Google fired James Damore for his memo about Google's gender diversity policies. Quoted are these parts of the memo that claim that in spite of significant overlap, innate biological differences between men and women may be responsible for the underepresentation of women in tech and leadership. Original links to Wikipedia articles, scientific papers & other sources preserved.

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 all 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.

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 traits becomes wider.” We need to ​ stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism ​ .

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

Women on average look for more work-life balance. ​

These remarks were deemed highly discriminatory by Google, the NLRB and other parties.

At the same time it seems unclear whether these statements are truthful or untruthful:

Some commentators in the academic community said he had gotten the science right, such as Debra Soh, a sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto; Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto; Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University; and Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico. David P. Schmitt, former professor of psychology at Bradley University; said that the memo was right about average group differences, but one could not use it to judge individuals.

Others said that he had got the science wrong and relied on data that was suspect, outdated, irrelevant, or otherwise flawed; these included Gina Rippon, chair of cognitive brain imaging at Aston University; evolutionary biologist Suzanne Sadedin; Rosalind Barnett, a psychologist at Brandeis University, and Caryl Rivers, a professor of journalism at Boston University.

Journalistic coverage of the science behind the memo reflected these concerns; Angela Saini said that Damore failed to understand the research he cited, while John Horgan criticized the track record of evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics. Owen Jones said that the memo was "guff dressed up with pseudo-scientific jargon" and cited a former Google employee saying that it failed to show the desired qualities of an engineer.

Does the science support the claims made by James Damore that women, on average, are biologically less inclined to take jobs in tech and leadership?

  • I have closed this question as unclear, because it has quite a few problems. Let's see if we can work it into shape.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 17 '18 at 6:10
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    One big issue is "scientifically proven beyond reasonable doubt" isn't a meaningful standard, and isn't part of any claim. Science doesn't deal in proofs. "Beyond reasonable doubt" is a legal, not scientific term.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 17 '18 at 6:12
  • Framing the argument as purely Nature versus Nurture is a false dichotomy. If people are making such claims, they should be precisely quoted.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 17 '18 at 6:14
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    @Oddthinking "Robert Martin's blog post is totally irrelevant to the question." Why? He made the claim: There is conclusive scientific evidence against the idea that women are biologically any less inclined to take SW jobs than men. This may not be the main point of this blog post; but he did make this claim. Why am I not supposed to ask about this particular claim?
    – gaazkam
    Jul 17 '18 at 16:46
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    @Oddthinking OK now?
    – gaazkam
    Jul 20 '18 at 14:01

This question tackles a contentious subject, and has been framed in an unfortunate way.

Has it been scientifically proven beyond reasonable doubt that there are no biological factors that would make women, on average, less inclined to take STEM related jobs (or just SW engineering)?

(emphasis mine)

This is not a directly testable hypothesis. There could be any number of lurking factors we don't know about. It would be in some sense surprising if there were no differences at all.

If you work in STEM as a man like I do, particularly in the most male-dominated areas (computer science, engineering, and mathematics), then a negative (or mostly negative) answer to this question implies that I have perhaps unjustly benefited from outdated or repressive social norms. Nobody wants to think that about themselves. Some people's self identity is really tied up in the notion that they are personally responsible for their success. They like these negative thoughts even less. I speculate that this is the root of a lot of these kinds of questions.

A good way to step outside this perspective, is to think about R.A. Fisher's famous insistence that tobacco smoke hadn't been shown to cause lung cancer. Fisher was the father of modern statistics, and a smoker. His official position, held until his death, was that a third factor, in the form of an unidentified gene that caused both an appetite for smoking and lung cancer, was to blame. In fact, there is just such a factor, discovered decades later! But it only accounts for something like 1/25th of the effect. The main effect was environmental, and the evidence for environmental effects was overwhelming, even before Fisher's death.

There's plenty of evidence that a huge portion of the gender imbalance is nurture-based, and unlike studies of infant attention spans, these studies measure things directly related to the topic at hand, rather than indirectly, potentially related, factors. I'm going to focus to my own field of computer science, which has among the most extreme gender imbalances, but I suspect other answers could show similar findings in other STEM areas.

We know that the fraction of women and men interested in working in technical fields changes over time quite dramatically. As a more concrete example, women received just 5% of medical doctorates in 1950, but now make up 49% of new graduates from medical doctoral programs. In computer science, women's share of graduates rose steadily until the mid 1980's, starting at below 15%, and reaching into the low 30% range, before dropping to its present 20% level. If the primary factors influencing women's interest in this field were biological, then we would expect these numbers to remain similar over time. The fact that they do not suggests cultural factors might be at work. Margolis gives a compelling explanation for exactly which cultural factors might have led to this decline starting in the 1980s.

Further, we actually have great evidence against the theory that women avoid STEM carriers by choice: the women who do pursue careers in fields like computer science leave (page 6, additional sources there) at a vastly higher rate than the workforce at large, and report leaving because of hostile workplace cultures. The NCWIT survey notes (pages 9-11) that even though 80% of women in tech report "loving their work", They quit at the rate of 50% per decade. That's more than double the rate for women in the workforce at large (20%), and for men in Tech (17%). The primary factor predicting whether women left was poor workplace experiences, and leaving was not usually associated with a family event.

It isn't hard to find out that many or most women in STEM have frequent socially negative experiences. I've used mostly academic sources here, but at least in the North American and European cultures where I've worked, you can find this out for yourself by asking almost any woman coworker about their experiences. Or you can read about the Susan Fowler-style scandal of the month.

The upshot is, the data we have aren't consistent with biological factors playing a big role in the gender imbalance in STEM. We'd expect biological factors to produce gender ratios that were stable over time, and probably stable across several different fields, which is not what we observe.

Additionally, we can identify many cultural factors that do change over the time periods we see changing gender balance in, and that do drive even interested women, who made it through an engineering degree, to leave the field. This suggests that the data we have are well explained by environmental or cultural factors.

So, while we can't rule out a Fisher-style gene (maybe "coding and being a misogynist" have common cause?), we also don't need one to explain the data. On questions involving squishy humans, that's probably about as solid as we're going to get.

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    Your answer seems to be all over the place; the biggest flaw being no one is arguing that there hasn't historically been large social factors, the comparison with smoking being massively disingenuous. Poor workplace experience is also vague enough to be able to cover biological preferences in working styles (if such things exist); the fact you drag theories why people say such things into the answer also suggests that it is ideologically motivated.
    – user43646
    Jul 17 '18 at 7:22
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    @Orangesandlemons The question has been edited pretty extensively, but I think the smoking analogy remains a really good fit. It's not literally true that "Smoking causes lung cancer". There are other causes of lung cancer (like the gene I mentioned). However, it's intellectually dishonest to say that smoking is not the cause of high lung cancer rates. It outweighs all other factors enormously. I think the same logic applies here: it's not literally true that only cultural factors matter, but it's certainly true enough for regular conversation, like the OP's original example. Jul 17 '18 at 14:37
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    @Sklivvz My use of analogy was only to round out the answer. The original question asked for proof of an extremely broad negative. The "smoking causes lung cancer" analogy is to illustrate that while the literal answer to the question had to be "no" (you can't use the scientific method to prove a negative that broad), it was unreasonable to hold the belief that innate factors are the primary issue. Forgive me another analogy, but if someone asked "Is there any conclusive evidence against Russell's Teapot?", I think the correct skepetics.se answer would have to go beyond "No.". Jul 17 '18 at 21:37
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    @JohnDoucette sorry but that's another unacceptable answer. If you have problems with the question, then help fix the question. If a question is hard to answer (and this is not at all a Russel teapot question) then we can't accept answers that beat around the bush complaining about it. Either we found evidence of biological basis for this or we didn't. If someone claims that we did, and we did not, then the claim is false.
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 19 '18 at 12:21
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    You make a good case for socio-cultural factors playing an important role, but I am not following how you conclude that biological factors are less important. To give a simplistic thought-example: lets say biological differences alone would lead to a 75-25 ratio in computer science (the stable ratio you say we would expect); the observed variations could then be the consequence of changing cultural factors.
    – Muschkopp
    Jul 21 '18 at 2:10

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