<%rssLink ()%> <%googleAnalytics ()%>

Is the lack of Women in Tech Due to Biology?

Other directories: help, engl1190, umw, lane, commons, open, adp, n490, hyp, mac, psu, cfcs

Answer: Probably Not.

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.

Origin and Prevalence

Google employee, James Damore, was terminated over an anti-diversity manifesto he wrote in July 2017. In it, he claimed "Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don't have 50 percent representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business." as well as other statements arguing it's biology which contributes to the lack of women in technological industries. Although this topic has been widely discussed and researched, Damore's memo sparked quite the conversation.

Issues and Analysis

The response from Damore's memo was mixed, even from the scientific community. Sexual Neuroscientist, Debra W. Soh weighed in on the memo, stating "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."

On the other side of the discussion, Social Scientist and Psychologist, Rosalind Barnett, shared the following perspective: "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, adds to this and questions, "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."

So what does the science say?

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."

It seems this bias exists on both sides. Social Psychologist, Mahzarin Banaji, states "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."

Sources & Further Reading:


All Content released CC0 (Public Domain) by the Digital Polarization Initiative.

The Digital Polarization Initiative is a cross-institutional project that encourages students to investigate and verify the information they find online. Articles are student-produced, and should be checked for accuracy before citation as sources.

DigiPo members can edit this page

Photo Credit: Header photos generate in randomly. Check this page for a list of photography credits and licensing.

The Digital Polarization Initiative is a student-run project which allows university students to investigate questions of truth and authority on the web and publish their results. Learn more, or see our index. Photo credits here. DigiPo members can edit this page.