The latest gender scandal comes from Google, where now-former employee James Damore wrote his infamous 10-page memo on the company's diversity policy. The memo itself is not scandalous, but you wouldn't know that from the media coverage or online outrage in response.
The memo was about many things, including ideological diversity, but the most attention-grabbing points are about gender. The engineer says, in so many words, that Google's effort to recruit more women in engineering runs against the reality that fewer women than men desire to become engineers.
The question of gender differences shows up in many contemporary debates: Are women paid the same amount as men? Are women represented at parity in various professions? In public office? Are women and men doing equal amounts of housework? Are male and female students pursuing the same areas of study?
These questions are easy to observe and answer, and of course, the answer to all of these questions is "no."
Women earn less than men do (on average): The wage gap is about 20 cents on the dollar. Men congregate in higher-paying jobs like engineering. Women congregate in nursing, teaching, and social work. Women comprise about 20 percent of Congress. Women are 97 percent of early childhood education majors; men are 97 percent of naval architecture majors.
Damore is right to point out that these different outcomes are largely the result of choice. Economists have studied the wage gap and attributed the bulk of it to profession, hours, experience, and other factors – not discrimination. Even the left-leaning American Association of University Women analyzed the wage gap and found that after considering work-related factors, it shrunk to 6 cents on the dollar.
Women choose, less frequently than men, to enter certain careers. When women express their preferences about work, fewer mothers than fathers say they want to work full-time hours. Female students cite different priorities when choosing a college major than those cited by their male counterparts.
None of this is controversial. After all, why would we call it a "diversity" policy if we didn't accept the premise that women and men are "diverse" or different?
What is controversial, at least in some circles, is the discussion about why women and men make different choices and express different desires. Are girls and boys simply "socialized" to want to live up to different "gendered expectations?" Certainly, even before birth, moms can expect pink or blue blankets as early as the baby shower, if the sex of the baby is known.
But what James Damore is suggesting is that there is more to it than this: that women and men are inherently different. He can rely on a great body of work in biology, psychology, and neuroscience to support this suggestion. Google it!
Damore is particularly careful not to suggest that what he is saying is universal. We shouldn't make assumptions about any one woman or any one man, but we ought not be surprised that when all men and women's different choices are totaled up, we see differences. Damore's conclusion, ultimately, was that he's "not saying we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I'm advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as members of their group."
Wow – pretty offensive stuff!
All joking aside, this discussion of gender leads us to more questions: Should we strive for a world where women and men are at parity? Should we try to offer girls more LEGOs and boys more baby dolls? Should we encourage more college women to major in STEM fields? Should Google intentionally recruit women?
These "should" questions are much harder to answer, and good people can come up with different solutions, or believe that no solution is necessary at all. That's also worth discussing. And while, of course, any discussion of gender differences is going to be broad-strokes and use generalizations, that doesn't mean the discussion should be off-limits.
To the contrary, by encouraging an honest discussion about the differences between men and women, we can find better answers to our questions, and ultimately, perhaps, a greater appreciation for our true diversity.
Hadley Heath Manning (@HadleyHeath) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a senior policy analyst and director of policy at the Independent Women's Forum and a Tony Blankley Fellow at the Steamboat Institute.
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