I’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 source1 for those interested in browsing the academic literature on the subject. They provide both supportive and critical responses2 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.