main idea is as the following:

1. Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.

2. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business

3. Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology

 For the first point, male and female have different biological features, and I agree with the writer that is is not just a “socially constructed” definition. The author argues that because of biological difference, there is personality difference and traits that prefer one gender over the other for a particular job. However, biological differences do not translate directly into personality differences and traits – they are results of the upbringing and social influences, which include gender roles and gender biases. Thus, the notion that trait differences and gender gap occur as part of an inherent natural biological distinction by gender is inaccurate and thereby underestimates the influence of society, which reinforces the difference in traits between genders. Saying things like “men have a higher drive for status because status is the primary metric that men are judged” to explain why there are more male executives invalidates the author’s claim of having a non-biased discussion on sexism – the premise of the author’s argument is based on absolutely subjective societal norms such as “status is the primary metric that men are judged.” Thus, in my opinion, his first argument is flawed because there is no strong causal relationship between biological difference and gender misrepresentation. Using “average personality traits according to gender” to explain the preference of a gender for a certain job is to reinforce the societal bias. The author also quoted this idea:

“…society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider…”

The link between prosperity and the widening gap in personality between men and women is not that obvious. I actually see the opposite. There is no longer a straight male or female – there is a spectrum of genders now. It is actually in more developed and prosperous societies that people start to pick up personality and traits of a different sex and create their own definition of “gender”. Men having more feminine traits is no longer uncommon in these societies and it seems like the “gender gap” is actually narrowing.

For the second point,

2. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business

It really depends on what the author’s notion of “fairness” is.

IISC_EqualityEquity

Because our feels for “fairness” are different, it doesn’t make sense to argue on this basis. That said, the author should acknowledge the rationale of having certain policies that help to promote equity. Knowing that sexism exists but doing nothing to counter it because helping one means discriminating against the rest, like the author himself is not good enough. At the same time, having practices that actively try to diversify the workplace for the statistics sake and failing to reach a consensus with everyone are damaging to the company itself.

3. Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology

I agree that Google, being run by human executives, carry with its biases and honest discussion is needed to de-escalate the conflict. However, these ideas are not being actively silenced – the fact that the author’s note is being distributed and taken seriously, instead of getting shot down immediately is an evidence for that.

Overall, the author’s note was well-written and clearly Google’s executive board should evaluate their diversity policy. I just hope that people wouldn’t get riled up and label this man as “anti-feminist” and turn the conversation into an irrational one.

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