Real Diversity

Google is a pretty big deal.  They hire cool people, they make cool stuff, and they’re arguably the world’s most valuable company.  I’ve been studying Google closely for over a decade and one of their most impressive assets has always been their organizational culture.

Recently, a Google engineer wrote a 10 page memo outlining his thoughts on diversity in tech.  Coverage of this memo made it to the front page of just about every major news feed and the  loudest commentary has been pretty one-sided… something to the effect of ‘how dare he?’

After I read the first article referencing the memo, I got the gist of what was going on.  A male employee said some things which suggested that men are better suited to work in tech than women.  Then I read a few of the comments after the article and got the gist of what was going on there too… men and women are equal in every way and to suggest otherwise is offensive, immoral, and shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the systematic oppression that white men have put on all other minorities since forever.

Oy.

Recently, a well-known tennis legend suggested that Serena Williams was the greatest female player of all time.  Then he was asked why not the greatest of all time instead of the greatest female player of all time?  To which he responded by saying that she wouldn’t do nearly as well on the men’s circuit.  I thought that was a fair and accurate understanding of the situation and by no means diminished Serena’s legacy.  I think it’s also fair and reasonable that in order to claim the title of greatest tennis player ever, you’d have to be willing to compete against the best tennis players – regardless of their gender.

This all seemed pretty straight forward to me.  Men and women have evolved differently over the millennia and while women became better equipped to care for the family, men became better equipped for the role of hunting and gathering.  The evolutionary advantages which men have acquired tend to make us better athletes thus providing an inherent advantage when competing in sports.  If that’s true, is possible that other evolutionary differences exist between men and women?

One of my biggest struggles with romantic relationships when I was younger was that I expected the other person in the relationships to see and understand the world like I did.  Eventually I was given that book about women being from Venus and men being from Mars.  While I didn’t read it, hearing a few passages was enough to help me understand that men and women are wired differently and that it was important to keep those differences in mind.  While I think the most significant differences come down to the people themselves, the most consistent pattern I’ve seen in the difference between men and women is that men tend to lean towards logic while women tend to lean towards emotion.  If that’s true, wouldn’t men – on average – be better suited towards jobs that relied heavily on logic skills?

In the pursuit of understanding, I asked two of the most intelligent feminists I know about evolutionary adaptation giving men the abilities to do certain tasks better than women.  One said that she didn’t want to get into it because it was too much emotional labor.  The other was offended by the idea and then said that she was too reactive to have the conversation. Ironically, in the second instance a nearby cardiologist chimed in saying that she agreed with the evolutionary perspective but pointed out that there were always exceptions (like women being better open-water long-distance swimmers because of their fat distribution).

Back to the Google memo.   If you were just going to read headlines and comments, you’d think that this kid was a contributor at Breitbart and that his ‘anti-diversity manifesto’ was right-wing propaganda that was designed to prop up white privilege and repress visible minorities in tech.  None of material referenced in this articles actually showed that perspective and knowing that Google typically doesn’t hire right-wing nut jobs, I sensed a disconnect.  So I tracked down the original memo and read the whole thing.

It’s not that bad.  In fact, it’s kinda good.  The opening line is, “I value diversity and inclusion, I am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.”  There are several more points throughout the memo that provide the necessary context to understand that James Damore values diversity, and wants to see diversity in the workplace, but thinks that a diversity of the mind is more important than a diversity of the body.

In the pursuit of that point, he suggests that there are several reasons why we’re likely to see lower numbers of women in tech.  He acknowledges that there is a systematic oppression of women in tech, but says that this might only be part of the issue and that part of it might be evolutionary.  He goes on to reference several studies which compare personality traits between men and women, suggesting  – on average – women have higher levels of anxiety and don’t cope with stress as well as their male counterparts.  Ironically, I had actually reviewed many of these studies a couple weeks prior as I was exploring evolutionary differences as a result of the Serena Williams conversation.

Science itself is an evolutionary process and from what I’ve read so far, the scientific community has a consensus that men and women are wired differently.  Where it becomes more grey is in how that develops into aptitude.  I suspect that with the ground that women have covered in the last 100 years and recognizing that the female population in post secondary education now eclipses men, the next 50 years will look much different than the last 50 years.  If we do it right, both men and women will have the opportunity to choose the profession that they’re best equipped for – but I don’t think that means that every job will have a equal representation of men and women.

I think that equality is a core concept to any prosperous society but I do think that the populist understanding of equality needs to evolve.  Equality is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome.  In the world of equal outcome, everyone receives a PB&J sandwich for lunch.  In the world of equal opportunity, everyone is given an opportunity to make the sandwich they want to eat.

Everyone is born a little different and it is a life built on that deviation which truly makes us unique to the world.  Because we are unique, each of us has the ability to provide something to the world that no one else can and it is the delivery of this gift to the world which I think makes us truly happy.  I know that’s a bit abstract and maybe even a bit fluffy so on a more grounded level, we’re all a little different, we all have a unique aptitude, and deploying that aptitude in a manner that helps us get closer to our maximum utility is likely what will make us happy and fulfilled.  If that’s true, isn’t true equality giving everyone the opportunity to reach their own, unique maximum utility?  If tech is biologically better suited for men, reaching a 50/50 quota of men/women will mean women who would otherwise be better suited and happier doing other activities will work in tech and men who would be best suited for tech will have to work in another field because those spots have been taken.

As hard as it can be to make this connection for some, it always comes down to an equation of efficiency.  The most efficient course of action is to encourage people to pursue careers in fields which will help them reach their maximum utility.  That’s a career which would see them happiest, most fulfilled, and creating their greatest contributions to society.  A perfect society is one in which everyone operates at their maximum utility and I think that’s the ideal of equality that people are pursuing – many just haven’t figured out how to get there yet.

The last thing I’ll touch on here which may be the most important part of this conversation is the lack of conversation.  I think that what I’ve written here would suggest that I agree with James Damore’s assessment of women in tech.  I don’t.  I think that he references some valid information, I think that he makes some coherent points, and I think that he’s legitimately looking to advocate for an ideological diversity over a visible diversity because at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.  I also think that there are too many unknown variables to draw direct conclusions between evolutionary biology and aptitude for jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago.  The social, cultural, academic, and systemic variables are key in understanding this dynamic and they’re changing faster than we’re currently able to understand them.

If understanding them is a priority for us, we need to invest in the discussions that will flush out the real questions and invest in the sciences that will give us that data to answer those real questions.  I don’t agree with James Damore, but I absolutely agree with how he presented his thoughts and it is a remarkable failure when our ability to challenge these ideas devolves into comments like ‘this doesn’t even warrant a response’, or ‘how dare he?’.  It shows a lack of understanding of the topic at hand, a fear of opposing ideologies, and reluctance to engage with someone who doesn’t agree with your perspective.  James Damore was fired from one of the most important companies in the world because he intelligently argued a perspective not shared by the majority of his peers.  In the pursuit of diversity, Google just took a major step towards preventing the diversity of ideas.

 

Thought Vs. Emotion

I think that by most people’s standards, I’ve had a challenging life.  I also think that by most people’s standards, I brought most of it on myself – and I would agree.  I have a long history of taking things that should be easy, and finding ways of making them hard.  I’m not actually sure why I have this quality, but I am starting to understand the impact it has on my life.

Each time I put myself in a challenging situation, I had to figure it out.  It wasn’t that I lacked a support system, it’s just that my support system would usually suggest that if I got myself into it, I can get myself out of it.  Over the years, I developed a system that was effectively: Understand where you’re at, understand where you want to be, and find a way to close the gap.  I think the key word there is understand.  It was an exercise in problem solving in the arena of thought.

My father passed away in my mid-20s.  He and I were close – he meant a lot to me.  It was cancer and he lasted about 2 years between diagnosis and death.  Towards the end, I remember having a conversation with a friend about how it would impact me.  I had noticed a pattern over the years which suggested that each time I went through something like this, I became a less emotional person.  Despite all the other challenges I had overcome, I knew that losing my dad would impact me more than anything I had ever been through and I was concerned about how it would impact my emotional disposition – would I have any left?

In the month that my dad died, the first girl I thought I’d marry left me for her ex-boyfriend, I tore my shoulder, and the promotion which I had just moved cities for was rescinded.  After I wrapped up the responsibilities around my father’s estate, I decided it was important to give myself time to grieve to prevent any future imbalance.  The following week was a combination of work, family sized lasagnas, weed, and a few movies that legitimately made me bawl my eyes out (the dad scene in Warrior got me good).  By the end of that week, I figured that the best thing I could do for my father, for myself, and for those who counted on me was to rise above and move forward.  I accepted that my father may have died earlier than I would’ve liked, but I also recognized that he led the kind of life that most people would aspire to.  He had a family who loved him, he was a master of his craft, he built and sold a business, he was respected within his community, and he was the giant upon whose shoulders I would stand on.  I had to wrap my head around that death was part of the natural order in which we all existed, and that I should be proud of the life that my father lived.  I don’t know if it was easy or hard, but I did.

I spent the next 6 months identifying where I was in my life, where I wanted to be, and worked on closing the gap.  By the end of that year, I was headed back home for a new career in wealth management for one of the world’s top global banks.  The loss of my father was never a source of depression for me, instead, I chose to use his memory as a source of inspiration and drive.  Even to this day, everything that I do is in some way for him.

I was often complimented on how well I handled the passing of my father.  I was called very well adjusted.  However, my concerns about becoming a less emotional person seemed to be valid.  The girls I dated since likely saw the same thing.  One said that I was driven, but not passionate.  Another said that I was empty inside.  My favorite though, and perhaps the girl who understood me best, called me her benevolent robot king.  I was a high functioning human being in most respects, but I did it without what most people would call emotion.  I don’t have the wisdom necessary to make any conclusions, but I’m starting to think that there some validity to operating without emotion.

This is where I think it’s important to define the term emotion.  Google’s definition suggests that emotion is a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood and relationships with others.  For me, the key word is instinctive and I think there’s a key difference between instinct and thought.  I’m sitting here trying to think of exactly what that is and I don’t think I can define it just yet.  When I try, I think of instinct like firmware and thought like software.  The firmware came with the hardware and can be tough to update.  Software however can be updated often depending on the applications you want to run and the tasks you’re looking to accomplish.

Before modern cognition, instincts were paramount to survival.  In modern society, our instinctual drives often seem counter-productive.  Easy examples include men cheating on their spouses because of their instinctual drive to procreate with multiple partners or women searching for men with the physique and resources to protect and provide for them.  If we were to understand these types of behaviors as instinctual and left over evolutionary characteristics from a past era, I think we’d understand each other a little better.  Unfortunately, this is where ’emotions and feelings’ come into play.

In many of my relationships, I was told that I had to respect their emotions or respect their feelings.  I understood that I should respect the person and that their emotional state is part of who they are, but I didn’t understand why I should inherently respect their emotions.  Perhaps my favorite example is when a girlfriend spent the day angry at me because I had cheated on her in a dream – for the record, I’ve never cheated.  I understood and appreciated that she had sensory input that triggered instinctual fears of losing a mate but what I didn’t understand is why it was acceptable for her to ‘feel’ upset with me let alone why that state of mind should be respected.

The more rational I became, the more challenging I was for someone who was emotional.  I was still nice, I still wanted to be a good person and I was still working hard to make a positive impact in the world, but thought and emotion were often two different perspectives in the world and one often struggled to understand the other.  What I’m going to say next might ruffle some feathers, and I could be wrong, but it’s my current evolution of thought on the matter.  I think that thought is a higher form of cognition than emotion.  I’m not prepared to say that one is better than the other, or that one leads to a happier life, but I am prepared to say that on average, thinking things through is a more successful approach than feeling things out.

When I think of humanity’s greatest thinkers and what they’ve accomplished, I’m inspired.  When I think of humanity’s greatest feelers and what they’ve accomplished, I draw a blank.  When I think of humanity’s worst, I think of people who let hate and prejudice get the better of them.  Hate is an emotional state while prejudice is a lack of thought.  However, I cannot accurate say that all good things come from thought while all bad things come from emotion because without emotion, where’s the love?

This would surprise many, but as rational and robotic as I am, I still cry on a regular basis.  I’d say about once a month, I see something beautiful or something sad that touches me and gets me misty eyed at the very least.  It was the kind of thing that I would fight when I was younger but I embrace now.  Fear doesn’t really register with me the way that it does with other people, but I do have a very real concern about losing that connection because there is something that feels very human about it.  Something that I respect and appreciate about emotion is that the best moments in my life were emotional.  Happiness is an emotional state of mind.

Where I’ll leave this for today is a theory that I’m working on.  We only have one body, we only have one central nervous system, and we only have one brain.  On that basis, emotion and thought have to be connected.  Emotion seems to have a stronger connection to the body and the subconscious while thought seems to have a stronger connection to the outside world.  I think that in earlier stages of evolution, instinctual drives and internal monitors were more closely associated with survival but as we’ve created the world we live in today, it’s become increasingly important to understand the outside world.  Trying to understand the outside world with an instinctual or emotional perspective can be limiting so thought has become more important.  As the outside world progresses, we continue to develop physical and intellectual tools to help understand what’s happening internally.  Currently, I’m trying to understand what will happen to emotion if we continue along this path.  I don’t think that the emotional state will disappear completely, but I do think that it’s importance will diminish as our understanding of how it fits into general cognition evolves.  How Vulcan…

 

A Brief Thought on Modern Feminism

So a good friend recently posted a comment to his Facebook account along the lines of, “Plenty of women only businesses, so why do men catch such flak when we try it?”  Now it’s important to know that he’s a good guy, happily married with daughters so what I suspect he was really doing was stirring up some interesting conversation.  This was my contribution to the conversation:

Consider this… men are the more physically dominant sex, which meant that until we got smart enough to realize that gender equality would double the workforce and lead to greater comparative advantage, we were calling most of the shots. As with many things in life, there’s a pendulum effect. Right now the middle is where most of us would like things to be, but when we’re way over on one side, the momentum of that change will often take us right through the middle and over to the other side. That’s what we’re seeing now.  For men as a sex -this is all long overdue. The problem with that is the vast majority of men I know who are dealing with this short end of the stick today are actually bonafide feminists.

Where things get interesting is that the further the pendulum swings to the benefit of women, the more that momentum gets stored up and the more likely it is to swing back to the side of men.  Even as I write this, men’s rights movements are gathering steam.  While I’m sure they have some valid points, I also have very little interest in seeing the pendulum swing back to where it’s been for the last 10,000 years.  Here’s to hoping we find that common ground but the balls are in your court ladies.