August 11th, 2017

More on that tedious Google flap

The article of the day is this by Cynthia Lee entitled, “I’m a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.”

Lee is “a lecturer in the computer science department at Stanford…[with] a PhD in high-performance computing.” That “ladysplaining” bit seems to be an attempt to be cute by alluding to a popular expression, “mansplaining,” which is a feminist criticism of the way men write/think. But what is she parodying there? Feminism—because, at least as far as I know, men don’t use the expression “ladysplaining” when they’re criticizing the way women write and/or think.

Lee doesn’t appear to address what I consider the most important part of the Google incident—not the memo itself or the discussion that ensued, but the fact that its writer was fired as a result of the pressure.

I’m not going to go through the whole article point by point. Suffice to say it seemed to be ignoring the problems I discussed in a recent post on the Google flap: the difficulty of judging whether equality of opportunity exists, versus a focus on equality of outcome. This is the heart of the matter for me. Instead, Lee writes:

Regardless of whether biological differences exist, there is no shortage of glaring evidence, in individual stories and in scientific studies, that women in tech experience bias and a general lack of a welcoming environment, as do underrepresented minorities. Until these problems are resolved, our focus should be on remedying that injustice. After that work is complete, we can reassess whether small effect size biological components have anything to do with lingering imbalances.

I find this incredibly confusing. These seem to be two separate (and possibly-related) issues: how many women are in tech jobs and why there might be fewer of them than some women would like, and the environment faced by the women who already do work there. I suppose there might be a connection if you assume that the women already employed are telling the women applying for jobs not to apply because the atmosphere is so bad, but nowhere does Lee indicate such a thing is happening. So, how does she justify the fact that the first needs to be worked on before the second is tackled?

Also, the word that jumped out at me in that paragraph was “injustice.” Why is it an injustice to not be met with a “welcoming environment”? It might not be nice, or pleasant, or satisfying, or comfortable. But feeling a lack of “welcome” is hardly unjust.

What does that word “unjust” signify on the part of Lee? What is she trying to say? Is she saying that welcoming environments at work are a right? It is such a different way of thinking than the one in which I was raised—old dinosaur that I am—that I keep teasing away at it and trying to divine what it signifies. Entitlement? Demands? I can recall many many environments, at work and at school, that were not just unwelcoming but were actively hostile to women, and the idea at the time was to qualify, break through, prove your worth, and tough it out, and slowly but surely things would improve. If tech is a relatively new field that relatively few women have entered till now, wouldn’t that sequence I just listed be a better solution than the idea that a welcome mat needs to be laid out or it’s unjust?

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s in the Lee piece that could be food for thought. But I have a busy day/evening ahead of me, so I’ll leave that to you folks for now.

22 Responses to “More on that tedious Google flap”

  1. Engineer Says:

    I was an engineer in a chemical plant, then an R&D group, and finally in an engineering firm from ’76 to ’04. The first couple of those years were when women first began graduating as engineers, and getting out into the corporate world.

    There were some dislocations, of course. Up until about that time, no provision for separate bathroom facilities was needed in petrochemical plants, other than in the front office; then it was needed. The main “problem” was what sorts of adaptations the male workers, and by this I mostly do not mean the male engineers, would need to make. A few needed to clean up their language, while another few insisted they weren’t going to do anything _that_ special just because some engineer was female. Most of the adaptations went fairly smoothly, but there was then a high likelihood of misunderstandings, etc., as everyone reacted to the new situations in his or her own way. It should be fair to say that there was not a whole lot of sexual harassment prior to that time, and most of what I saw or heard about in those first years were inappropriate jokes.

    No one I knew ever doubted the technical capabilities of the female engineers as a group. Some of them did outstanding work, while others had one or another hang-up that got in their way, just as the guys sometimes had flaws. Many were often unsure in their dealings with male employees about whether or not there was some subtext or ulterior motive at work; the good ones took that in stride, maybe wondering about it, but not reacting to anything that was not overt.

    The entire period, I think it is fair to say, if two candidates rated about the same on the various attributes desired, the female got the job in preference to the male – because equality of outcome was (and still is) important to the regulators.

    Engineering talent is still scarce, so certainly to that extent, it is really good that women have entered the field. There does seem to be another price to pay for mixed-gender operations, but we don’t have much choice in the matter, either, so most folks will continue to do the best they can.

  2. steve walsh Says:

    A “lecturer in computer science”, even in a department at Stamford, is not remotely in the same environment as a computer science engineer at a place like Google.

    As for the lack of a welcoming environment all I can say is pffffft! Toughen up buttercup. It is not the responsibility of a company like Google, or any other, to make you feel welcome. They gave you a job which they expect you to do efficiently and well. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. Tom Says:

    I’ve worked in tech for over 20 years. The thing that my brain was screaming is that tech people are inherently hostile to newcomers, and until you prove your chops, you won’t be accepted. If you fail to prove yourself and sit around and whine about how unfair things are, you’ll NEVER be accepted. We don’t tolerate incompetence well.

  4. J.J. Says:

    I saw the beginnings of women entering the airline piloting profession. In about 1982 there were two women pilots at my airline. They were both famous – lots of ink about them in newspapers and mags. Then the numbers gradually grew. During my last three years I opted to fly the 737 up and down the West coast. (Much less ravaging on the body and less borinng than flying the big iron over the Pacific.) Many of my co-pilots were women. My observation was that they felt they had to try harder to standout. Most of them knew the regs and company policy verbatim. Most were eager to be of assistance to the “skipper.” Where most were weak was in actual piloting skills. A lot of that was inexperience – many of them didn’t have more than 3-5 years and 1500 hours total flight time. I had 35 years and 21,000 hours. The gap was enormous. I tried to be patient and tried to teach them as much as I could, but some thought I was being patronizing. Things did not always go smoothly. I was reported to the chief pilot a few times, but we always worked things out.

    The contrast with the male co-pilots I was flying with was quite extreme. Most of them were ex-Pan Am pilots who had taken a job with my airline as a way to close out their careers. They were all experienced and had excellent piloting skills. None of them ever reported me to the chief pilot.

    I did fly with one female co-pilot who stood out because of her experience (She had about 4000 hours of cargo flying experience.) and her promiscuous sex life. (She was a very attractive woman. Kind of in the Katherine Hepburn mold.) She had a boy friend in every town where we laid over. She was the only airline pilot I ever flew with who lived such a promiscuous life out on the line. I never discussed her extra-curricular activities with her as she was the type of feisty woman who would tell me it was none of my business. She and I got along fine.

    The airline pilot career is still not near 50% female even though there is no discrimination. I think the life and skills required appeal more to men than women. That’s alright. It’s a free country.

  5. parker Says:

    Come the 13th we will celebrate 48 years of marriage. I will not be around to see whether or not the mansplaing womansplaing women marry a man and reach 48 years together. My wife worked as an independent IT consultant from 1983 to 2008. She never felt she was a victim of discrimination. She knows her stuff and is a difficult person to disagree with.

  6. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    I just realized how I don’t think I ever see women Automation Engineers. Ever.
    I’ve been doing this awhile.
    in the Air Force I worked with women officers and airmen technicians.
    When I was a journeyman years ago we had 5 women apprentices.
    I have a friend who was a journeyman toolmaker. She is 79 now.
    But as I review the last 20 yrs, I just realized how few women I’ve worked around other than operators.

  7. Mac Says:

    ‘A “lecturer in computer science”, even in a department at Stamford, is not remotely in the same environment as a computer science engineer at a place like Google.’

    Bingo. She may be right or she may be wrong but unless she has actually worked for a high-tech company the relevance of her work experience is to the academy, not to the corporate workplace.

    I’ve been in software since the late ’70s. There have always been women in the mix, starting with the young lady who taught the first computer science course I ever took. I can’t say whether they felt challenged or mistreated because of their sex, but they were certainly valued and respected (assuming they did good work, which most of my acquaintance did). I thought that overall there were discernible male-female differences in interests and approach, but not such as to make the women ineffective. Good people in this trade are not that easy to find and any manager with a serious prejudice against hiring women would be at a disadvantage.

  8. Mac Says:

    “…the relevance of her work experience…” Or rather the relevance of her computer science degree.

  9. Matt_SE Says:

    “After that work is complete, we can reassess whether small effect size biological components have anything to do with lingering imbalances.”

    At least two major logical fallacies here I can spot:

    1) “After the work is complete, we can reassess…” implies that her point has already been proven, so the action is now justified. But she didn’t prove her point, she just assumed it was true. This is begging the question.

    2) “…whether SMALL effect biological components…” Again, how does she know the effects are small? When did she prove that? The research quoted by Damore said the opposite, as did several experts in the field.

    I know it’s a cliché, but she acts surprised as if anyone has a different opinion than she does. I think they call this “epistemic closure.”

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    I have been in tech in top places since late 70s early 80s… and tech bends over backwards for women, to the point a horrid one who caused arguments and contention with games and didnt get things done and mostly got in bs-ing.. got fire.. and citibank in its desperate need to get warm bodies in place made her a VP. so you can say she was fired upwards.

    want to know the problem? you cant bs a computer, and you cant fake performance measures, and on and on.

    its not an easy job by a long shot as its not just about programming, its about personalities, and meetings, organizational skill, politics, ability vs collusion, and somewhere in there you have to write code that works and doesnt have lots of errors and so on. if it does have problems, well, be ready as to why, and maybe even a kind of public post mortem as everyone has to do someting and that something is to tear your wings off and look under the hood and make sure they understand what went wrong so that it wont happen again.

    the hardest part of the job is that it has real responsibility and involvment too. you go on vacation, make sure you log in and check, answer emails. random long hours… demanding people as often your work can be mission critical. (i once shut down a mainframe for a multinational corporation for 12 hours.. i won an award for that, but most wouldnt as what i did identified a major potential thing that would halt it for that long everywhere. and it did everything from billing to purchase orders, currency conversions, manufacturing plans were there so buyers could integrate small lots and on and on.. )

    oh… if that isnt enough, you need a degree usually, and the best of the lot are usually people who have done things since a teenager..

    and face it.. these are not the top of the dating food chain, and are not exciting bad guys.. this is the alternative to the chess club. but now, even if its cool, well, its a cool built on ability that takes lots of time, really good memory, focus to the point that some people have dropped dead working or playing…

    and if your a young girl in a liberated feminist world, would you want to sit for hours to days, reading a screen, trying to in effect solve a logic flow problem with 78 variables changing values your modeling in your head… OR dress up, go shopping, hang out with the guys, get taken places and have things bought for you, even go out with older people who can buy and do even more…

    you want to know why there are so many male programmers and so few women programmers? women dont chase men, pay for them, and entertain them mutually for great times, nor do they usually choose THESE men… at least not till after the first failed starter marraige and now she wants to find somone to settle down with (like the records on the women in medical school not practicing long after they marry a doc they met in medicl school)

    damn biology..
    women for centuries have worked the home.
    any place lke an office they cant make like home with the dog, the kids, music they like, turn up the heat, add decorations, etc.. is hostile..

    heck, i have gone to hour long meetings in which the ladies spend the first 40 minutes gibber jawwing all over the map without ever focusing on whats at hand, and even worse, they seem to get peeved when none of us guys stops them and get things on track..

    doesnt mean there arent women programmers, but so far i have met few who are really good. but they tend to get added to a team that is really super..

    truth is no one is being hostile to them in any way i have seen in ages… in fact we put up with stuff that no one used to have to.

    and may i point out one last thing. these work environments are not hostile to women, they are hostile to men in the sense that men are afraid to put up certain content.. or images they like, while the ladies flaunt some very interesting stuff, then there is their wearing mini skirts and 4inch pumps..

    the geeks dont want to look, talk, interact, etc… who the hell wants to lose their job for saying the wrong thing, or glancing the wrong way, or some such thing… so, everyone steers clear of the women unless we have to work with them…

    you dont want to work with someone whose eye out ready to go on crusades to fix the world and your the problem.. new vp secretary joined and i have to know she is a lesbian? why? and what now given what the lgbt community says about cis white guys (forget what professors are saying and not getting sanctioned for or much at all for, while others lose their lives work for hearsay)

    remember, since the 1980s the reasonable woman doctrine was abandoned, and basically anything goes limited by the ideas of a judge if it ever gets that far.. but just in case, they gonna do you as if your guilty and not worry about innocence or such.

    oh. and to really insure that there are no issues, they basically DONT tell the accused they are accused. they just shift things around and the person gets fired and doesnt know why and wont be told… cute..

    ya only need one rabid person on a crusade with her own pu**y hat to ruin your life even if you dont do a thing.. you dont want to be known, dont want to be remembered, dont want to be talked about, you just want to earn your money, get rewards, go home, and do what you do…

    by the way, there is a constant stream of anything you can do i can do better (and if you say otherwise we will disabused you of that).. and no sense of humor… a lady once asked me a question, which really was describing her husband. my husband doesnt take the kids out, watches tv, cleans a bit, etc. etc. etc.. peeved being on the phone trying to motivate this new trendy thing once he lost his job..
    she said what do you call that!???! and i said “A wife”… doh!!!

    and yes, there are women that arent that way. but look. if you cant tell the difference between poisonous snakes and non poisonous ones, just stay away from all snakes unless you have no choice…

  11. Artfldgr Says:

    They gave you a job which they expect you to do efficiently and well. Nothing more, nothing less.

    where the hell do you work and are they hiring?
    never been that for me.. always a lot more than that.
    and the damn janitors make more than degree pros
    unions.. (IT cant unionize its illegal for ages)

  12. parker Says:


    Have you ever considered you have spent your life so far around the wrong kind of XX? I would venture its a NYC thingy. Out in flyover country sensible, strong women are born everyday. And, out here you might gain a grounding in the ebb and flow of the salt of the earth.

    If you are the tech wizard you seem you would readily find employment. That said, you will not be trusted at my county’s public shooting range. 😉

  13. AesopFan Says:

    Ms. Lee professes to know probability and statistics (my undergraduate major in college, although most of my time was spent in programming courses, prior to my MA in Political Science) but is nonetheless innumerate.

    “For example, we could look to the percentage of women majoring in computer science at highly selective colleges and universities. Women currently make up about 30 percent of the computer science majors at Stanford University, one key source of Google’s elite workforce. Harvey Mudd College, another elite program, has seen its numbers grow steadily for many years, and is currently at about 50 percent women in their computer science department.

    Yet Google’s workforce is just 19 percent female. So even if we imagine for a moment that the manifesto is correct and there is some biological ceiling on the percentage of women who will be suited to work at Google — less than 50 percent of their workforce — isn’t it the case that Google, and tech generally, is almost certainly not yet hitting that ceiling?”

    Without any absolute numbers for the enrollments at the two colleges and the “workforce” at Google (engineers? programmers? secretaries? all of the above), this assertion is totally meaningless.

    Fifty percent of the people in my household are programmers.
    That fills exactly 1 slot at Google.

    Another article I read yesterday, but have lost in the maelstrom, remarks that the high numbers at Mudd and elsewhere are initial enrollments, not final graduates, and that many women with degrees don’t go into high-tech programming as a career.

    Which is kind of what Damore was pointing out.

  14. AesopFan Says:

    Here are a couple of other good articles:
    “An article by Adam Grant called Differences Between Men And Women Are Vastly Exaggerated is going viral, thanks in part to a share by Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg. It’s a response to an email by a Google employee saying that he thought Google’s low female representation wasn’t a result of sexism, but a result of men and women having different interests long before either gender thinks about joining Google. Grant says that gender differences are small and irrelevant to the current issue. I disagree.”

    Very long but worth the read, and the comments as well.

  15. AesopFan Says:
    This was an unusual response among the rest of the op-eds in l’affaire Damore. I think the author is paranoid, but I couldn’t tell exactly who she thought was out to get her.
    However, the thing about the t-shirts and the photo shoots was perceptive.
    I already had no doubt Damore planned this affray and was ready for the expected consequences, since he filed a NLRB complaint before and lawyered up after his firing.

  16. AesopFan Says:

    Most Google employees disagree with the company’s decision to fire the employee behind a memo on diversity, a survey released Wednesday shows.

    Blind, an anonymous corporate networking app, surveyed its users from over 4,000 different companies on their thoughts regarding Google’s firing of software engineer James Damore, according to Business Insider. At Google, 56 percent of the 441 employees surveyed opposed their company’s decision to fire Damore.

    Blind also reported employee opinions across other tech companies, which seem to support the fired software engineer.

    A majority of Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon employees surveyed also opposed Google’s decision by margins of 57-43, 56-44, and 54-46, respectively. Nearly two-thirds of Uber’s employees surveyed also opposed the choice to terminate Damore.

    Lyft, LinkedIn, and Apple, however, all favored Google’s decision by margins of 65-35, 53-47, and 51-49, respectively.

    The survey only accounted for the opinions of employees who are Blind users. While not scientific, the survey does give an idea of the mood across Silicon Valley.

    Various media entities have misrepresented Damore’s memo. CNN published a Tuesday headline “Engineer Behind Anti-Diversity Memo Is Out At Google” and changed it to “Engineer Behind Controversial Manifesto Is Out At Google” approximately a half-hour later.
    * * *

    This plus the pre-meditation of Damore’s memo leads me to predict a third wave in the battle between RadFemLibs and CisNerds (male and female), the other two being GamerGate and Sad Puppies.

    CisNerds won both of those.

  17. AesopFan Says:

    This article is not about programmers or engineers, but it is about CryBullies in another field: writing for Young Adults and children.
    “Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons — sometimes before anybody’s even read them.

    By Kat Rosenfield”

    The same tactics in the of rabid pursuit of heretics and offenders are used.
    It appears to be the general modus operandi of the unhinged.

  18. AesopFan Says:

    Sorry for all the long comments, Neo – you kind of hit a nerve here with me.

  19. Tuvea Says:

    What Tom says above is 100% correct per my experience.

    I was a paid IT monkey from 1974 through 2015.

    Newcomers weren’t trusted with anything important until they could prove their skills. That happened to me a lot because I usually switched jobs every 3-4 years. (See Salary Compression)

    Age, Gender, Skin Color, Religion, or Place of National Origin didn’t matter. If you had excellent IT skills – people skills only mattered if you wanted to be a manager – you were accepted.

    If you talked a good game but screwed up the systems for which you were responsible you didn’t get included ‘in all the reindeer games’ :-).

  20. Ray Says:

    Danmore was fired for heresy. Diversity is an article of faith and he questioned it. He’s lucky he didn’t become the principal in an auto-de-fe.

  21. fiona Says:

    I agree about the heresy part. That indicates that the VP for diversity and the CEO did not read the memo, or did not understand it. Damore did NOT question the diversity article of faith; he only said that Google was doing it wrong and ineffectively.

  22. AesopFan Says:

    fiona Says:
    August 12th, 2017 at 1:14 pm
    I agree about the heresy part. That indicates that the VP for diversity and the CEO did not read the memo, or did not understand it. Damore did NOT question the diversity article of faith; he only said that Google was doing it wrong and ineffectively.
    * * *
    Which is what engineers are supposed to point out.

    See “Why Buildings Fall Down” (book) and the Challenger explosion.

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