The Google gender debate – nature versus nurture

James Damore’s memo has some interesting suggestions about how people can work better together, regardless of gender. ‘We can make software engineering more people-orientated with pair programming and more collaboration…’, sounds good! Opening up communication and debate about difference and diversity in all its forms, has to be the best way forward and should be encouraged.

However, his assertion that average gender related personality traits inevitably cause certain workplace outcomes, may or may not be based in part on scientific fact; but regardless of the scientific facts, it is not the crux of the real gender difference story in my experience.

Mr Damore contends that women on average tend to be more agreeable (really?!)  and less assertive and because of this, women generally have ‘a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up and leading’.

We know from recent gender pay gap reports that significant pay differences hold true, which must be addressed, but as a child of the 60s and 70s, I would suggest this is as a result of nurture rather than nature.

For example, conditioning – girls were brought up to be ‘ladylike’ (whatever that means!); asked to sit and play ‘nicely’ and ‘quietly; school environments where boys’ physical presence and boisterousness tended to dominate teachers’ time and attention.

The expectations and aspirations of girls were too low and heavily influenced by stereotypical female roles. Many had mothers who did very little or no paid work, had no financial independence or clout and who were dependent on the financial health and control of their husbands.

Thank goodness, things have moved on significantly for the average girl and the average woman today, but not enough.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge remains ingrained in the conditioning and resultant guilt that working mothers feel about what a ‘good’ mum should be and do.

Many, many girls and women are very driven and have a strong ambition to achieve at the highest level and are prepared to work extremely hard with that in mind, just look at their outstanding GCSE and A level results.

However, understanding why, as Mr Damore’s view of personality traits suggests, women and particularly those with children, on average have ‘higher levels of anxiety’ is far more to do with balancing their full time paid jobs (be that as a chief executive or otherwise), with their other ‘full time job’ as main childminder, child carer, night feeder, homework supervisor, PE kit organiser and general chief cook and bottle washer.

It will only be when all of our biases (conscious or otherwise) about the roles of men and women at work and home change and we enable home life to be truly shared equally between men and women, that Mr Damore might then be surprised by how the average woman’s levels of anxiety starts to fall, her average salary starts to rise and her desire to take up a leadership role becomes the reality, regardless of her or his personality profile.

About Liz Cheaney

Liz Cheaney is a Director of HR at Coffin Mew Solicitors.

2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Well said Liz. I also believe that people value the stereotypical male traits more than the female stereotypical traits which perpetuates the gender pay gap and as more men than women are in senior roles making decisions in recruitment they automatically value men (with the traits they believe they have) more so they get more senior roles more easily again perpetuating the gender pay gap.

  2. Hi Liz, I agree with almost everything in your article. I was disappointed in the stereotype of the male / female role specific jobs in the home. These may be correct in some generations and we need to respect those traditions if they suit the individuals and challenge where they have become “normal” just because of gender, I do agree with that. Almost all roles you list can, and in some cases are, already be shared by both parties in a relationship.

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