Yes I know for many folks this is obvious, but please stick with me. I am not trying to promote any sort of discrimination here.

One of the quite a few believes that are being spearheaded nowadays and that I have quite a trouble of understanding is that we should strive to achieve a roughly 50%-50% ratio of genders across each occupation. So if, for example, it turns out that only 1/4 IT specialists are women, then it is clear that there is much work to be done and we should promote women in IT until around 1/2 IT specialists are women. There are many examples of such thinking, one of them being the relatively recent SO blog post.

I can't help but I have feeling that such thinking misses one very important point and that is that whether we like it or not there are important differences from birth between men and women. These differences manifest themselves in the fact that there seems to be a very clear statistical skew: there are tasks that most women can perform much better than most men and there are tasks that most women can perform much worse than most men. Another even more important statistical skew is that there are tasks that most women are much more interested in than most men, and there are task that most women are much less interested in than most men. Science only continues to find more and more of such correlations; a few non-exhaustive lists are: 1, 2, 3.

There are, of course, exceptions to these rules. History does have a cast of women who displayed great passion for stereotypically "male" tasks, like hard science or even warfare, and who excelled at these tasks. Such women are nevertheless in a stark minority.

Of course, in the past sexual discrimination was very prominent. Nowadays, however, it is not. Even if there are remnants of the past discrimination in the thinking of male workers in certain occupations, there are leveraged by a powerful feminist movement that promotes women in such occupations and chastising all real or exaggerated examples of sexism. In spite of these efforts the statistical minority of women in these occupations persists.

In the light of all of the above I would say that applying any further pressure to increase the prevalence of women in, for example, IT, to 50% is, paradoxically, anti-women. If the long desired 50%-50% ratio was finally to be achieved, this would necessarily mean that we would have pushed to IT women who would be more intersted in other tasks, like even the long disdained "housewifing", and are unhappy at their current IT job and for this reason can't do it well; women, who have been denied the chance to find out they'd be much happier in a different occupation because in the name of gender equality they have been pushed to IT. Alternatively, we could, as some propose in politics, enforce the 50%-50% ratio by prohibiting hiring or electing (in politics) more men as long as we don't have enough women (that is, to apply reverse discrimination); but this would either end up with the same result or with a dramatic cut of workforce because we would have to forcibly push many competent and willing men out of these industries (perhaps forcing these men to do what they don't want and can't do, like babysitting, again in the name of gender equality).

If I were to work in an IT company I would be more than happy to work with a competent woman who enjoys her work and I can only wholeheartedly support opening the doors of the industry to such women. Conversely, if I had a deep passion for teching children in elementary schools and could do it well, I would like to be welcomed there by all of the women working there. This is because there will always be a healthy minority of men enjoying stereotypically women tasks and women enjoying stereotypically men tasks. However, I would say, forcing these proportions to even out in the name of gender equality can only end in disastreous results. Or in other words: There should be no obstacles for women in tech, but women should likely be not promoted or encouraged to join the tech industry either.

What are the standard responses of promoters of gender equality to such arguments?

  • I'm not convinced this is relevant to philosophy per se but I'm willing to accept that the tag of argumentation fits. If so, ethics should not because the question appears to be what responses and arguments are applied, not a consideration of their relative validity (which would raise even larger concerns). – Tim B II Dec 3 '17 at 22:26

Some of the standard responses are these:

  • Most preference differences between genders could be socially acquired rather than innate, even though there's a correlation. Then there's no reason not to change this social order towards more equalities

  • It's rather clear that there are strong social incentives for women to pursue certain kinds of jobs and not others , or for them not to be too ambitious in their careers (in the form of media representations, or common sense judgments towards women ingrained in our mindset). Feminists think we should diminish them as much as we can.

  • The point is not to achieve 50-50% in every occupations but to diminish social pressure on men and women, so that they feel free to do the job they want and get fairly paid for that. The fact that we are very far from 50-50 is just an indicator. And when it's part of a political agenda to have this ratio, this serves the purpose of altering how women are represented in society, so as to correct the incentives on young women. This is not a goal in itself.

  • There is perhaps less explicit discrimination than before, but it's not true that inequalities have disappeared. There's still a significant gender gap in salaries, for the same competences and activities. Professions generally associated with women are often less paid, and even in these fields, men tend to have the better positions.


The "science of sex differences" that you point to is itself highly controversial. First, many sex differences claims are unstable: they show up if you measure things one way, but not if you measure things in a slightly different way. Chapter 5 of Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body shows this with corpus callosum research: there are sex-linked differences in the size of the part of the brain called the corpus callosum, but only if you measure "size" in a certain way. And Helen Longino's Studying Human Behavior is a detailed look at the variety of incompatible ways scientists try to study aggression.

Second, many sex differences claims are difficult to interpret. Suppose that there are sex-linked differences in regions of the brain used in working memory. (I'm pulling this example from one of the Wikipedia pages you linked to.) What does this mean in terms of women's abilities or interests? It's not at all obvious. Specifically, for many areas of sex-differences research, the research methods can't disentangle nature and nuture. Brain structure and gene expression patterns are the product of both nature and nurture; so even finding these kinds of sex-linked differences in adults doesn't tell us where and how they developed. So such patterns are not necessarily "innate" or "essential" differences.

Third, linking sex differences to competence and interest requires gendered assumptions about what makes for competence and interest. Suppose we grant for the sake of argument the stereotype that women tend to have better people skills and men tend to have better abstract reasoning skills. (I want to stress that this is indeed a gross stereotype. Even the distinction between "people skills" and "abstract reasoning skills" is questionable.) It might seem to follow that men will tend to be more competent and interested in IT work than women. However, this assumes that understanding mathematical systems is more important to IT work than understanding social systems. Yet that is manifestly not the case: IT specialists frequently work in complex teams and need to work with clients to develop and carry out projects. In addition, in many areas — like social media and AI — IT specialists need to understand the social dimensions of the problem they're trying to address or system they're trying to develop. So an understanding of social systems is extremely important for IT.

  • I've seen arguments that (a) Since in all cultures the percentage of men and women taking various roles is constant we can suppose this is indeed caused by nature rather than nurture, in which case the percentages should vary among cultures and (b) There were studies on newborn babies that were showing large differences in interests and attention spans on different objects and toys between girls and boys, again strongly hinting that the differences are caused by nature rather than nurture. Shame on me for not being able to quickly Google the sources, though. – gaazkam Dec 2 '17 at 17:44
  • Briefly, (a) is demonstrably false when it comes to IT. Electronic computing was dominated by women up through the 1970s, primarily because electronic computers replaced manual calculation work done by women mathematicians. (Compare Shetterley's Hidden Figures.) IT only became men-dominated after a deliberate campaign to push women out (see Marie Hicks' (no relation) Programmed Inequality). – Dan Hicks Dec 2 '17 at 20:03
  • Regarding (b), without looking at a whole body of research — not just selected individual studies — it's impossible to say whether that's a stable result. And infant attention studies still have interpretation challenges. They measure how long the child looks at different stimuli. Is that really measuring interest? Say the child really is more interested in, say, a toy truck. Is that really because it's a representation of a machine? If so, then it seems the child has already learned a lot about trucks, perhaps including their gender associations. – Dan Hicks Dec 2 '17 at 20:16

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