This Weekend’s Gossip
If you miss Valleywag (a popular startup gossip blog), this weekend provided some much needed drama. A Google SWE (software engineer) wrote a post about how men and women are inherently different, Google is a leftist / politically correct culture and I’m sure a bunch else that didn’t stick.
I don’t disagree that men and women are different. And, Google definitely is a left leaning organization. For me, I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the musings of this SWE. If forced to pick, I value free speech more than I dislike hate speech (or in this case, perhaps, things I don’t necessarily agree with).
Regardless, this SWE’s post promoted an elegant response, “The Fallacy of Biological Determinism” from Albert Wenger, my former colleague at Union Square Ventures. He brings in another author we both admire, Angela Duckworth and the work she’s done studying Grit.
But there is more to cognitive differences and the fallacy of biological determinism. Biological determinists like to trot out IQ results. Here too though they suffer a confusion between what is currently measured as a result of the past and what is possible in the future. We have learned a great deal in recent years about the amazing degree to which the brain can grow new connections (even in adults). The brain is highly (re)programmable…I highly recommend Grit by Angela Duckworth, which in addition to great anecdotes also provides lots of statistical evidence on how much can be learned given enough time (and deliberate practice).
We won’t know for quite some time what people will be able to learn in a world in which we can give everyone access to all the world’s knowledge. That is not the world we lived in until quite recently; where you were born and what your parents were able to afford had a huge impact on what you could learn… Why would we then assume that this is not something we could and should overcome with technology?
I like Albert’s view, because it argues that even though women do possess different genetics, with all of the information we can access now (and accessing more information is Google’s mission) and with “grit”, who is to say we cannot overcome any mental differences we’d like?
If grit and access to information can make us better at almost any skill (I argue with my brother about whether this involves me getting into the WNBA), we need one more element for success. The information to understand when we preform well and when we don’t.
Kim Scott, a former Google leader, wrote a book called Radical Candor (framework above and on her site). Radical Candor towards those in your organization trying to improve themselves, as all successful people do, plays an important role. As we try to increase diversity in fields where few women work, we need to offer them the same level of feedback, positive and negative, we offer men. We cannot afford to hold back this access to information. For, as Albert calls out, it is access to more information that will enable us to increase diversity and level playing fields.
In the past few weeks since reading Radical Candor, I practice it with my team. It definitely feels unnatural at times. One suggestion I might give that’s helped me greatly is to explain what I am trying with my team (steps here on how to roll this out). They know when I say, “Can I give you some Radically Candid feedback?” that I care about them personally and am going to give them a specific example of what went well or what didn’t.
Radical Candor, a growth mindset, access to technology and specific feedback can lead us to overcome most of the genetic traits we inherit. So, if the SWE’s argument is that women are fundamentally different based on genetics, that’s totally fine. It doesn’t need to limit women at all.