Sacked Google worker was entitled to raise gender diversity issues

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 August, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 August, 2017, 8:26pm

The recent controversy surrounding James Damore’s anti-diversity manifesto has resulted in Google firing him for arguing, in a circulated memo, that women’s under-representation in tech jobs is because of inborn psychological differences.

I do not wish to discuss Damore’s unfair firing, which was simply an overreaction to an employee expressing his opinion, but rather Alex Lo’s comment on the issue in his column (“Women are better at some things than men”, August 8).

Clearly, Lo has not familiarised himself with neurological research that has revealed the prenatal release of hormones in male and female fetuses as early as the eighth week of pregnancy, which are responsible for the organisation and sexual differentiation of the brain’s structure.

Damore, supported by copious research, states that interests of males and females can be predicted by biological mechanisms – exposure to testosterone in the womb – and are associated with certain behavioural preferences. With males, it is tendencies to have stronger interests in occupations that are mechanically oriented, while in females, there is a tendency to gravitate towards people-oriented jobs. One key word here is “tendency”. Damore fully acknowledges that there are overlaps among males and females, such that these propensities are not at all definitive.

Enter Lo, who is clearly disturbed and doubtful about Damore’s claims. However, rather than having a serious discussion about the issue, Lo trivialises the argument by cherry picking comments made by a sexist friend while he was in college, or his own preference for female comedians, and the like.

However, by bravely starting a discussion about our gender-determined behavioural tendencies, Damore deserves praise, rather than ridicule.

Some may claim that kindergarten teachers are overwhelmingly female because women have been guided towards the occupation, or males have been steered away from it. But what is wrong with an alternative contributing explanation that is rooted in hormones and backed by scientific research?

Research has demonstrated that female baboons display a preference for dolls while their male counterparts prefer toy trucks, strongly suggesting some biological determinism. Surely, cultural explanations have difficulty with this one.

In criticising the discussion started by Damore, Lo only contributes to the prevailing political climate in which mention of gendered propensities have been muzzled to the point of being taboo. Rather than stifling discussion of gender diversity, we should be encouraging diversity of perspectives, including those based on science.

Paul Stapleton, associate professor, Education University of Hong Kong