Do All Or Most Women Innately Prefer Non-Tech Careers? Re: James Damore Google Memo (part 2)
Continued from Part 1
(Summary of blog post: Due to gender stereotypes and unconscious bias by teachers, many girls are discouraged from entering STEM fields, taking more math and science courses)
More links and excerpts this page debunking and criticizing the concept that women innately prefer non-tech careers; also, bottom of this post: links refuting Hakim’s Preference Theory about women and careers.
Damore mostly denies that social conditioning plays a role in women’s career choices, as does some Finnish study or some such that Lydia (who harasses me on Twitter – and which I may blog about more in the future) keeps mentioning.
The following material not only argues against innate preferences but offers pro-social conditioning arguments as a factor in women’s career choices.
A software engineer at Google cited biology when he issued a memo explaining the technology industry’s gender gap.
However, experts are quick to point out that biology alone can’t explain the high tech world’s gap between men and women.
Several meta-analyses, experts said, show that there are only small biological differences between men and women.
And the biggest one is obvious: physical strength.
In his 10-page memo, Google engineer James Damore said that “on average, men and women biologically differ in many ways.”
These differences aren’t “social constructs,” he added.
“That memo is roughly the equivalent of a memo denying climate change,” Janet Shibley Hyde, director of the Center for Research on Gender and Women at the University of Wisconsin, told Healthline. “It contains many scientific inaccuracies. And he equates biological with immutable. Yet modern neuroscience research, for example, emphasizes neural plasticity.”
Men and women are more similar than we think, said Hyde.
“The average differences between the sexes are small compared to variations within a gender,” she said. “Damore cherry-picked one small wing of science.”
Different gender, equal brains
Damore largely focuses on personality differences to explain gender work preferences.
For example, in his memo, he wrote “more men like coding because it requires systematizing.” More women, however, have jobs that deal “with both people and aesthetics.”
There’s no evidence that men are more systematic than women, said Hyde.
Men’s and women’s brains are similar and can do similar tasks, she said.
“But girls are more ‘feeling directed’ from the time they’re born,” Hyde explained.
Another study on sex differences in science and mathematics found that “early experience, biological factors, education policy, and culture context” all affect the numbers of men and women who pursue math.
There are no simple answers, the study authors conclude.
Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, also published a rebuttal to Damore’s memo on LinkedIn.
In it, he wrote that according to nearly 4,000 studies “boys aren’t better at math than girls.” He adds that data on occupational interests “reveal that men and women are equally interested in working with data.”
“Across 128 domains of the mind and behavior, 78 percent of gender differences are small or close to zero,” he wrote.
Socialization is a factor
Few differences between men and women have been proven to exist in the brain, Lise Eliot, professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University, told Healthline.
“Gender only accounts for about 1 percent of the variance in brain structure,” she said. “There’s no such thing as a male brain and a female brain.”
Socialization, she adds, plays a much bigger role in this phenomenon.
“We have different expectations for boys and girls,” she explained. “We talk to each differently. You’re immersed from birth.”
Another Damore theory that there are “clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone,” is also unproven.
“No studies show any effect on human brains,” Eliot said.
Damore also stated that women are less assertive than men.
“But we have a whole bunch of data that shows that women who are assertive are put down,” Rosalind Barnett, a senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, told Healthline.
Again, there’s no scientific evidence to prove Damore’s theory, Barnett said.
Gender myths still persist
Without clear evidence, why are views like Damore’s so persistent?
Blame stereotypes that linger despite women’s changing role in the world, said Barnett.
One study published last year concluded that these stereotypes haven’t changed in 30 years.
“They have very deep roots,” Barnett said, “and they’re hard to pull out.”
She said that humans practice something called stereotype confirmation, which is a desire to confirm stereotypes that people already believe.
“It makes people feel secure,” she said.
But the price for these stereotypes is a heavy one.
Claims of gender differences carry substantial costs in the workplace and relationships, Hyde said.
Who I am
Hi. My name’s Erin Giglio. Like Mr. Damore, I don’t yet have my PhD; in my case, that’s because I’m still in the midst of my PhD candidacy. My degree will be in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior here at the University of Texas at Austin, and I currently hold BSc degrees in Psychology and Genetics.
You can probably tell by that background that I do a grab-bag of different things, but it’s probably easiest to explain my background by introducing myself as a behavioral ecologist. That in and of itself is a fairly interdisciplinary term, and my background and work includes genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience.
…Why am I writing this?
…I mean, I do have a day job, right?
I’m a woman working in STEM — and I’m gender-non-conforming and queer at that, which means that I have a slightly different set of concerns to navigate compared to most heterosexual cis women.
I have extensive programming experience and some unusual technical skill sets, including de novo genome assembly. I may yet transition into a career in software development, depending on job opportunities when I graduate.
…Most importantly, I am offended as a biologist and a scientist precisely because Mr. Damore’s arguments are bad logic and bad science. I am in a scientific and technical line of work because I am very good at analysis and amalgamating many small lines of evidence into larger ideas. I am a scientist, specifically, because I feel strongly about trying to understand the world the way it is, not the way I think it should be, and because it is important to me to understand the truth as closely as we can approximate it.
[The author cites information about Damore’s educational background in systems biology]
…The most involved behavioral focus that Mr. Damore has ever had in his career, as far as I can tell, might have been working on mathematical modeling of locomotor behavior in C. elegansworms. Particular expertise in gender, behavior, and biology simply are not features of his professional background.
…Citations are a major missing factor in Mr. Damore’s memo and again, this upsets me specifically because I value good analysis and thoughtful discussion of the evidence. Mr. Damore notably cites very few pieces directly from peer-reviewed literature in his original manifesto, all of them Internet-based in origin.
…Here’s the most frustrating thing about the lack of Mr. Damore’s citations: it makes it very difficult to actually argue with his assertions, because the lack of citations allow him to be extremely vague about his claims.
It means that it’s hard to know exactly what he is trying to say and imply, because his arguments are poorly formatted and often reference nothing but his own appeals to authority or a popular (rather than scholarly) argument.
…Laying out Mr. Damore’s arguments
….Universal across all cultures… are we sure?
The most likely reason that Mr. Damore says that gender differences are “universal across all cultures” is that many people with socially constructed views of gender ascribe gender differences to culturally-specific social constructs against which individual people may be compared. However, without relating a specific type of difference and then studying it across many cultures, it’s difficult to take this claim seriously.
One reason that cultural universality is such a big deal is that human culture worldwide (and history-wide!) can be tremendously flexible, and cultural context has been known to influence surprisingly “hard-coded” traits. For example, susceptibility to visual illusions is strongly influenced by cultural upbringing, as are spatial cognition, response to social punishment and cooperation, and the basic reasoning pattern preferred by individuals as well as a number of other cognitive traits.¹⁰
…Secondly, within industrialized cultures, Western cultures are particularly unusual and tend to measure on the extremes in cognitive tests when contrasted with a variety of industrialized nations, most often East Asian nations but also including studies of cultures as diverse as Russian, Middle Eastern, Malaysian, and South African.¹⁰ ¹³
So Mr. Damore’s claim that “men and women differ biologically in many ways [and] these differences aren’t just socially constructed” is a trickier one than I believe he would like to think.
Cultural upbringing clearly is capable of having very strong effects on differences between people, regardless of genetic distance, indicating that it truly is experiential rather than genetic differences mediating these changes.
Many people confidently assume that because they do not notice gender-related socialization, it must be innate.
However, sociocultural theories of gender are powerful precisely because unconscious bias in how we treat and describe boys and girls starts early: usually shortly after birth if not before. For a concise summary of relevant studies, I’ll just quote Dr. Cordelia Fine’sDelusions of Gender, although I have altered her citations to point directly to articles you can easily read:
[visit the page to read the citation]
…. So a part of what we ‘know’ about how different genders act and behave is absorbed from very early childhood, and as we learn and grow, we learn in relation to our self knowledge of what that gender is. It is worth remembering that the brain does not only shape behavior; behavior shapes the brain right back. Experience is known to change the actual structure of the brain over time,²¹ meaning that not only can behavioral differences be influenced by what “everyone knows” about how men and women act, but so can actual physical differences in the brain itself.²² In a very real way, the sociologists teach us, we can reify gender itself without necessarily meaning to.
….Are women actually more interested in people and prettiness than things and systems?
I’m just going to say it outright: I don’t generally have a particularly high opinion of Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen’s work, and it is he who has most powerfully championed this idea in the past several decades.
I think the idea of measuring a person’s cognitive or affective empathy⁷² by asking them how good they are at reading other people is silly.
I can think of people gifted at reading other people’s subtle cues and offering aid and comfort who would assure me that they are just like everyone else.
I can also think of several people who are fascinatingly awful at both noticing and accounting for the feelings of others, but who would confidently tell you that they are exquisitely sensitive and very caring upon request. In fact, a few of them might tell you so even if you request that they stop!
…Hm. Well, okay, that doesn’t really challenge Mr. Damore’s assertion that women are just less interested in things and more focused on people. What does the science say about that?
Turns out — and I should not even have to explicitly say this, but I do — it matters what you define as a thing. And it matters how you ask people whatthings they’re interested in. For example, if you ask people whether they’re interested in things like disassembling and reassembling a car but not disassembling and reassembling a dress, you will get wildly different forms of sex skew. This is, mindbogglingly, an actual recurring and common problem in this type of study design.⁷⁶
It’s worth noting that these alleged differences in interest don’t seem to matter much to actual career outcomes, either. For example, of the five most female-dominated occupations listed by the Department of Labor, registered nursing is second on the list. Yet nurses must memorize hundreds of drugs, interactions, techniques, and potential evidence of adverse reactions. Of the five most male-dominated occupations listed by the same site, the second profession is management. How much more people-oriented can you get?
…Even assuming they are, do we know those differences are biological in nature?
Mr. Damore’s analysis frequently fails even when he is handed certain eminently contestable premises as a given.
Here, let me talk about this particular one as an example.
Even if I were concede that there is a gender difference in the interests of men and women — again; I’m not sure I do — the question of whether this difference is biological is more than slightly thorny.
One paper I often see used to cite this claim, for example, is a particular study evaluating the toy preferences of vervet monkeys. After all, if monkeys exhibit the same preferences as humans, surely the difference can’t be culturally mediated, right?⁷⁷
Monkeys haven’t been raised with those pernicious social influences I described earlier, so they seem at first blush to be excellent test subjects.
Well, let’s take a closer look at the study in question, in which researchers placed a set of six toys into large enclosures inhabited by vervet monkeys living in social groups.
In most of these groups of monkeys, cages contained a mixture of adult males, adult females, and juveniles; in one, only adult males were present. The toys — two coded ‘masculine,’ two coded ‘feminine,’ and two coded ‘neutral’ — were placed in the enclosure.
Male and female monkeys approached the toys at the same rates, but had significantly different contact times spent in contact with the differently gendered toys: males, said the researchers, were significantly more likely to play with the “masculine” toys, a plastic police car and an orange ball.
Neither sex was significantly more likely to play with the “neutral” toys, either, which consisted of a picture book and a furry dog. But, triumphantly announced the researchers, females were significantly more likely to play with the two feminine toys! These were, of course, a soft doll and… huh. A small red metal cooking pan.⁷⁸ Well done, all, we’ve shown that toy preferences are biological, surely culture can’t have created this main and totally expected significant effect! Off to the bar for celebratory drinks!
Wait, hang on.
A cooking pan?
For that matter… what on earth is the significance of a picture book to a monkey? Presumably a species that is not known to frequently read can’t have been interested in the book for its literary significance. And as far as I am aware, no vervet monkey has expressed a desire or need for a home-cooked dinner from Mother.
The researchers themselves were perplexed that the approach latenciesshowed no difference between the sexes’ enthusiasm for the toys, I might add, and so they analyzed the data differently a second time, this time grouping the toys into animate objects (doll and the stuffed dog) versus object-like objects. They found no differences between the sexes that time.⁷⁸
This is why it’s always important to read the methods of the papers you cite, guys. I think I’ve covered quite a bit of the other unfortunate holes in the testosterone =\= systemizing thing earlier on, so I’ll let this rest for now: but rest assured, this is by no means the only example of shoddy study design propping up this field.
This is a page that criticizes Damore’s sloppy manner of argumentation (this is not specifically about what women may or may not prefer career wise):
The greater problem is that his argument is an incoherent jumble, almost wholly devoid of logical rigor.
/ end quote
Previously Cited Material
Some of the links I provided on previous posts already addressed that stupid Finnish study, or its claims, that Lydia keeps banging on about.
I have the distinct impression that Lydia never bothered to read my first three posts about Damore, with post 2 containing the links to studies or interviews with researchers that dispute Damore’s memos and claims similar to the ones that Lydia say are in Finnish study.
For example (a longer excerpt of this was in my Damore 2 post, but Lydia didn’t bother to read it):
On Time magazine, by Adam Grant:
4. There are sex differences in interests, but they’re not biologically determined.
The data on occupational interests do reveal strong male preferences for working with things and strong female preferences for working with people. But they also reveal that men and women are equally interested in working with data.
So why are there so many more male than female engineers? Because women have systematically been discouraged from working with computers. Look at trends in college majors: Since the 1980s, the proportion of female majors has gone up in science and medicine and law, but down in computer science.
Snippets from that page:
In his July memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion,” Damore wrote that women on average have more “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.” And he stated that women are more inclined to have an interest in “people rather than things, relative to men.”
Damore cites the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, who argues in his widely reviewed book “The Essential Difference” that boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people and feelings. The British psychologist claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain” while the female brain is the “empathizing” brain.
This idea was based on a study of day-old babies, which found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer. Male brains, Baron-Cohen says, are ideally suited for leadership and power. They are hardwired for mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles.
The female brain, on the other hand, is specialized for making friends, mothering, gossip and “reading” a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others, he says, that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.
But Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless. Why?
The experiment lacked crucial controls against experimenter bias and was badly designed. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent’s lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can’t hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could well have been determined by the way their parents held them.
There is much literature that flat-out contradicts Baron-Cohen’s study, providing evidence that male and female infants tend to respond equally to people and objects, notes Elizabeth Spelke, co-director of Harvard’s Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. But media stories continue to promote the idea of very different brains on little evidence.
Hakim’s Preference Theory Critiqued
The Daily Mail gets excited about yet another attempt to put women in their place.
Lay down your placards, ladies: the fight for equality is over and we can all go back to the kitchen.
The Centre for Policy Studies has just released a “study” entitled “Feminist myths and magic medicine” that claims that there is no evidence that men are paid more than women, that where there is evidence of sex discrimination, that evidence doesn’t matter, and that inequality is okay because some women actually choose it.
Predictably, the Daily Mail has gone mental, expansively declaring the joyful news that “gender equality is a myth”.
The report’s author, Dr Catherine Hakim, has spent several years positioning herself as the only academic who can save this sick society from the scourge of feminism, one terrifyingly painted-on eyebrow permanently cocked at what she calls the “feminist myths” of equality legislation and “family-friendly” employment policies, presenting her table-rattling propaganda for right-wing think tanks as objective academic research.
Hakim, who may or may not have actually met another woman, is best known as the face of “preference theory”, the wildly original notion that differences in work outcomes between men and women in the developed world are not the result of enormous, straining patriarchal guns held to the head of every single female in the job market, but because women and girls make “substantively different career choices” from men, opting for part-time work and shorter hours that better enable them to juggle paid work with the pressures of childrearing that still fall largely upon the shoulders of women.
It is a sad indictment of the state of modern gender relations that this is seen, by Hakim and her many breathless devotees in the right-wing press, as some sort of staggering insight rather than weary confirmation of the status quo.
…She also opines that the pay differential is entirely women’s fault, and that in fact many women and girls just want to marry rich men who will take care of them, and that that choice — being a free and laudable consumer choice — should also be applauded.
There is, however, a substantial difference between choice and empowerment. Choice is not the same thing as control, and not everyone who has a choice has freedom.
Some choices are incredibly difficult, like the choice, faced by nearly all women in the developed world, between giving children the time they need, giving paid employment the time it needs, or — in most cases — frantically juggling the two while attempting to retain some some semblance of independent selfhood and sociability.
[read the rest of that page here]
The above page cites this page:
Finally, contrary to corollary of the preference theory, the relationship between gender role attitudes and women’s participation in labour market work is reciprocal rather than unidirectional. That is, women’s work orientation is endogenous to their labour market experiences.
…Are women in today’s Britain structurally or socially constrained from pursuing their employment careers? Or, do they have sufficient freedom to choose between a home-centred lifestyle and a work-centred one?
This article uses a nine-year period of work-life history data of the British Household Panel Survey to examine married and cohabiting women’s work trajectories. It particular, it tests some major contentions of Hakim’s (2000) preference theory, which highlights the role of preference in women’s employment.
First, there is evidence to show that women’s attitudes toward the home and work play a significant role in their career trajectories. Women who have followed a home-career path hold consistently more home-centred attitudes over time than women who have been committed more to their employment careers.
….Finally, it is found that gender role attitudes and women’s labour market work experience influence each other reciprocally. A simplistic notion that women’s employment careers are due to their preferences is therefore defective.
Women may become more workcentred when they have accumulated skills and experience in labour market work; in a similar vein, barriers to employment may discourage women from devoting themselves to labour market work and hence making them less work-oriented.
….Hakim (1998, 2000, 2002) puts forward a controversial view that women’s
positions in the labour market and in the family are not much socially or structurally constrained in modern affluent societies but reflect their own choices and preferences.
Her view has fuelled debates among British scholars. The debate can be broadly divided into two camps: Those who emphasize personal preferences (Hakim, 1998, 2000, 2002), and those who reinstate the role of social and economic constraints (Crompton & Harris, 1999; McRae, 2003).
…In arguing against Hakim, Crompton and Harris (1999) interviewed 150
women bankers and women doctors from five European countries, and developed a typology of women’s career trajectories that places equal emphases on both choice and constraints.
By comparing career paths of women bankers and those of women doctors, they concluded that both constraints and choices make an impact on women’s behaviours in families and careers.
Given differences in the opportunities and constraints of the banking and the medicine sectors, Crompton and Harris reported that bankers and doctors manage the demands from their careers and families differently.
Women doctors generally have greater flexibility in their work
arrangements than women bankers and are therefore more likely to change to parttime work or less demanding jobs when they have young children; women bankers, on the other hand, tend to change their career directions because of factors external to their families such as organizational restructuring (Crompton & Harris, 1999, p. 140).
They therefore concluded that institutional factors play a key role in shaping women’s career paths.
McRae (2003) also argues against Hakim’s claim that women’s heterogeneous
preferences determine their employment careers.
She examined the career paths of a sample of first time mothers in the U.K. using longitudinal data collected in 1991, 1998 and 1999.
She found that only 10% of mothers had worked continually on a 3 full-time basis in the following eleven years since the birth of the first child, while 90% of them either had had a combination of full-time work, part-time work, and no work spells, or concentrated mainly on part-time work, or stayed out of the labour market (McRae, 2003, p. 323).
Nevertheless, unlike what is claimed by Hakim, these different groups of women did not differ significantly in their gender role attitudes towards work and family. McRae then concluded that women do not have genuine, unconstrained choices about their careers; instead the constraints facing them explain the differences in their career pursuits.
[read more of that study here, PDF format]
Thoughts on Hakim
Based on everything I’ve read of Hakim thus far, she sounds like an idiot and a flake.
According to other web pages I saw, Hakim, in one of her books, advises married people to have affairs to spice up their marriage. Gross.
Is this Hakim person, who is an anti-feminist crackpot whom conservatives and anti-feminists love to quote – and I note Hakim likes to reference Scandanavian studies about gender in some of her interviews (like the one with Slate) – is this Hakim person the source where Lydia was getting her ideas about women, jobs, preference, and Finland?
Why would anyone look to this pro-adultery and pro-“act like a bimbo at work to get a promotion” (yes, Hakim tells women to act slutty at work to get promotions and so on) crackpot for studies, views, or arguments on anything?