How Dumb Is Silicon Valley?

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Is everyone in corporate Silicon Valley an idiot?

Seems a stretch. These people run companies that provide sophisticated products and services that lots of people use and that make lots of money. So you go in assuming you’re dealing with people who can think.

But they haven’t been thinking very well the last few days. The public responses to former Google software engineer James Damore’s memo about women in software engineering are not reassuring.

The most striking aspect of the substantive response to Damore’s memo — and there has been little substantive response to it — is how dumb it is.

Here’s an example, by Susan Woycicki, the head of YouTube (owned by Google). Let’s assume she’s good at what she does, whatever that is.  Here’s something she isn’t good at:  Responding to James Damore.

Writing in Fortune magazine, she begins by describing her daughter’s question to her about whether Damore is right, that men and women have certain differences that (as a whole) lead to unequal outcomes in the software industry. No, is the answer, though she never gives an actual reason why Damore is wrong. Instead, she describes various negative experiences she has had in corporate America and attributes them to being a woman among men.

Let’s assume everything happened the way she says it did and for the reasons she says. If so, it’s unfortunate. She shouldn’t have been talked over or ignored or left unvalidated until a male colleague rephrased what she had said. (Unless he said it better, that is.)

But here’s where she engages (sort of) Damore:

“Some of those responding to the memo are trying to defend its authorship as an issue of free speech. As a company that has long supported free expression, Google obviously stands by the right that employees have to voice, publish or tweet their opinions. But while people may have a right to express their beliefs in public, that does not mean companies cannot take action when women are subjected to comments that perpetuate negative stereotypes about them based on their gender. Every day, companies take action against employees who make unlawful statements about co-workers, or create hostile work environments.”

Where are the “negative stereotypes” against women in Damore’s memo? He points out that women – on the whole – tend to do better than men in people situations, while men — on the whole — tend to do better than women at impersonal operations like coding. He points out that women — on the whole — tend to value “work-life balance” (like, say, taking care of children) while men — on the whole — tend to value status (like, say, making a lot of money).

There’s nothing negative about that. These are different skills and interests — and you could certainly argue that the skills and interests that women excel at — on the whole — are more important.

Damore says he’s for more diversity and more inclusion in software engineering, but that Google’s re-education diversity classes aren’t cutting it because they are saying false things. Even if you eliminate all sexism, he says, you won’t get a 50-50 split between men and women.

Where is the hostile work environment in that?

But Woycicki, sure she’s doing well and determined to show that Damore is a bigot, goes for the kill shot:

“For instance, what if we replaced the word “women” in the memo with another group? What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments or would there be a universal call for swift action against its author? I don’t ask this to compare one group to another, but rather to point out that the language of discrimination can take many different forms and none are acceptable or productive.” 

This is an even dumber argument than the first one. But it’s helpful because it reveals the crumbling logic of the left-wing identity-politics ideologue.

Here’s how it goes:

I’m a member of Protected Class A. Someone said something that offended me and created a situation that I feel disadvantages Protected Class A. Some people seem to be buying this guy’s argument. But what if he had referred to Protected Classes B, C, or D? No one would buy it then. Therefore, I win the argument.

If the protected classes were widgets, then this logic would have a (thin) veneer of plausibility. It lacks even that, though, because biological sex is not the same as race or sexual orientation. There is no obvious case, for instance, that blacks or Hispanics or homosexuals aren’t as drawn to data-driven jobs as people of other races or other sexual inclinations, or that they don’t thrive on stress as much, or that they would prefer to spend time with their families rather than finish the projects their upwardly mobile jobs demand.

Damore’s argument is about women and men, and their differences, and doesn’t apply to race or sexual orientation. Nor is it meant to.

It’s important to highlight some things that Damore did not say:

  • He did not say that women don’t belong in computer technology
  • He did not say that women can’t excel in computer technology jobs and in leadership positions in computer technology
  • He did not say that women who work in computer technology don’t encounter unacceptable barriers

Here’s something he did say:

“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.”

This is the sentence that has critics howling — perhaps because it is so obvious.

But here’s another one that probably hurts more:

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


Matt McDonald is Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of New Boston Post. See other articles by him here.