Ever since Google fired James Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity. You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise.
For the last ten months I have been discussing this issue at the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering where I work. I have tried to understand why Damore’s opinions generated such anger and have struggled to decide what I want to do in response. As a result of my attempts to discuss this, our mailing list known as ‘diversity-allies’ is now a moderated list to prevent “nuanced, and potentially hurtful, discussion.” Instead, I have been encouraged to participate in face-to-face meetings that have often been tense, but which have helped me to understand where others are coming from.
I embarked on this journey because I worry that tech companies and universities are increasingly embracing an imposed silence, in which one is not permitted to question the prevailing wisdom on how to achieve diversity goals. I intend to fight this imposed silence and I encourage others to do the same. We can’t allow the Damore incident to establish a precedent. Damore’s twitter handle briefly claimed that he had been “fired for truth,” but really he was fired for honesty. Those of us who disagree with current diversity efforts need to speak up and share our honest opinions, even if doing so puts us at risk.
Saying controversial things that might get me fired is nothing new for me. I’ve been doing it most of my adult life and usually my comments have generated a big yawn. I experienced a notable exception in a 1991 case that received national attention, when I was fired from Stanford University for “violating campus drug policy” as a means of challenging the assumptions of the war on drugs. My attitude in all of these cases has been that I need to speak up and give my honest opinion on controversial issues. Most often nothing comes of it, but if I can be punished for expressing such ideas, then it is even more important to speak up and try to make the injustice plain.
So let me go once more unto the breach by stating publicly that I believe that women are less likely than men to want to major in computer science and less likely to pursue a career as a software engineer and that this difference between men and women accounts for most of the gender gap we see in computer science degree programs and in Silicon Valley companies.