Both online and on air, CNN misrepresented the content of a widely shared internal memo that led Google to fire one of its software engineers.
In a tweet, CNN claimed the author of the Google memo wrote that women "aren't suited for tech jobs."
— CNN (@CNN) August 8, 2017
CNN.com's write-up likewise claimed that the author of the "anti-diversity manifesto" argued "women aren't suited for tech jobs for ‘biological' reasons."
The same narrative emerged in CNN's on-air reporting. Host Poppy Harlow complained that the "anti-diversity" memo said "women are less suited for tech jobs than men. Why? Because they're women! Biologically, they can't do it."
But the actual memo simply does not say what CNN claims it does. To begin with, the author of the Google memo is not opposed to "diversity" in the abstract, but is opposed to Google's methods for advancing it.
"I hope it's clear that I'm not saying that diversity is bad," the author says at one point. Elsewhere he notes, "I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more."
Instead, the author's complaint is that Google "has created several discriminatory practices" in its quest for diversity, including affirmative action programs and services available only to women. In one lengthy section, the author lays out alternative ways to increase women's representation in the company without resorting to "discrimination."
CNN's assertion that the author forwards the idea that women are biologically incapable of carrying out tech jobs likewise misunderstands his argument. The author actually argues it is possible that biological differences might impact women's job preferences, leading to the persistent gender gap in tech jobs.
He argues that studies show biology might be the reason why men are more likely to seek out high-stress, systematic jobs, while women are more likely to seek out low-stress jobs where they can form personal relationships and maintain a better work-life balance.
"These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas," the author writes. "More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even within [the Society of Women Engineers], comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both people and aesthetics."
The author never comes anywhere close to saying women "can't do" tech jobs. He stresses that he is talking about men and women on average, and there are many women who are equal (or better) than the average man.
"Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions," he writes.
"I'm also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles," he concludes. "I'm advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)."