The infamous Google memo by James Damore rightfully struck a cord in social media, the popular press, and academia. The memo hit on many things, but in particular a core argument that has raged for thousands of years: are men and women innately different? And if they are different, should attention to these differences be reflected in policies in the workplace and society in general?
These are extremely complicated questions the answers to which often get distilled into headlines and strong, immediate reactions. In my experience, we live in a gendered world where the differences between men and women are constantly pointed out and over exaggerated. Because of this, for someone with little or no education and training in the social sciences, the answer to the question of gender differences is likely a resounding “Yes, men and women are really different!” For others who have taken classes on how gender is a social construct and how gender differences very often occur as the result of socialization, the answer is likely a resounding “No, men and women are barely different at all!”
So when memo’s like Damore’s come out it’s hard to have a nuanced take – either Damore is simply calling it like it is with regard to gender differences (men and women are different) or he is spouting sexist nonsense that pervades the culture of companies all across the world. In fact, I would guess many of the judgments people posted of social media or other platforms occurred without ever reading the entire memo. Note, I myself am guilty of having initial strong reactions by seeing my social media account explode about the memo before I ever read one word of it.
But then I came across this in depth analysis by two psychologists at the Heterodox Academy about gender differences and I began to slow down a bit my initial strong judgments. It’s not that my judgments changed per se, but rather I began to take some time and actually consider scientifically – are men and women different? Here the authors linked to the several articles by eminent psychologists who were either supportive or critical of Damore’s memo and then went about exploring the validity of each of Damore’s points by reviewing almost 20 meta analyses on the topic. The article took me maybe 20 minutes to read, but it seemed – at least to me – to be very fair and balanced and left me knowing so much more about gender differences – or lack thereof – then I ever had previously.
As a student in psychology, I think this attitude of curiosity over judgment is a very hard, but important, trait to try and develop. In our training we will learn snippets of research around different topics and can very easily use these small amounts of knowledge to react to controversial topics without ever digging further. For something like gender differences, there are dozens of psychologists who study this on a daily basis resulting in thousands of articles and at least 20 meta analyses. What percentage of that knowledge do we actually have at hand to help us develop informed, well thought out opinions?
It seems that about once a week a controversial issue comes up in social media or the popular press that demands a “hot take” from a psychological perspective. As a student, developing an attitude of curiosity will not only make your take more informed, but also push you to continue building knowledge long after you have taken your last psychology exam.