Follow up: More about gender differences and the Google "diversity" post

A close friend sent me this article this morning as a rebuttal to my recent defense of the Google memo “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion." 

The article opens with the response given by Google CEO Pichai:

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”
Not what I'm saying!

Not what I'm saying!

I agree (with Pichal not Archie). If that was what the memo had suggested that would not be OK. But the memo never said that women were less biologically capable. It simply used scientific evidence to show that the brains of men and women are different. Many women, myself included, show brains that are organized in more masculine ways than the average woman.

An illustration of standard deviation on a standard normal distribution or " Bell " curve

An illustration of standard deviation on a standard normal distribution or "Bell" curve

This is a normal curve issue. Women are more than capable of performing equally and often even outperforming men in traditionally male dominated fields. That was never questioned in this memo. The suggestion made in the memo was that we must start looking at the full spectrum. Treat women (and men!) as individuals. Overall in that curve, masculinized brains in females (like me!) are off on the tails of the curve (to be clear I'm not suggesting any specific percentage).

We aren't the norm, but that doesn't ever mean we should be discounted.

And from my reading of the memo, that wasn't the intention. 

The majority of the content in the rest of the article cites studies on the sex differences (or lack thereof) in the brains of children.

“Neuroscientists have found few sex differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth, neither of which is known to relate to learning.”

Again, not a fact I'd argue against.

This type of reporting causes people to fall into a blind spot of not knowing what they don't know.

Intentional or not, this article is misleading.

Hormones act on the body and brain at two distinct stages. The first an organizing phase which literally sets up your body to possess male or female sex characteristics. The second phase, the activating phase, turns on those brain circuits differently and has massive effects on behavior and brain structure. Activation happens during puberty. None of these differences would be seen in children's brains. A few citations of this are found here: 1, 2.

Finally, the article rails on the original Baron-Cohen's study (the one that associated male brains with systemizing and female brains with empathizing). 

"Baron-Cohen's study had major problems. It was an "outlier" study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself."

Look, there were obvious issues with the study, but to make the claim above is flat out false. In my previous blog post I cited a 2012 survey that measured empathizing and systemizing with a large US sample that found rather striking differences in scores for males and females. If that's not enough, here's another citation from 2007 showing differences in the brains of male and female students choosing to explore majors in the sciences and humanities. Evidence once again of male-systemizing brains and female-empathizing brains as the norm. I want to be clear here that I'm not in anyway discounting women-systematizers (that would be myself!) or male-empathizers. 

I did a blog back in December about the power of stereotypes in sports called "White men can't jump." And the truth of the average is, no one would bet against a Kenyan in marathon. That doesn't mean Americans aren't capable runners. There might be brilliant runners here in the states but if I'm a betting gal...

So let's be brave enough to look at the norm and recognize equality by minimizing or overlooking biological differences between us all, really misses the mark.

Instead, let's strive for equality in individual opportunity and assessment.