What Does Scientific Research Say About the Infamous Google Memo?

Image result for googleI’m sure most of you have heard about the controversial Google Memo making the rounds throughout the media. Social psychologists Sean Stevens and Jonathan Haidt provide an excellent source[ref]Thanks to Megan Conley for linking to this on Facebook.[/ref] for those interested in browsing the academic literature on the subject. They provide both supportive and critical responses[ref]Update: Add this to the critical pile.[/ref] to the memo as well as highlight findings within the research that both agree and disagree with the memo’s assertions. Overall, they conclude,

1. Gender differences in math/science ability, achievement, and performance are small or nil.* (See especially the studies by Hyde; see also this review paper by Spelke, 2005). The one exception to this statement seems to be spatial abilities, such as the ability to rotate 3-dimensional objects in one’s mind. This ability may be relevant in some areas of engineering, but it’s not clear why it would matter for coding. Thus, the large gender gap in coding (and in tech in general) cannot be explained as resulting to any substantial degree from differences in ability between men and women.

2. Gender differences in interest and enjoyment of math, coding, and highly “systemizing” activities are large. The difference on traits related to preferences for “people vs. things” is found consistently and is very large, with some effect sizes exceeding 1.0. (See especially the meta-analyses by Su and her colleagues, and also see this review paper by Ceci & Williams, 2015).

3. Culture and context matter, in complicated ways. Some gender differences have decreased over time as women have achieved greater equality, showing that these differences are responsive to changes in culture and environment. But the cross-national findings sometimes show “paradoxical” effects: progress toward gender equality in rights and opportunities sometimes leads to larger gender differences in some traits and career choices. Nonetheless, it seems that actions taken today by parents, teachers, politicians, and designers of tech products may increase the likelihood that girls will grow up to pursue careers in tech, and this is true whether or not biology plays a role in producing any particular population difference. (See this review paper by Eagly and Wood, 2013).

Check out the research for yourself.

1 thought on “What Does Scientific Research Say About the Infamous Google Memo?”

  1. Spatial abilities might not matter for general coding, but matter for what programmers start for. If you asked 10 1st semester students of computer programming what they want to do, 7 would tell you games. Programming every game or every graphic thing requires the hell of a lot of spatial ability. If you don’t have it, then nothing will work, at all. I do 3D graphics from time to time for Geomodelr, my startup, and I have to spend a week or so thinking spatial before I even understand the code I did. No amount of comments can explain to me how a set of rotations will derive in a graphic behaving in such way.

    At the end the majority ends making forms for ERPs, and they make the hell of a lot of money and don’t care about games anymore. But trust me, nobody in 1st semester says he wants to be an Oracle consultant.

    I don’t think it fully explains the gender gap, but it’s my input for your affirmation of I don’t think it matters for coding. It does for interest in coding.

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