This past week, I have watched reactions to the Google Memo with increasing interest. The feedback I received from my own recent post on “Creating a Values-Based Culture vs. ‘Bro Culture’ in Silicon Valley” have ranged from culturally enlightened to tone deaf.
The 70Kg man or the accepted “standard human” and has been used in medicine for generations to establish medical norms or the “average patient” which drives decision making in medicine. I would argue the 70kg man has a cultural and business equivalent, where the average male opinion is accepted as the standard and as “right,” “rational” and “real” — and the female perspective is dismissed and devalued in comparison to this gold standard.
Many more men replied to my post on gender equity than women, which I interpreted as clear evidence of this bias. When women speak up in public or at work about being treated with equity, we are told we are asking for “special treatment” or in many cases, to simply “get over it,” as because this is how the world “is” and we need to accept this.
Again, the 70kg man rears his ugly head and states his view point as the real and valid one and when women’s views are not aligned — we are labeled as “nasty”, “crazy”, “irrational”, “uninformed,” and need to “get over it.” This has to stop.
Stop trying to “fix the women,” as the way to eliminate gender inequity. Stop trying to brush off toxic “bro culture,” as “boys will be boys” and push it under the rug. Stop telling us the problem is with us — that we are “too sensitive” or that everything is just “in our heads.” I have been told these things too many times. And they are simply not true – they are the by product of a culture that views the standard human as male and the female and her experiences as a deviation from this norm that must “fall in line.”
Gender Differences are Real
On one side, I am a woman in STEM, and with a STEM degree and as a technical founder, I am tired of aged arguments about why women are under-represented in tech that excuse continued bias, harassment and “old boy” network ways of conducting business.
On the other hand, I am a neuroscientist and realize that there are profound biological differences between men and women that affect everything from field of vision preferences to our responses to drugs and therapeutics for conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer. We are not 70 kg men and this is why women in science like Dr. Gillian Einsteinhave fought to get women equally represented in clinical trials. Turns out we are not interchangeable with men.
But wait — women — before you set your hair on fire and say women are as good as men at math and science remember 1) I am a woman scientist and 2) different doesn’t mean less valuable or capable – it means different. Let’s look at that for a minute.
Showing up as a Woman in Tech
What does that mean? It means that I bring my experience of the realities I face as a woman day-to-day as to my role. My executive leadership coach recently told me that she loves working with female executives, but too often, we are pressured to “show up as men,” to fit in and comply with expectations and roles defined for generations by men – and she wants to create a world where we get to show up as women. Me too.
What Google engineer James Damore, and several men that replied to my own piece on gender equity, got wrong is not the fact that men and women differ biologically – because we are different – or that such differences might influence preferences – which most researchers agree they do.
Where Damore, and many men, missed the boat is in the idea that the male model is the gold standard against which the woman is measured and found deficient. Damore’s memo assumes that the culture we have created has no influence – that devaluing women’s point of view at work will not cause women to flee tech and STEM –which it will. He points out that women like working with people more than machines.
On average, women tend to be more collective than individualistic, and it’s important to us to function in a unit – and not a bunch of ego driven individuals with no regard for others. Maybe the biologically driven preference Damore touts is less about the work of math, science and coding in tech and more about a preference to be part of companies and cultures that are inclusive, not hostile to women and support real diversity where a woman’s perspective is treated as equally valid as a man’s.
This quote in reply to my post on gender equity and culture drives home the point that “Bro Culture” is totally blind to its bias…and that many men in it continue to be tone deaf to their own assumption of their male experience as the gold standard:
“I used to work on what you derisively call “Bro-Culture” teams. I even led some of them and did the recruiting. I always went for complementary skills that covered all the necessary bases. My CFO for a long time was a Sikh. I hired women whenever possible. Most of those “Bro-Culture” teams are focused on doing the best they can in order for the company to survive and thrive. They are not as portrayed by many today. Later on I accepted a nice part-time gig as a consultant for a large foundation run by women. There were three of us guys out in the trenches running projects that justified the existence of the foundation and about 30 women doing “only Lord knows what” at head office. Our quarterly trips to head office were unpleasant thanks to the foundation head who felt a need to insert feminist sniping into almost every conversation.”
This quote represents the blind hostility to women that I see so often in Silicon Valley. It is a great example of taking the male perspective as the norm and labeling women’s different perspective and legitimate complaints about “bro culture” as “sniping” not as valid perspectives on how they are treated at work and a reasonable demand for respect at work and equity in pay.
In short, women that I talk to in tech and STEM want to work where they can show up as women and be valued as women and where the male perspective is not seen as the standard against which they are judged and found deficient. They don’t want to work in environments that are hostile to women – and let’s face it Damore’s memo was hostile to women. He took science about biological differences in the sexes and twisted the facts to fit his clear agenda of demonstrating why men are superior at something he values – engineering. His misuse of the term “neurotic” from psychology theory demonstrates both his lack of deep scientific understanding and unmasks his misogyny. He is right – women don’t want to work with men like him or at companies full of men like him – we are sick of it.
Our Power is in our Differences
It is because women are different and have different life experiences and views that we must have a seat at the table. For example, until women got the vote in 1920 politicians never talked about healthcare, child labor conditions or housing during campaigns. It was our unique experiences, that differ from men and the power of our vote that got these issues onto the national stage in politics and created changes we still benefit from today.
Women do tend to have a different world view priorities and instead of trying to pretend we are “like the boys” and trying to measure up to the male norm of how the world “is” — we should be calling that male normative assumption into question at every point.
We should be saying no. No — that is not how it is for 51% of the population – that isn’t how women experience a given situation and that the female perspective is equally valuable. We should use our power at work to do what the power of our vote did in politics – move these topics, like diversity and gender bias onto the agenda and not let them drop, not back down and not accept aged excuses for boys will be boys attitudes that continue to harm women from our paychecks (we still make 70 cents on the dollar for equal work) to our wellbeing at work. I speak about women here as 51% of the population when in fact women are quite diverse as well. Women don’t want all of the same things but I have yet to encounter a woman that doesn’t want equal pay for equal work or to be treated as a rational human being with valid experiences in her work and relationships.
I Enjoy Being a Girl
Okay it’s a hokey song title but stick with me for a minute. Because you know what – I like being a woman! I am not a man and anyone that lives with a member of the opposite sex knows men and women are different. What we have to change is a culture that says the male viewpoint, experience and opinion is the gold standard and women’s viewpoints, experiences and opinions should be judged against this accepted male norm for their value. I worry that we get caught up fighting a battle that hurts men and women – arguing we are the same. Instead we should be fighting for inclusion of the female perspective the way civil rights leaders fought for and continue to fight for equal value and consideration of the black experience as different than how white people experience the world.
I don’t have any desire to be one of the guys. I am not a 70Kg man.
I am proud to be a female founder, and will continue to show up to work every day bringing my differences to the table, as an empowered, female CEO.