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Although biological differences do exist between men and women, to state that it's purely biology which contributes to a lack of women in technological fields isn't well supported. The strength of evidence in other factors such as workplace environment, sociocultural perspectives and unconscious bias make it difficult to assume it's strictly biology that contributes to the lack of women in tech.
When Google employee, James Damore, claimed in a July 2017 anti-diversity manifesto that it was biology which contributed to the lack of women in technological industries, he reignited a subject that has been widely discussed since the 1980's. The origin of this topic starts before then however, during the computing boom of the 1970's. As Personal Computers (PC's) were becoming more affordable and accessible to the public, the workforce demand enticed many to apply for computer science degrees and careers. With the 'second-wave' of the Women's Liberation Movement happening at the time, the amount of men and women going to school and applying for these careers were fairly equal. Suzanne Gordon, Chief Information Office of database software company SAS, graduated from college in the 1970s. In a 2008 interview, she says there seemed to be more women going into the field back then. "There were no preconceived notions of who went into it," she says. That changed by the late 1980's, when the sharp and sudden decline of women in tech industries was glaringly apparent. Since then, discussions of workplace environment, socioeconomic factors, and even biology playing a role have been researched with mixed results.
With the ignition of the Google memo, the scientific community weighed in. Sexual Neuroscientist, Debra W. Soh supported the idea of biological factors. She stated[AB3] , "Within the field of neuroscience, sex differences between women and men—when it comes to brain structure and function and associated differences in personality and occupational preferences—are understood to be true, because the evidence for them (thousands of studies) is strong. This is not information that's considered controversial or up for debate; if you tried to argue otherwise, or for purely social influences, you'd be laughed at."
Adding to the discussion, Social Scientist and Psychologist, Rosalind Barnett argues that competency in math and science aren't dictated by gender. She states, "The widely held belief that boys are naturally better than girls at math and science is unraveling among serious scientists. Evidence is mounting that girls are every bit as competent as boys in these areas."
Evolutionary Biologist, Suzanne Sadedin, challenges the correlation between biological differences affecting a person's abilities. "At what point did we jump from talking about personalities to abilities? It's a massive leap to conclude that a slight difference in average personality must undermine women's professional abilities in software engineering."
The discussion continues on, varying between disciplines, each speaking from strongly supported scientific evidence. So who is right?
One study published by Ceci et al. (2009), reviewed more than 400 articles exploring the causes of women's underrepresentation in STEM fields, including biological as well as social factors. In their abstract, they state: "Biological evidence is contradictory and inconclusive. Although cross-cultural and cross-cohort differences suggest a powerful effect of sociocultural context, evidence for specific factors is inconsistent and contradictory."
Another study from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 2010 concluded: "Why are so few women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? The answer lies in part in our perceptions and unconscious beliefs about gender in mathematics and science. Luckily, stereotypes, bias, and other cultural beliefs can change; often the very act of identifying a stereotype or bias begins the process of dismantling it."
This 'bias' seems to exist on both sides. Social Psychologist, Mahzarin Banaji, adds, "Often we hear from girls that it's not that they can't do math; it's that they don't identify with it. And that's critical—when you don't see yourself connected to a particular path, whether it is math-science or motherhood, the likelihood is that you will steer clear of it."
There are darker factors as well. This 2016 study interviewed women pursuing STEM-related degrees in the UK. One student described her experience as: "We have … there are a lot of problems, bullying and people being aggressive … I'm talking about big problems, fundamental problems, bullying, aggressiveness, the lack of transparency, the fact that women are referred to as 'that stupid woman' … . They
[male colleagues] think women should not be there necessarily and, if they are there,
they're there to take notes and not say anything and not speak up." Harassment is undoubtedly a powerful factor, and may not always be visible as victims tend to not admit its existence for fear of professional, physical, or emotional retribution.
In conclusion, there are many factors that could (and potentially do) play a role into the lack of women in technological industries. To claim it's strictly biological factors, would mean dismissing the powerful evidence supporting social bias, workplace/academic harassment, cultural beliefs, personality factors and so on. The variables are so diverse and interwoven, that it's highly improbable that a singular factor could be isolated and properly measured.
Howe-Walsh, Liza and Sarah Turnbull. "Barriers to Women Leaders in Academia: Tales
from Science and Technology." Studies in Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 3, Mar. 2016, pp. 415-428. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03075079.2014.929102.
Leeming, Anne. "Women into Computing: First National Conference." Journal of Information Technology (Routledge, Ltd.), vol. 4, no. 2, June 1989, p. 112. EBSCOhost, lanecc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5417569&site=ehost-live.
Barnett, Roselind C., and Caryl Rivers. "We've studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn't support the Google memo." Recode, 11 Aug. 2017, www.recode.net/2017/8/11/16127992/google-engineer-memo-research-science-women-biology-tech-james-damore. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Beirnat, Monica, and Melvin Mannis. "Shifting Standards and Stereotype-Based Judgments." Montana State University, edited by Monica Beirnat and Melvin Mannis, www.montana.edu/nsfadvance/documents/PDFs/resources/ShiftingStandardsandStereotype-BasedJudgements.pdf. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Ceci, SJ, et al. "Women's Underrepresentation in Science: Sociocultural and Biological Considerations." National Center for Biotechnology Information, Mar. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19254079. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Damore, James. "Googles Ideological Echo Chamber." Document Cloud, July 2017, www.documentcloud.org/documents/3914586-Googles-Ideological-Echo-Chamber.html. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Gordon, Suzanne. "For Tech Jobs, Woman Can Get with the Program." Interview by Eve Tahmincioglu. NBCNews.com, edited by Eve Tahmincioglu, NBC News Digital, www.nbcnews.com/id/23033748/ns/business-careers/t/tech-jobs-women-can-get-program/#.Wir-DFWnEdU. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, et al. "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology." Semantic Scholar, June 2008, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1c0e/957e27145fb5d3ff1386dc83fd2d3a1a63d0.pdf. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Hill, Cathrine, Ph.D., et al. "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics." American Association of University Women, Feb. 2010, www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/Why-So-Few-Women-in-Science-Technology-Engineering-and-Mathematics.pdf. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Quillette Magazine. "The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond." Quillette Magazine, 7 Aug. 2017, quillette.com/2017/08/07/google-memo-four-scientists-respond/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.
Sadedin, Suzanne, Ph.D. "What do scientists think about the biological claims made in the document about diversity written by a Google employee in August 2017?" Quora, 14 Aug. 2017, www.quora.com/What-do-scientists-think-about-the-biological-claims-made-in-the-document-about-diversity-written-by-a-Google-employee-in-August-2017/answer/Suzanne-Sadedin. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.