Last week, Google engineer James Damore, 28, was fired by the tech giant after writing a 10-page memo stating that women were less suitable for jobs in technology because they are not as biologically geared towards the work. While his manifesto caused immediate outrage among both men and women, Damore isn’t alone in his thinking. Many people are in the mindset that men are better at math and science because their brains are “different.” And the media has also propagated the myth that men and women have different brains.
But science has proven the opposite. In fact, there’s no evidence that a woman can’t perform at the same level as a man in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A 2008 study, Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance, led by psychology professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, showed little difference between the math skills of 7 million boys and girls in grades 2 through 11.
Yes, women can be astrophysicists too.
In her 2009 book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, concluded that there are very little differences between the brains of young boys and girls. The book’s description notes: “Boys are not, in fact, better at math, but at certain kinds of spatial reasoning. Girls are not naturally more empathetic; they’re allowed to express their feelings. By appreciating how sex differences emerge, rather than assuming them to be fixed biological facts, we can help all children reach their fullest potential, close the troubling gaps between boys and girls, and ultimately end the gender wars that currently divide us.”
It can be argued that boys and girls are raised differently and therefore choose to study opposing discipline—physics versus literature, for example. Girls are typically given dolls as children, while boys play with Legos. Men tend to gravitate more towards STEM fields, while women generally show interest in other industries.
Barnard College sociomedical scientist and professor Rebecca Jordan-Young wrote Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences in 2011. It examined numerous studies focusing on whether male and female brains are different. Jordan-Young concluded that current research contains “methodological weaknesses, questionable assumptions, inconsistent definitions, and enormous gaps between ambiguous findings and grand conclusions.” In other words, there needs to more biologically based research that proves or disproves that hormones have an effect on the human brain.
In his memo, Damore backed up his theory about women being inferior to men in technology by referencing the 2007 book “The Essential Difference” by British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. The psychologist concluded that men are biologically geared to be leaders and are good at analyzing things, while women are hardwired to be motherly and are less suited to figuring out how things work. How did he come to this conclusion? He observed day-old infants. Male and female babies were placed on their parent’s lap, and boys focused more on inanimate objects while girls looked more at people. Since its publication, many have criticized Baron-Cohen’s book for its unscientific research.
What can’t be argued is that there is a bias towards women in the tech and science communities. They have a harder time finding and keeping jobs in the industry. But that bias isn’t because their brains are different or because they’re not smart enough to excel in STEM jobs. At the very least, people such as Damore spark conversations about workplace equality. Hopefully, his views, however distorted, make people think twice about the differences between men and women.