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August 14, 2017

If We’re All the Same, Who Needs Diversity?

“Diversity in schools and workplaces is crucial,” I remember being told, “because people from different ethnicities, places, economic situations and men and women have different points of view, different ways of looking at a problem.” My experience has been that diversity does bring all these benefits and more. Problems and opportunities are best attacked from diverse points of view.

But I have a question: If we’re all the same, then what does diversity mean? Why would it have any benefits?

An engineer at Google named James Damore wrote a memo on a company forum listing some statistical differences between men and women and giving reasonable although not conclusive sources for the differences he cites. He was supporting his argument that part of the reason there are more male programmers at Google than female is that women statistically may not want this job as often as men do. He’s been fired “for perpetuating stereotypes” even though he conscientiously pointed out that statistical differences between groups cannot and should not be used for judging individuals. It has become impermissible to talk about the differences which are one of the main benefits of diversity!

The Orwellian reality is that “diversity” has become a code word for uniformity of results. Somehow every subset of every profession should have a proportion of men and women, different ethnic groups, and different gender identities which exactly matches the population. I think we Jews are under-represented in the NBA just because statistically we are not very tall and don’t jump as well as certain other ethnic groups.

Like James Damore, I have to acknowledge that stereotypes which arise from some combination of statistical differences and prejudice do often prevent individuals from getting the consideration they deserve for jobs (and country club memberships). Like Damore I think this discrimination is wrong. Even more specifically I know that stereotypes and social pressure discourage some girls from pursuing “scientific” subjects and that these girls and society as a whole both lose by this stereotyping. One of my great pleasures as a grandfather is talking science and math with my granddaughters, both of whom have aptitudes for these subjects.

Even more important, though. I have tried to teach my children and grandchildren that nothing is unthinkable. What if less women than men want to be programmers? What if that’s the truth? We could look at the job and ask why it’s unattractive to many women. If the answer is that there’s a men’s club of programmers who make women uncomfortable, that culture should change.

But if the answer, or part of the answer, is that more (remember, we’re talking statistics) men than women are willing to (or want to) work in a job with minimal social interaction, why shouldn’t that choice be honored for those who make it? I’ve been programming for 57 years. Many of the great programmers I know have borderline Aspergers Syndrome. Many more males are diagnosed with Aspergers (and other autisms) than females. My point, and Damore’s, is that there is a spectrum of statistical differences between genders and so expecting all genders be equally represented in each profession is a dumb goal and leads to reverse discrimination and other dumb decisions.

 Individual choice as well as individual aptitude should determine choice of profession.  Opportunity, of course, must be equal; real results will vary.

Before judging Damore one way or the other, please read his paper. It’s interesting and well written.

Also please see an excellent op-ed in the NYTimes by David Brooks: Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.

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