The Science On Male And Female Brains Helps Explain Why Women Don’t Choose Tech Careers

The Science On Male And Female Brains Helps Explain Why Women Don’t Choose Tech Careers

While lefty types continue to assert that fewer women pursue math- and science-heavy careers because of sexism, research and reality continues to show otherwise.
G.W. Thielman
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Social justice warrior (SJW) feminists insist the disparity between men and women in select STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields results primarily from sexist oppression by good ol’ boys.

For example, Emmeline de Pillis evaluated “mission statements” from engineering schools and declared, “consistent with authoritarian’s hostile sexism, engineering school culture has been found to be hostile to women and resistant to diversity.” She pronounces the mission statements “masculine” despite her admission that “they do not mention sex or gender explicitly.”

Nonetheless, her keen recognition of dog-whistles grants her confidence that “what is remarkable is that a non-expert audience can infer this relationship based only on a very thin slice of organizational culture.” Yea verily. As typical of SJW acolytes, she recommends diversity programs to dismantle “entire organizations from the top down.”

More recently, Laura Parson reviewed syllabi for various STEM courses at the University of North Dakota through “poststructuralist feminist thought,” which expressly rejects objectivity. She complains that the STEM classroom environment is “highly impersonal and individualistic… that is not welcoming, inclusive or supportive for women.”

In her view, “Syllabi promote the positivist view of knowledge by suggesting that there are correct conclusions that can be drawn by the right tools.” Moreover, she discovered STEM classrooms as “academically difficult, with high demands that were not flexible.” Uh huh. In her quest to perceive a “chilly climate” without actually attending any STEM courses, she found knowledge was treated as “static.” This misinterprets well-established foundations needed to use analytical and empirical techniques to solve problems.

This misogyny claim, expounded at length by Sarah Jeong, can be likened to the “Get Rid Of Slimy girlS” club in Calvin and Hobbes. While imagining all societies’ woes are the patriarchy’s fault, this blame-assigning has serious flaws, primarily in comparison to other professions. As explained in Scott Alexander’s psychiatric blog, Slate Star Codex:

In the year 1850, women were locked out of almost every major field, with a few exceptions like nursing and teaching. The average man of the day would have… had various sexist justifications – women shouldn’t be in law because it’s too competitive and high-pressure; women shouldn’t be in medicine because they’re fragile and will faint at the sight of blood; et cetera. As the feminist movement gradually took hold, women conquered one of these fields after another. 51% of law students are now female. So are 49.8% of medical students, 45% of math majors, 60% of linguistics majors, 60% of journalism majors, 75% of psychology majors, and 60% of biology postdocs. Yet for some reason, engineering remains only about 20% female.

Alexander attributes the cause society perceives as “negative stereotypes,” which allows the charge of “sexism.” He continues:

Put yourself in the shoes of our Victorian sexist, trying to maintain his male privilege. He thinks to himself ‘Well, I suppose I could tolerate women doctors saving my life. And if I had to, I would accept women going into law and determining who goes free and who goes to jail. I’m even sort of okay with women going into journalism and crafting the narratives that shape our world. But women building bridges? NO MERE FEMALE COULD EVER DO SUCH A THING!’ Really? This is the best explanation the world can come up with? (emphasis original)

While Linda Carli in Psychology of Women Quarterly shows the persistence of stereotypes, that’s not the whole story. Other reasons for the “gap” center around studies pointing to divergence in interests between human males and females, as well as structural brain differences. These and other areas of research suggest aggregate biological distinctions that account for much of the disparity between the sexes in the more technical and less interpersonal STEM fields.

Men Build Servers for Fun

After Google terminated Damore last year, Megan McArdle offered some insight into the nature of information technology (IT) before embarking on economic analysis. She wrote:

Until the age of 26, I was employed as a technology consultant by a small firm that served the financial industry. I built servers and workstations… I came into work one Monday morning and joined the guys at our work table, and one of them said ‘What did you do this weekend?’ I was in the throes of a brief, doomed romance. I had attended a concert that Saturday night. I answered the question with an account of both. The guys stared blankly. Then silence. Then one of them said: ‘I built a fiber-channel network in my basement,’ and our coworkers fell all over themselves asking him to describe every step in loving detail. At that moment I realized that fundamentally, these are not my people. I liked the work. But I was never going to like it enough to blow a weekend doing more of it for free. Which meant that I was never going to be as good at that job as the guys around me.

This assessment isn’t merely anecdotal. According to Rong Su in Psychological Bulletin, men have generally more interest in things, in contrast to women being more interested in people. Her study shows this difference as quite stark: “Men and women differed by almost a full standard deviation in the Things – People dimension. This mean difference of 0.93 indicates that… up to 82.4% of the male respondents have stronger interests in things-oriented careers than an average female… [and] only 13.3% of female respondents were more interested in engineering than an average man, whereas 74.9% of female respondents showed stronger Social interests than the average man.”

Amanda Diekman’s study in Psychological Science supports this conclusion: “the simple effect of career type… reflected participants’ perceptions that STEM careers afford communion significantly less than male stereotypic careers, which in turn afford communion significantly less than female stereotypic careers…”

Moreover, while many men and women both possess strong mathematical aptitude, those who also have strong verbal aptitude (more often women) have wider career prospects to select from. Ming-Te Wang observes, “among males and females with comparable outstanding aptitude in math, females are likely to outperform males in verbal ability.” His research indicates “Individuals in the high-math / high-verbal ability group were less likely to have chosen STEM occupations by age 33 than those in the high-math / moderate-verbal ability group. [Thus,] the gender effect on selection of a STEM occupation diminished when the ability-pattern variable was added to the model.”

One can conclude that male nerds stay in STEM partly out of preference, but also because their alternatives offer less promise (such as sleeping under bridges). By contrast, women with mathematical proficiency can more easily navigate into less impersonal careers at their discretion. Jennifer Glass suggests more flexible employment policies might make STEM careers more appealing to women. Whether these would be sufficient to eliminate the gap remains to be seen, but current preferences cast doubt on achieving that objective.

This difference in occupational preferences isn’t restricted to American borders. Daniel Schmitt compared sexual dimorphism in 55 countries. He observes that “the existence of innate sex differences alone do not explain the widening gap between the personalities of men and women with the development of more prosperous and egalitarian societies.”

Whether or not political and cultural environments influence personal proclivities, the evidence suggests that wealthier people, in choosing opportunities based on personal preferences, exhibit greater sex differences than those constrained by more austere circumstances.

As for Varying Human Biology

If career proclivities can induce pearl-clutching among feminists, what about the hornet’s nest of biological differences? One must tread carefully, because disparities between brains of men and women require intricate measurement and subtle interpretation.

Males display greater mathematics and object working memory, while females feature greater verbal memory.

Various researchers have compared human brain tissues. Madhura Ingalhalikar explored structural brain connections in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study. “Modularity describes how well a complex neural can be delineated into coherent building blocks. Transitivity characterizes the connections of a given region to its neighbors… Both modularity and transitivity were globally higher in males, consistent with stronger intrahemispheric connectivity… [and] numerous regions in the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes had significantly higher participation coefficients in females than in males.” Her study also demonstrated differences in behavioral performance: females surpassed males on attention, word and face memory, and social cognition tests, and the reverse on motor and spatial memory tasks.

Ashley Hill investigated working memory networks and determined that males display greater mathematics and object working memory, while females feature greater verbal memory. Katherine Keller evaluated the neuroanatomy of math cognition and found sex differences in cognitive strategy. Dardo Tomasi discovered lower brain connectivity in men, which suggests more specialized mental processing.

Additional reports supplement these results. Adriene Beltz observed that females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) exhibit much higher preference for objects over people than unaffected females—at levels similar to males, who seem uninfluenced by CAH. On average, men have larger cranial volumes than women. Separate evaluations by Rubin Gur, Eileen Luders, and Christina Leonard of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) indicate smaller proportional increases of gray matter with increasing cranial volume irrespective of sex differences, and males having higher percentages of white matter than females.

Or Maybe This Is All Ginned Up for a Power Trip

Aside from average personal penchants and statistical mental differences, could another motivation lie buried within the rancor surrounding feminist rage against Damore, as well as in the past against Rosetta team lead Matt Taylor and Nobel laureate Tim Hunt? Civil-engineer-turned-writer Samuel Florman in his book “Blaming Technology” developed a less charitable interpretation of feminist aspirations. He writes:

Every engineer knows that the profession is relatively powerless. Engineers do not make the laws; they do not have the money; they do not set the fashions; they have no voice in the media. It is one of the most irritating ironies of our time that intellectuals constantly complain about being in the grip of a technocratic elite that does not exist. To the extent that today’s young women are not fooled by such nonsense, they are deserving of credit. But if intelligent, energetic women reject engineering because of an all-consuming desire to sit on the thrones of power, then woe to us all in the age of feminism.

Florman continues lauding the contributions that engineering renders to society:

[Y]oung engineers, women as well as men, pursue their career because it promises ‘interesting work.’ This is more important to them than money, security, prestige or any of the other trappings of power. They seem to recognize that a fulfilling career does not have to consist of a continuous ego trip…The feminist movement means different things to different people. Many of its goals, such as mutual respect and equality before the law, can be achieved even if there are no women engineers. But the ultimate feminist dream will never be realized as long as women would rather supervise the world than help built it.

Ouch. There in a nutshell lies the Holy Grail for the SJW lot: the power to rule. Thus, persuading the Left of individual preferences and average natural abilities will remain a fools’ errand.

To progressives, the immutability of physical principles against their wishful thinking must be abolished. In their eyes, defenders of STEM independence deserve career evisceration, which can be accomplished through employer capitulation and personal abasement.

Meanwhile, the nerds will quietly tiptoe around hidden minefields to avoid being hauled into the Equal Employment Opportunity office. Perhaps SJWs assail STEM for the same reason they threaten Christians with penury: non-retaliation. They assume their victims either can’t fight back, or won’t. Come to think of it, that motivation seems to also extend to the unborn.

Once the leftists gain administrative or legislative authority, they don’t hesitate to impose quotas for identity groups. Ironically, nerds might achieve this with minimal disruption by borrowing a page from the transgender hustlers. They could have human resources quietly and temporarily reassign the genders of select employees (without informing them, of course) to achieve the intended percentages. For a more permanent arrangement, cartoonist Scott Adams considered another more aggressive approach.

Quota-mongering policies to replace the studious geeks with touchy-feely wannabees will ultimately yield less-effective designs and fewer discoveries due to a lower quality of STEM employees. Society will ultimately bear the costs in economic productivity, military preparedness, and technological innovation.

If the public eventually recognizes this cause and effect (sadly, evidence for such awareness seems discouraging), its members may come to realize their communities need the STEM participants, who should be left alone. The safe-space SJW snowflakes, not so much.

G. W. Thielman has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. He is currently employed as a patent attorney, and lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His opinions are his own.

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