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[flagged] I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you (vox.com)
93 points by eridius 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

Probably the most persuasive rebuttal I've read in trying to follow memo story. It has an honesty about it. So the issues with the memo are lie largely in the subtext and motivations, it seems. When framed this way, it's easier to understand.

One issue I have is that the author implies the memo is alluding to a lack of aptitude, where in my reading of the original memo, the issue was of a lack of interest (wrt affinity towards people vs. objects and so forth). Perhaps that's six of one vs half a dozen of the other from a certain perspective, but it comes off as a misrepresentation.

> So the issues with the memo are lie largely in the subtext and motivations, it seems.

It is very interesting that so much of the response focuses on outrage, mischaracterizations of the memo, and (seemingly accurate) ad hominem attacks on the author.

This appears to support the central point of the manifesto: that we are not able to have a mature discussion about this. While we may disagree with what James said the response makes this point undeniable.

It seems that Google isn't the only place stuck in an ideological echo chamber.

Maybe HN is fatigued with discussions of the Google memo, I don't think there has been enough.

I'm vouching for the new contributor to Vox, hoping she can continue talking about issues she's seen.

I've vouched as well. We have tools to handle inappropriate comments threads without needing to avoid the topic wholesale.

Vouching still exists? I suppose I got it taken away for using it ‘wrong’.

Eh,you could write the mods and ask what's up. I don't have it either. I don't know why. I haven't cared enough to bring it up.

You can vouch for comments. You can't vouch threads. You upvotes threads.

I believe you can vouch stories once they are marked [dead]. If they're just [flagged] but not actually [dead] yet then you can't vouch.

Yes, that's right. More info here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12984398.

From the linked comment:

> You're right that we could have 'vouch' show up even if an article is merely [flagged] rather than [dead].

There's the problem right now that flagging articles can drop them so low on the new articles feed (3rd or 4th page) that they are effectively dead. Some discussion may continue for a while from people who were already participating in discussions or are dropping in via the comments link. But typically this will be a very small number of people. So even if an article is not, strictly speaking, dead, it is effectively zombie-ified.

Allowing a "vouch" on a flagged article which actually works to offset a single flag might be a good compromise.

I think the same is true for comments: they need to be [dead] before you get a vouch button. Additionally, you have to click into the individual comment to see the vouch button.

(Glad to learn I am not on some secret Bad Voucher list. Thanks for commenting.)

> If, as the manifesto’s defenders claim, the population averages do not have anything to say about individual Googlers, who are all exceptional, then why is Google the subject of the manifesto’s arguments at all? What do averages have to do with hiring practices at a company that famously hires fewer than one percent of applicants? In the name of the rational empiricism and quantitative rigor that the manifesto holds so dear, shouldn’t we insist that it only cite studies that specifically speak to the tails of the distribution — to the actual pool of women Google draws from?

This is a great point.

> shouldn’t we insist that it only cite studies that specifically speak to the tails of the distribution — to the actual pool of women Google draws from?

Yes. If women fall on a bell curve, and Google pulls only from the far right (x-axis is skill, y-axis is number of women), then the research used to change Google's hiring practices should be based on that selected portion of the curve, not the whole population.

If Damore was really just questioning Google's hiring practices, he should have sought out research that looks only at the pool of candidates from which Google draws. And, if he was questioning all affirmative action policies for women, then he was being disingenuous by targeting Google.

Thanks for posting this. Since gender-based employment policies affect women much more than they do men, it seems like women should be the ones leading the discussion about whether these policies are a good idea or not.

> Since gender-based employment policies affect women much more than they do men

How so? If men are advantaged, women are disadvantaged. Likewise, if women are advantaged, men are disadvantaged. Therefore, gender-based employment policies affect both genders, in equal but opposite ways.

This is not a zero sum game (like war) but a greater-than-the-parts game (like trade). Having access to a larger pool of potential employees because the workplace environment is not unpleasant or toxic makes the averages go up. Who doesn't want to work with great people?

The memo came across as both arrogant and poorly constructed. To cherry-pick some pieces of data without context of the greater body of work is the domain of politicians and talk radio hosts. I can find you a paper with data showing whatever fact you want.

Second, I find this whole thing American centric. When it comes to politics, there are never examples cited from other countries.

Gender differences in personality is cross-cultural [1].

Something to consider is that the Scandinavian countries have arguably done the most for gender equality, but instead saw gender proclivities in occupation choice and personality maximize [2][3][4][5]. Probably because by creating an equality of opportunity, people were free to pursue their interests.

[1]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/14018323_Gender_Dif...

[2]: Watch "The Gender Equality Paradox": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5LRdW8xw70

[3]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223529887_Culture_c...

[4]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24001221_Why_Can%27...

[5]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11825676_Gender_Dif...

> Gender differences in personality is cross-cultural [1].

Meanwhile, gender differences in career choice is not cross-cultural.

My problem is not with diversity programs. But with the fact that diversity programs are usually benefiting those of the creamy layer who are already in a position to utilize these and not the genuine women who need the same.

Arguments on both sides completely miss this. No data no specifics, just rhetoric.

> Why do women report higher levels of anxiety at Google, according to the manifesto? Because of their gender’s higher levels of “neuroticism.”

Neuroticism is one of the Big Five personality traits and, as such, is a very mainstream topic in the psychology of personality. Scare quotes are used to suggest that a word is being used inaccurately, or in an unusual way. As such, a reader of this article who is not familiar with the Big Five model (aka OCEAN/CANOE) is likely to erroneously believe that the memo author is using 'neuroticism' to mean to having a neurosis or some kind of mental illness, which would indeed be inaccurate here.

Another rebuttal guilty of misrepresenting and being dismissive of the original memo, and just being wrong on certain details.

Her reasons for outrage:

> 1) Fatigue

She claims women 'feel as the legitimacy of [their] presence is constantly questioned.' Of course I'm not going to argue this, I'm sure it's true, but it's also not a reason to ignore his arguments.

> 2) Women's resistance to the "divide and conquer" strategy.

Trying to paint Damore as attempting to undermine females as a group and turn them against each other. I certainly got none of that from reading the original memo. Because some women might actually agree with some of Damore's points, he's trying to divide the gender against each other? Not buying it.

She again is misinterpreting Damore's claim that there may be a reason why women might prefer not to work in IT aside from male sexism as 'skepticism and condescension' of women's ability in general.

> 3) The author cites science about "averages." But Google isn't average.

First off, her claim that Stanford at 30% and Harvey Mudd at 50% female CS graduates is irrelevant when the average across the US as of 2014 is 18%[1], a percent less than Google's 19% female workforce. Those figures are just cherry picked data and useless unless we have statistics on where Google hires from.

Second, she's trying to undermine his claim that the diversity initiatives may actually be doing harm to the company by making it a foregone conclusion that they are "Google's attempts at creating a fair and broadly welcoming working environment." Lots of saying "Artificial diversity good, Damore bad" without attempting to consider what he's suggesting or even addressing it or rebutting his individual points at all. Just glossing over his claims using citations of scientific studies as 'dispassionate facts [with] no rigorous connection to [average women].' It seems if she could have constructed an argument against these she would have.

She again misses the point by claiming that "it wouldn't be some abstract concept of 'average' that doesn't get a scholarship, it would be an actual individual woman." Of course making changes to diversity programs would affect individuals. But right now, Damore is claiming that they're already affecting individuals negatively by stifling speech outside the list of culturally whitelisted opinions and giving individuals with (possibly) less merit more opportunities over others. Considering the alternative seems to never have entered the author's mind.

> 4) Race

Though Damore's essay is primarily about gender, he also mentioned race because Google's diversity initiatives (and usually whenever diversity is discussed in general) also are aimed at achieving a more equal gender and race representation. I actually ctrl-f'd 'race' in the memo and every time it was used it was also accompanied by 'and gender'. I see no reason to accuse him of being a racist because of this.

> 5) The author says he’s open to diversity, yet no real-world diversity-enhancing program meets his standards

It's like she didn't even read the memo. Diversity-enhancing programs are bad according to Damore when they give opportunities to one group of people over another based on their gender (or race). He's suggesting we step back one level of causation and consider that there may be another reason besides sexism that causes there to be a gender imbalance. Based on this article, I don't think the author ever did that.

I will agree with her that his suggestions for alternatives are lacking and vague. However, the memo still has merit for drawing attention to the problem. A suggestion I might make (and has been made many times and more articulately by much smarter people than me) is while cutting back on the forced diversity initiatives, we increase cultural acceptance of girls in STEM starting in preschool. This won't yield results in the short term but I believe it is at least a part of the long term answer.

[1] https://www.usnews.com/news/data-mine/articles/2016-10-20/st...

I find it bit weird that women and minorities seem to be able to use this "fatigue" thing as argument or excuse to blow up on some situations. The same does not seem to apply to white men, as otherwise she would started how Damore might have felt exhausted before writing that memo. Holding white men to higher standard might backfire in the long run.

Re the "fatigue", that sucks. But unfortunately, it's a rational reaction to AA, etc.

I recall running into women in CS in the 80s, far before the days of diversity hires. It was instant respect, as you knew that that person was not only legit, but had probably overcome extra obstacles to get where they were.

These days, anyone who could have been a diversity hire is guilty until proven innocent.

My response to another commenter the first time this was posted (and flagged - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14990433):

It's like a person brand new to the job - you don't know their skills yet. After a few months one's co-workers should see those skills in action enough that the suspicion disappears. And after a few years the worker will hopefully develop enough that they can demonstrate their competency to pretty much anyone.

And ultimately the person will be enjoying their career, which makes most other considerations irrelevant.

It's not as if outsiders to a job have the ability to accurately evaluate the person doing the job. A company can't be held responsible for someone else's Dunning-Kruger effect.

Well, or the suspicion is confirmed. But in any case, "a few years" is a long time to labor under a cloud, esp in an industry where switching jobs every couple of years is common. For myself, I'd prefer to face exactly the same standard as everyone else.

FWIW -- google does not have diversity hires in the interview pipeline. Everyone gets the same interview bar. But 'diversity recruiting' is more aggressive to try and increase the available interview pool.

The author claimed he attended a workshop and discovered that this is not entirely true.

Do diversity hires get any special treatment after a no-hire vote?

The author of the memo indicated that special steps were taken that would/might lower the false negative rate. Unfortunately the reference points to an internal document, but this would seem to indicate that the bar is lowered.

> These days, anyone who could have been a diversity hire is guilty until proven innocent

That says a lot more about you than it does about diversity programmes.

People won't generally admit to these sorts of uncomfortable estimations, but pretty much everyone makes them internally.

If it makes you feel any better, as a rule I give diversity people higher ratings for similar performances.



Would you please not post this kind of flamebait and/or blatantly violate the HN guidelines as you've done here?


Pretty sure you are.

Do you have no understanding of what discrimination is? Discrimination is perpetuated by those who hold power - it is completely and directly proportional to dominance - those who do not hold power cannot discriminate.

You know why? Because if you don't have power, your ideas do not come into implementation (you don't have resources!).

Therefore, a dominant group i.e. men or white people, cannot be discriminated against because they are the centre of power - they are the arbiters.

This BS of reverse sexism that you are perpetuating is complete nonsense with absolutely zero sociological backing. Therefore, the men you reference were not "discriminated" against.

In fact, your reference to "normal people" shows how un-nuanced you are in your understanding of discrimination and society in general.

Also, the fact that you expect a diversity of ideas from a homogenous group of people is absurd - unique ideas come through because people have unique backgrounds and experiences - as these in turn act as frameworks for their intellectual products.

Has it ever occurred to you that having people with "diverse" "skin" and "sexual orientation" could actually contribute to your goal of having diverse ideas?

Don't cite one conference as proof for why men are discriminated against. Do you know who was part of the blind review process? and more importantly, does that selection reflect on the quality of scholarship put forth by female candidates or is it the product of the experiences of the people sitting on the panel?

> those who do not hold power cannot discriminate.

First, your definition here is neither the common English nor one broadly accepted. I assert that this is an attempt to redefine language in order to obscure the argument at hand.

Second, power is situational. Part of Damore's criticism is that those in power at Google are sing that power to discriminate against a non-dominant group.

> Do you have no understanding of what discrimination is? Discrimination is perpetuated by those who hold power - it is completely and directly proportional to dominance - those who do not hold power cannot discriminate.

If you take that as axiomatic then there is no debate here if we insist on using the term discrimination to discuss this problem. However, if one can arbitrarily redefine words to mean whatever one so chooses them to mean and, in so doing, believe they're redefining what their interlocutor is espousing, then that individual is being truly intellectually dishonest.

Academically, of what discrimination consists and how discrimination is defined, as a word and concept, is still of great debate. Google around for morally relevant differences and discrimination for some sources and further reading. The Stanford Encyclopedia entry on discrimination is a good starting place.

However, in general common usage, the word discrimination is defined as:

> treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, sex, sexuality, etc.


> a : the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually b : prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment racial discrimination


>The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.


Note that in common usage the word is not qualified on the power or status of the agent of discrimination.

Unless both one and one's interlocutor have agreed on another definition it is vital to assume good faith and and stick to commonly accepted words and their meanings. If one does not one is at the risk of violating Grice's maxims and, in so doing, losing one's privilege of having others take one's words seriously. Put simply, if it's a new concept, use a new (or qualified) word. A seat at the table is predicated on clear, honest, equivocation-free communication.

I'm sure you're not doing these things purposefully. After all what is the point of advancing a cause if one, through one's actions, prejudices the very people one is trying persuade? It's rather self-defeating.

It's bizarre that from my response you had to get into semantics, which completely misses the point.

It's not about dictionary definitions of words, it's about how discrimination manifests (or how it cannot in the hands of those who don't hold power). Surely we can debate what discrimination means, but there's a plethora of sociological literature on the intersection of that dictionary definition (that you referenced) and how it comes to fruition in the hands of dominant groups. This is obviously central to this discussion as it was implied that there was somehow reverse discrimination against men.

Please share what you think about that, genuinely curious.

I don't agree with your implication that semantics aren't important in this argument.

What you refer to simply as discrimination is probably better characterised as discrimination by "morally acceptable" traits while your interlocutor would characterise it as discrimination by "morally irrelevant" traits. This, I think, is the heart of the debate. It's clear that discrimination is occurring. The real question of debate is whether or not it's acceptable.

It's politically untenable to admit that and so we do actually have to discuss semantics. After all, can you imagine having to say "I'm being sexist but it's okay, he's male." or being called a misogynist and saying one is proud of that fact?

I didn't say that semantics were unimportant overall, I'm implying that its erroneous to assert that there's discrimination at play against men in this context because to imply so, supports the stale argument that policies favoring equal gender representation discriminate against men.

A fair statement. However, can we make a blanket statement about all policies or all possible such policies? Some of them are quite blunt (i.e. direct quota specification) and others attempt to address conditions that contribute to unequal outcomes and/or opportunities (i.e. hostile working environments). Each policy attempts to address the problem differently with different effects on those seeking to enter, work in, or leave the field. Could some clumsily implemented policy somewhere unjustifiably exclude someone or make conditions worse for them because of something they can't control?

I think the answer to that question is certainly a yes. Is it possible that some of those discriminated against identify as male? Again, yes. We shouldn't make blanket statements or dismiss complaints about specific possible injustices. To do so is to forget how we got to the worse place we were at decades ago and risk going back there (in any direction). I can't imagine any of us want that.

"because of something they can't control" is a dangerous point to me; while I may not be able to change or "control" the fact that I am male, I can certainly gain awareness of my male privilege and behave in a way that does not perpetuate it.

So going to back to the original poster, had he been aware of this privilege he would not make statements about reverse discrimination or some injustice being perpetuated against him or other men due to policies that support women's equal participation in our industry.

Well, you're right. My usage of the phrase "something they can't control" as synonymous with unjust discrimination is culturally based. It is possible that one might, for example, find a caste system to be moral. I wouldn't do so, but that doesn't mean others cannot.

However, I must take issue with your statements regarding privilege. Privilege isn't something one chooses to take, it's something one is given and gives. It is impossible for each of us to escape the privileges we're granted and we should all be mindful of them. Everyone is, in some way, privileged.

Again, this isn't a debate about whether or not privilege exists, it's a debate about how/if we go about ensuring that everyone has the privileges they desire. As such, we all have a responsibility to point out the unjust granting of privilege and to not grant it to others ourselves. As policies are a matter of consensus and systematise privilege, I would say that OP is doing the right thing in calling out what they see as unfair and unjust so that we can have this discussion, just as those with opposing perspectives are doing.

I think we've all already come to the conclusion that equality of opportunity is a privilege we all would benefit from. That is, we should all have the freedom to be treated as an individual in individual circumstances. Now, and as always, we have to be careful to separate the debate of whether or not someone should have a privilege from the debate about how we go around systematising that privilege in order to avoid unintended consequences. We've already had the first as a society and now we have to do the work required of the second. It's always a messy process but if it is to be truly representative everyone with a grievance willing to engage in thoughtful, honest discussion should have a seat at the table. It does very little good to discriminate in the talks about how we end discrimination - we would simply be repeating history and, if we don't like how it went the last time, why do that?

Note: I am aware that the first debate is still occurring in some isolated locations. However, I speak from where I have experience and do not claim authority anywhere else.

Re: taking issue with my statement on privilege -- I'm thoroughly confused by your comment "privilege .. [is] something one is given and gives." Male privilege is an inherent trait. It is up to us to become aware of it and not perpetuate it's consequences in our industry.

Not sure what you mean by "we've all already come to the conclusion that equality of opportunity is a privilege we all would benefit from".. equal opportunity is not a privilege - it's a baseline.

How can you genuinely say that everyone is "in some way privileged"? The whole idea of privilege is that only few have it, especially in the context we're talking about. I can think of so many marginalized groups in society that enjoy no privilege whatsoever.

Lastly, re: "we would simply be repeating history", please shed light on this, I don't really get it.

Regarding male privilege, could expand on what constitutes said privilege and how male-ness inherently entails those constituent privileges such that they're entailed even when completely removed from a given societal context and placed into any possible societal context? If privilege is inherent in male-ness even when removed from a societal construct, and thus portable to any possible societal context, then how does that reasoning then relate to the popular idea that male-ness is itself a social construct which cannot be removed from a societal context? Perhaps I misunderstand your position, but it seems a circular line of reasoning if one holds both true. Granted, you did not indicate that you did, which is why I raise the question.

Actually, given the confusion around the word discrimination earlier, how do you define privilege?

Regarding equal opportunity being a baseline, I would have to disagree. As individual circumstance varies based on, well, circumstance, opportunities cannot be equal except through the privilege of societal intervention to make them so.

In regards to your statements that some marginalised groups enjoy no privileges whatsoever, they may be true in a given sociocontextual frame. However, shift that frame and you might be able to find some privilege, for example those of the same class are more likely to be perceived positively by other members of the same class (a form of tribalism) which is a privilege outsiders do not receive. This is what I mean by "in some way" - I am not holding some privileges as more valuable that others. I suppose the only way to really eliminate privilege is to eliminate social contexts and interaction; or at the very least the experiences of all those who interact in said society. However, that's not exactly a practical option.

With regards to repeating history, well, you might imagine exclusion of voting rights of minorities - disenfranchisement - as a parallel to telling people they shouldn't contribute to a discussion regarding them because of some otherwise irrelevant trait. That is, in a gross simplification, the situation to which I am alluding.

There is just as much male privilege as there is female privilege, and the same goes with any group. It's entirely situation. Seniority in a job is privilege. Merit-based success is privilege. A person with a driver's license is privileged over one who doesn't have a driver's license. Feel free to list examples of marginalized groups that enjoy no privilege and I'll show you others not part of that marginalized group when introduced to that group demonstrate a lack of privilege.

Will HN censor this article?

They have. All Google related news of the last two days got censored. "The user flagged it", "the algorithm flagged it" - blabla. Disgusting.

Over at NYT, an many other media, one can read the stories from both sides.

Cynthia produces a compelling argumentation that brings important views to the table.

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