So this is quite the write up – no surprise it has stirred up minds. I mean, I am glad someone wrote this. Bold, upfront thoughts that can be dissected line by line. Trust me, he is not alone.

Coding aside, the memo stating that women are weak in leadership, is what has irked me enough to come up with my own response. One based on my personal experience.

Surprisingly, 3/4 in to the article, I agree on some of his points. His general argument fails and he himself is contradicting (biological vs. status driven, which one really is the answer to men in tech and leadership?). He also has failed to consider the evolution of humanity, hiding behind the conviction that social sciences cannot be trusted because they are left leaning.

More importantly, James Damore fails to talk about if, the preferential treatment being given today at Google is to makeup for lack of opportunities provided to a group in the past as a result of a general bias that existed towards them over the years.

But he makes a good point on the issue of reverse discrimination to balance out gender and race in tech. Equal effort calls for equal pay (when a woman gets the same job done in tech, she definitely didn’t use her agreeableness or anxiety to get the work done!) and no one needs to be given ‘quota’ based preferential treatment unless the job called for biological limitations or advantages.

This was an opportunity for google to address the reverse discrimination. If they showed that the need to discriminate today is a result of years of unfair practices in the past that deprived the same women at Google, of equal opportunity at training, their diversity programs today will be justified. Trying to give my daughter a free pass for being unfair to my mother, might be the concern for most today. Apologize to my mother, and show me that you have training and measurements at all levels in the work place today that breaks down biased thinking, which leads people to discriminate on the job. Having a well rounded representation of the population will serve well to grow any product. Trying to match the population percentage wise is not the answer to that.

Debra Soh on her essay in the Globe and Mail makes some interesting points on the notion of equal percentage for men and women. She argues that as gender equity continues to improve in developed societies, we should expect to see this gender gap widen. This being the result of people having the freedom to choose their occupations based on what they enjoy.

My 13-yr old daughter’s friend comes up with her own response to this debate – “Technology hasn’t been around long enough for us to determine if one gender does it better than the other”. Perhaps both genders will gravitate equally towards tech if it was part of their school education for the next 50 years. When you think about it, there are very few school going girls that sew, knit and cook in these times compared to 50 years back in developed societies. Is this a result of biology or a result of a change in the way we think? The culinary industry boasts of more and more men now when you think that a few decades ago men tilled the farm and tended animals while women were in charge of household chores, mainly cooking. Agreed, there are biological differences, but are they relevant to influence most of what we do today, including coding? Maybe we need more time to be conclusive.

I am with Damore in that any training to make up for discrimination should identify all individuals discriminated and not just be limited to women or LGBTQ because I have seen immigrant men new to the country face the same discrimination as women in some workplaces.

However, I do want to take him to a girls only school in a third world country to show him girls being leaders! He also needs a couple of history courses at Harvard! To further an interest he could start with the historic fictional “Volga se Ganga”, that is, if his classic liberal mind allows him to read left leaning fiction.

My answer to Damore’s claim that science infers women to be weak in leadership roles, lies in the history of girls only schools in Sri Lanka, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, where  quite a number of the schools are all girls and all boys. This is the norm for the country where these early schools were established by Christian missionaries. Within these schools, there is nothing that holds back girls from being molded in universal learning and leadership traits. By removing gender diversity in the classrooms, these schools nurture communities of women that go to school and learn everything that is taught to their brothers.

I am a product of such a school.  We studied the same subjects, used the same government issued books common to both boys and girls and competed shoulder to shoulder with boys in Area, Regional and National competitions in all spheres of our school life except sports (all athletics and games were gender specific). There was no bias in how we prepared ourselves for these competitions, or for the future, nor was there any general bias in how we were judged at such competitions (personal favouritism aside). During my school years, we took up various leadership roles from class rooms in to our communities. Girl guide activities equalled Boy scouts. There were the various clubs within the school that gave opportunities, including community clubs like the Leo club and the Interact club. Most girls actively participated in these initiatives.

In our teenage years, most of us girls living through the ethnic war in Sri Lanka learned to resolve conflicts and react in emergencies. As young student leaders at the age of 17 or 18, we learned from real life incidents what to do in moments of resistance, how to safeguard students in times of rioting, how to escape the hours of death and destruction and how to dilute tensed situations between staff and students. We learned to advise rebelling students; to look gun wielding men in the eye and represent ourselves and the school in a peaceful manner, we learned to corporate with various types of students, parents and teachers and find innovative ways to communicate with each other during a volatile period; we learned to think on our feet and react quickly when a situation demanded that we protect ourselves and others. We learned to sympathize with victims, help without hesitation and empathize with the rest through their daily struggles. Leadership traits honed in, irrespective of gender.  Above all, we learned that we need not wait for anyone to get the job done, and we sure did not take the time to stop and think if these tasks could be better performed by a man or a woman!

Within the walls of my school compound, no one told me somethings couldn’t be achieved because I was a girl. They didn’t tell me this boy standing next to me is better suited for this job because of his gender. Taught by a majority (if not all) female staff, we were bred to lead, and we all worked towards the same goals. Inside our school premises, we didn’t know  that gender differences limited our ability to do well in mathematics or the sciences. As a matter of fact, the majority of the students did choose to study the sciences when it came time to choose (upon completing grade 10). Arts subjects attracted a much smaller percentage of girls during my time. I chose the Arts not because it was what we women were capable of, but because a liberal household gave me the freedom to follow my passion. (This does prove Debra Soh’s point above.)

Students  handled the sound system in my school and the stage management, executing their task to perfection during staged shows and presentations. Students guided traffic outside the school during rush hour. When it was time for the annual athletic meet, students cleaned out the grounds and lay the tracks. Student captains organized and executed the events in a fair manner, abiding by the international rules that govern all sports. Even our school administrative staff were all women, maintaining records and running libraries and labs. Within the school system, all roles belonged to women – now I realize how important this was, to grow up seeing and believing that anything was possible, if you put your heart and mind in the right place. A place where we accept that education is at the core of growth, not muscles, nor hormones.

My school had a student leadership body elected in grade 5, governing students from grade 1-5. There was also a larger student body elected in grade 11 and 12. Leaders exemplified through their behaviour during their tenure to work hard, stand up and represent the students when required, lead by example by participating in activities and act in a manner in the school and out in the community that showed respect to the institute they represented. These schools bred a large number of girls in leadership, starting from class room monitors to prefects.

Though schools were segregated by gender, we did not feel inferior when we participated in activities with boys of our same age. As a matter of fact, we felt equally empowered in a fair playing field. For the most part, boys viewed the girls as equal counterparts as well.

Girls schools in Sri Lanka today are leading the tally alongside boys schools in overall grade 10 and grade 12 national examination results, producing higher numbers of women in STEM programs in the recent years. They are topping the island results in Science programs, writing the same examinations common to all students in the island, regardless of gender or region.

So Mr. Damore, if you were to come with me to my school and told the girls they couldn’t be leaders because science proved it, that would be a first for them!

One will benefit from researching “Hidden figures” or you could enjoy an evening watching the “Queen of Katwe”. If you really didn’t believe in real life stories you could settle for “Gifted”.

Companies need to stop discriminating in any form. The reason for a minority black and Hispanic  percentage in the tech industry is not due to biological reasons. It is a result of a social structure that sees less black and Hispanic men go all the way to university. We need to reduce drop out rates at schools and universities, not give preferential treatment to every minority person coming out with a degree. What happens then is that we breed more Damores and the equilibrium we are striving to achieve never exists. For today’s leaders, let the results speak of your work and not the work itself.

Damore had a right to raise the question, except he  had the wrong reasons supporting his case.

I am a woman, nurtured in a tiny island off the Indian ocean, to be a leader. Stereotype redefined.

Education and training does that.

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