How two psychologists are to blame for male domination in Silicon Valley
The book Brotopia, published in winter of 2018, showed the whole world a dark and perverse side of Silicon Valley: orgies organized by the area’s most powerful investors and CEOs. And that’s far from the only interesting part of the book. The author also addresses a study conducted by two psychologists whose results are being felt over 60 years later. We explain.
The book’s author is Emily Chang, an American journalist and anchor at San Francisco-based Bloomberg TV. She anchors and produces Bloomberg Technology, a daily show centered on technology and the business world.
In the middle of the 1960s, System Development Corp., a software company, hired two psychologists. William Cannon and Dallis Perry were supposed to help the business recruit the best workers for programming jobs. The psychologists decided to develop a profile of the perfect programmer. To do so, they studied the personalities of 1,378 programmers. Among them were only 186 women. Next, the psychologies created a “vocational interest scale” to predict an employee’s job satisfaction and, from that, their performance within a company. They concluded that people who like to solve programs, from math to mechanics, make good programmers.
So far we agree. But after that it becomes a bit of a stretch, which is our polite way of saying it’s a pile of nonsense!
Based on data collected in the study, the psychologists deduced that good programmers share the same trait: they are uninterested in people and prefer objects. The perfect programmer, therefore, is someone antisocial.
However, Emily Chang explains that there’s not much evidence supporting the hypothesis that antisocial people are more gifted in mathematics or computing. Because if you draw a conclusion in one direction, you also have to validate it in the other, and the psychologists didn’t do that.
The author relates that, au contraire, plenty of research suggests that if you want to hire antisocial people, you’ll find more men than women.
And thus the perfect programmer is a man.
The work of William Cannon and Dallis Perry was used by large businesses for decades, contributing to the dominance of men in technology.
This anecdote from the 1960’s sadly brings to mind the sexist memo that Google engineer James Damore wrote in 2017. It suggests that in terms of mindset, Silicon Valley is going more backward than forward!
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