A proposito dell’(in)dipendente dissidente di Google

Autoritratto di James Damore, matita su carta
di Lucia Scozzoli

Considero valori la diversità e l’inclusione,
non nego che esista il sessismo
e non approvo gli stereotipi.

Così comincia la difesa di James Damore, un ingegnere del software di Google, che ha pubblicato sulla piattaforma interna della società un memo di 10 pagine, come reazione ad un’indagine del dipartimento del Lavoro degli Stati Uniti sulla discriminazione salariale, da cui è emerso che Google normalmente paga le donne meno degli uomini in ruoli paragonabili. A causa di quel memo, diventato virale, Damore è stato licenziato. Con le idee non si scherza.

Ma che ha scritto di così grave costui?

Niente di speciale, ma l’ha scritto molto bene, schematizzato come solo un ingegnere del software poteva fare: una disamina per punti, con una logicità liscia e semplice, incontestabile, premessa da un cappello che si è rivelato profetico quanto mai, viste le reazioni della società nei suo confronti:

Solo i fatti e la ragione possono far luce su questi pregiudizi (di destra e di sinistra), ma sulla diversità e l’inclusione, i pregiudizi di sinistra di Google hanno creato una monocultura politicamente corretta che mantiene la sua presa e costringe i dissidenti in silenzio. Questo silenzio elimina ogni controllo contro le politiche estremiste e autoritarie.

Il ragionamento di Damore passa in rassegna un lungo elenco di differenze biologiche e psicologiche tra i generi, le seconde intese in senso statistico, cioè di distribuzione percentuale nella popolazione, e non in senso assoluto. Sono dispiaciute a molte femmine permalose un paio di caratteristiche spiattellate in modo senz’altro brutale, poco politically correct:

  • le donne esprimono la propria estroversione con la predisposizione ad essere più gregari che collaboratori e sono umanamente più gradevoli;
  • le donne tollerano meno lo stress e l’ansia, quindi nei posti di più alto livello (e pressione) stanno a fatica.

A nulla è valso specificare che parlava di distribuzione media di caratteristiche nella vastità della popolazione e non del ritratto fedele di ogni donna sulla terra: abbiamo sempre la pretesa di essere considerati, tutti quanti, perfettamente normali, e le poche donne in carriera della società hanno esibito la propria aggressività come controprova (che non prova niente) della falsità dell’analisi. In realtà proprio la diversità di indole delle donne manager è la conferma più schiacciante: se sono arrivate fino lì, insieme ai maschi, è perché non sono come la maggiornaza delle donne e, in virtù delle proprie caratteristiche personali e capacità, nella competizione col mondo maschile sono state in grado di competere e primeggiare, proprio perché il mondo del lavoro è tarato sull’uomo e sulla sua pragmatica competitività, non è che discrimina a priori il sesso femminile, ma solo alcune sue caratteristiche peculiari.

Damore sostiene che le differenze uomo donna sono un assunto anche nella ricerca del Dipartimento del Lavoro, visto che recita: “una maggiore parità di genere a livello nazionale porta ad una diversità psicologica nei tratti di personalità maschile e femminile”, perché come “la società diventa più prospera e più egualitaria, le innate differenze disposizionali tra uomini e donne hanno più spazio per svilupparsi e il divario esistente tra uomini e donne nella loro personalità diventa più ampio”. Dobbiamo smettere di supporre che le differenze di genere implichino il sessismo.

Il solerte ingegnere impavido non si è limitato ad una sterile analisi della realtà presente, ma ha dedicato un bellissimo paragrafo ai buoni propositi per non essere realmente discriminatori verso le donne e colmare quel divario salariale e di rappresentanza tra i due generi in ambito tecnologico, senza ricorrere alla discriminazione maschile: creare un’ingegneria del software più orientata alle persone, ad esempio, facilita le donne; lo spirito di cooperazione e di minor competizione femminile le svantaggia nella corsa ad accaparrarsi i posti di potere, ma è una risorsa preziosa per le aziende, che beneficiano della loro capacità di armonizzare e fare da collante. Riconoscere il valore aggiunto di questi ruoli di coordinamento potrebbe essere una strada. Le donne cercano un maggior equilibrio tra lavoro e vita privata, sono meno disposte degli uomini a sacrificare la famiglia per uno stipendio più corposo. Finché le aziende sfrutteranno la competizione e lo spirito di abnegazione misurato in ore di presenza al lavoro per selezionare i migliori, le donne avranno poche chance.

Creare discriminazioni per combattere una discriminazione è un’assurdità di Google (e di molti altri ambienti impregnati di politically correct di sinistra): corridoi preferenziali per minoranze razziali o di genere aumentano le tensioni invece di ridurle.

Appena cominciamo a moralizzare una questione, smettiamo di pensare in termini di costi e benefici, consideriamo chiunque non sia d’accordo come immorale e puniamo duramente quelli che riteniamo i cattivi per proteggere le “vittime”. Questo atteggiamento crea stigma sociale ed è più che religioso, perché, a differenza di un dogma di fede, fondato sul soprannaturale e abbracciato in ogni caso volontariamente, i dogmi laici sono incontestabili, imposti dallo stato con autoritarismo, decisi su non si sa quali principi.

Dietro alla macro questione sul sessismo, però, si cela più che altro la politica, che brandisce il tema come un’arma di propaganda.

La diversità del punto di vista politico è probabilmente il tipo più importante e significativo di diversità. In ambienti altamente progressisti, i conservatori sono una minoranza costretta a rimanere nell’armadio per evitare l’ostilità aperta. La dissuasione dei conservatori è un’attività non inclusiva e generalmente negativa anche dal punto di vista economico perché i conservatori tendono ad avere un livello più alto di consapevolezza, che è necessaria per gran parte delle attività di manutenzione e conservazione di un’azienda matura.

I programmi anti discriminatori sono pozzi dove si buttano denari senza ottenere alcun beneficio, perché sono costruiti su preconcetti e pregiudizi non aderenti alla realtà dei fatti e delle persone e non finalizzati ad un bene perseguibile: lasciare il mondo del lavoro com’è e poi dare incentivi per farci arrivare anche le donne è un’attività antieconomica e fallimentare. Il tutto nasce da propaganda politica, non da reale interesse sociale.

Damore ha vergato in dieci pagine con inusitata tranquillità e oggettività un ritratto incontestabile dell’ipocrisia politically correct, con un discorso ampio e compiuto, che è stato attaccato in modo indegno, mediante l’estrazione dal contesto di singole frasi, catapultate nel mondo della censura mentale in cui ormai siamo immersi, per poterlo accusare di essere il solito misogino maschilista, cosa che assolutamente non emerge da una lettura completa.

Egli sicuramente sapeva di andare incontro a grosse grane, ma evidentemente il bisogno di esprimere con linearità il suo pensiero è stato più forte del desiderio di mantenere il posto di lavoro sicuro. E così ha accolto la defenestrazione senza sorpresa, anzi, è già pronto a fare causa all’azienda, perché la battaglia per la libertà di pensiero è una cosa seria, più seria delle chiacchiere sulla discriminazione sessuale.

Certo Damore ha posto alcune questioni non da poco, su cui sarebbe importante riflettere: si può costruire un mondo del lavoro che sappia usare in pienezza delle doti femminili, valorizzandole e avvantaggiandosene, senza per questo creare ingiustizie di segno opposto o forzature antieconomiche? È più facile imporre una quota rosa: provvedimento che impiega poca fatica ad essere attuato, e, soprattutto, non costringe nessuno a cambiare davvero. Alla fin fine la sinistra pare voler rivoluzionare tutto, ma per lasciare tutto com’è.


Riportiamo di seguito, conservandolo nel nostro Breviarium, l’originale integrale della nota di James Damore.

Reply to public response and misrepresentation

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

TL:DR

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • 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. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Background [1]

People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document.[2] Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology. What follows is by no means the complete story, but it’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google.

Google’s biases

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices.

Left Biases

  • Compassion for the weak
  • Disparities are due to injustices
  • Humans are inherently cooperative
  • Change is good (unstable)
  • Open
  • Idealist

Right Biases

  • Respect for the strong/authority
  • Disparities are natural and just
  • Humans are inherently competitive
  • Change is dangerous (stable)
  • Closed
  • Pragmatic

Neither side is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company. A company too far to the right may be slow to react, overly hierarchical, and untrusting of others. In contrast, a company too far to the left will constantly be changing (deprecating much loved services), over diversify its interests (ignoring or being ashamed of its core business), and overly trust its employees and competitors.

Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies. For the rest of this document, I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.

Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech [3]

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story.

On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

  • They’re universal across human cultures
  • They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone
  • Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males
  • The underlying traits are highly heritable
  • They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

Personality differences

Women, on average, have more:

  • Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).
  • These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics.
  • Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness. Also, higher agreeableness.
  • This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.
  • Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

Note that contrary to what a social constructionist would argue, research suggests that “greater nation-level gender equality leads to psychological dissimilarity in men’s and women’s personality traits.” Because as “society becomes more prosperous and more egalitarian, innate dispositional differences between men and women have more space to develop and the gap that exists between men and women in their personality becomes wider.” We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

Men’s higher drive for status

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on[4], pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

Below I’ll go over some of the differences in distribution of traits between men and women that I outlined in the previous section and suggest ways to address them to increase women’s representation in tech and without resorting to discrimination. Google is already making strides in many of these areas, but I think it’s still instructive to list them:

  • Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things
  • We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles and Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female students into coding might be doing this).
  • Women on average are more cooperative
  • Allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive. Recent updates to Perf may be doing this to an extent, but maybe there’s more we can do. This doesn’t mean that we should remove all competitiveness from Google. Competitiveness and self reliance can be valuable traits and we shouldn’t necessarily disadvantage those that have them, like what’s been done in education. Women on average are more prone to anxiety. Make tech and leadership less stressful. Google already partly does this with its many stress reduction courses and benefits.
  • Women on average look for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average
  • Unfortunately, as long as tech and leadership remain high status, lucrative careers, men may disproportionately want to be in them. Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.
  • The male gender role is currently inflexible
  • Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.

Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that. For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead and if we try to change that too much, it may have disastrous consequences. Also, when considering the costs and benefits, we should keep in mind that Google’s funding is finite so its allocation is more zero-sum than is generally acknowledged.

The Harm of Google’s biases

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]

These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology[7] that can irreparably harm Google.

Why we’re blind

We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ[8] and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap[9]. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females. As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and areeable than men. We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner[10]. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

The same compassion for those seen as weak creates political correctness[11], which constrains discourse and is complacent to the extremely sensitive PC-authoritarians that use violence and shaming to advance their cause. While Google hasn’t harbored the violent leftists protests that we’re seeing at universities, the frequent shaming in TGIF and in our culture has created the same silence, psychologically unsafe environment.

Suggestions

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

My concrete suggestions are to:

De-moralize diversity.

  • As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”

Stop alienating conservatives.

  • Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
  • In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
  • Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Confront Google’s biases.

  • I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.
  • I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.

  • These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

  • Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
  • There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber.
  • These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
  • I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.

Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.

  • We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
  • We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity
  • Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.

De-emphasize empathy.

  • I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Prioritize intention.

  • Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
  • Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Be open about the science of human nature.

  • Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

  • We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.
  • Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.
  • Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I [sic] just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).

[1] This document is mostly written from the perspective of Google’s Mountain View campus, I can’t speak about other offices or countries.

[2] Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.

[3] Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.

[4] For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal.

[5] Stretch, BOLD, CSSI, Engineering Practicum (to an extent), and several other Google funded internal and external programs are for people with a certain gender or race.

[6] Instead set Googlegeist OKRs, potentially for certain demographics. We can increase representation at an org level by either making it a better environment for certain groups (which would be seen in survey scores) or discriminating based on a protected status (which is illegal and I’ve seen it done). Increased representation OKRs can incentivize the latter and create zero-sum struggles between orgs.

[7] Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”

[8] Ironically, IQ tests were initially championed by the Left when meritocracy meant helping the victims of the aristocracy.

[9] Yes, in a national aggregate, women have lower salaries than men for a variety of reasons. For the same work though, women get paid just as much as men. Considering women spend more money than men and that salary represents how much the employees sacrifices (e.g. more hours, stress, and danger), we really need to rethink our stereotypes around power.

[10] “The traditionalist system of gender does not deal well with the idea of men needing support. Men are expected to be strong, to not complain, and to deal with problems on their own. Men’s problems are more often seen as personal failings rather than victimhood,, due to our gendered idea of agency. This discourages men from bringing attention to their issues (whether individual or group-wide issues), for fear of being seen as whiners, complainers, or weak.”

[11] Political correctness is defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which makes it clear why it’s a phenomenon of the Left and a tool of authoritarians.

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