Entrepreneurs

Wharton's Adam Grant eviscerates viral Google memo: Differences between men and women are slim to none

According to science, men and women are not all that different, says organizational psychologist and top-ranked Wharton business school professor Adam Grant.

"It's time to stop making mountains out of molehills. If men are from Mars, it looks like women are too," Grant says, riffing off the iconic book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."

The New York Times bestselling author published a piece via LinkedIn on Monday in response to the controversial memo written by Google software engineer James Damore. Damore's manifesto claimed biological differences between the sexes are the reason women are so underrepresented in the tech industry. The diatribe was first circulated internally at Google but has now gone viral.

Grant, however, is having none of it.

"It's always precarious to make claims about how one half of the population differs from the other half — especially on something as complicated as technical skills and interests. But I think it's a travesty when discussions about data devolve into name-calling and threats. As a social scientist, I prefer to look at the evidence," Grant says.

In his memo, Damore, who has since been fired but is "exploring all possible legal remedies" to his dismissal, linked to sources ranging from Wikipedia, The Estonian Centre for Behavioural and Health Sciences and WordPress blogs to The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal.

However, Grant says, "The gold standard is a meta-analysis: a study of studies, correcting for biases in particular samples and measures."

When you look at that data, he says, the psychological differences between men and women are not significant.

"Across 128 domains of the mind and behavior, '78 percent of gender differences are small or close to zero,'" says Grant.

"A recent addition to that list is leadership, where men feel more confident but women are rated as more competent," Grant writes, linking to the American Psychological Association.

Grant also points to a survey of 4,000 studies showing that men and women have equal capabilities in math. The difference is, from a young age, boys are encouraged to be successful at the subject, Grant says.

"When teachers know students' names, boys do better on math tests. Yet when grading is anonymous, girls do better on math tests," he explains.

"And before a math test, reminding college students of their gender leads girls to perform 43 percent worse than boys. But if you just call it a problem-solving test, the gender gap in performance disappears."

In fact, says Grant, "There are only a handful of areas with large sex differences: men are physically stronger and more physically aggressive, masturbate more, and are more positive on casual sex. So you can make a case for having more men than women … if you're fielding a sports team or collecting semen."

So what does account for the imbalance of men and women at major tech companies, not just at Google?

It is at least partially a result of social pressures, Grant says.

"Women have systematically been discouraged from working with computers. Look at trends in college majors: since the 1980s, the proportion of female majors has gone up in science and medicine and law, but down in computer science," Grant writes, linking to a meta-analysis of psychological studies and an NPR report.

Grant's post got support from perhaps the most famous woman in tech, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is also Grant's "Option B" co-author. She re-posted his LinkedIn article on her personal Facebook page with the comment: "Inequality in tech isn't due to gender differences. It's due to cultural stereotypes that persist. We all need to do more."

See also:

Women are neurotic, diversity efforts are 'bad for business' and 10 other shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto

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