Thursday, April 25, 2019

Microsoft's Damore Moment

Microsoft is having its own Damore moment!  An internal discussion wonders if women are innately unsuited for engineering and similar fields, and if aiming for diversity actually constitutes discrimination against white and Asian men.

I have no idea if those internal discussions tried to explain why men of other ethnic groups or races might not be innately suited to engineering, but never mind.

Here's the money shot from the discussion, as reported by Quartz:

The posts were written by a female Microsoft program manager. Quartz reached out to her directly for comment, and isn’t making her name public at this point, pending her response. 
Does Microsoft have any plans to end the current policy that financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices? To be clear, I am referring to the fact that senior leadership is awarded more money if they discriminate against Asians and white men,” read the original post by the Microsoft program manager on Yammer, a corporate messaging platform owned by Microsoft.

I have bolded the two sentences I want to address in this post.

Note that this female Microsoft program manager assumes "something" about the initial situation, and that "something" is a necessary though unmentioned foundation for her argument to hold.

What is that "something?"

It's her implicit assumption that the hiring process is already completely fair to begin with, that not a single Microsoft manager in charge of hiring would downgrade an applicant because she is, say, female, and that, therefore, focusing on more diversity constitutes discrimination against the majorities in engineering (white and Asian men). 

But the Quartz article suggests that at least some Microsoft employees in that discussion hold opinions which might make them biased in hiring, if that were their role*:

“Because women used to be actively prohibited from full-time employment many decades ago, there is now the misguided belief that women SHOULD work, and if women AREN’T working, there’s something wrong…. Many women simply aren’t cut out for the corporate rat race, so to speak, and that’s not because of ‘the patriarchy,’ it’s because men and women aren’t identical, and women are much more inclined to gain fulfillment elsewhere.”


We have a plethora of data available that demonstrate women are less likely to be interested in engineering AT ALL than men, and it’s not because of any *ism or *phobia or ‘unconscious bias’- it’s because men and women think very differently from each other, and the specific types of thought process and problem solving required for engineering of all kinds (software or otherwise) are simply less prevalent among women. This is an established fact.

Now, I have no idea if the above two comments are from people who are in charge of hiring.  But those in charge of hiring could share those views.  Note, also, that neither of those opinions has much to do with the women who already are engineers and seek employment at Microsoft.

To put all that somewhat differently:

The senior management getting rewards for increased diversity of some types might not be discriminating against white and Asian men if the implicit biases in how applicants are evaluated work for them and against other minority men and all women.  Should that be the case, the rewards would actually make the process less biased.

I can't tell what Microsoft hiring biases might look like, from outside.  But it's known, from other contexts,  that signals of gender, ethnicity and race can trigger implicit biases in how competency at work is evaluated, who is viewed as possessing expert knowledge, who is selected for a job and so on.  And because many of those biases are unacknowledged, both men and women may apply them.


*  Those opinions were picked by the writer of the Quartz article.  I don't know if they are representative views, the most extreme views or what.  So keep that in mind.

But they looked familiar to me, after my years of surfing (in hazmat suit) in the evo-psycho circles and similar places, where the fairly small average differences between men and women in preferences or cognition are always exaggerated and always assumed to be innate and immutable.