Gender Difference Explanations for Disparities in Tech Are Not Supported by Science: For a Field That Claims to Be "Data-Driven," It's Time to Stop the So-Called "Debate"

Recent headlines have made it clear that, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, fallacies about innate gender differences persistently circulate in the public conversation. Media or other coverage implying that these ideas are matters of legitimate debate confuses the public and hinders progress.

In times like these, we at NCWIT believe it is especially important to separate the research-based wheat from the misguided chaff. For those who want the short story, here it is: While some small gender differences have been found in specific and limited contexts, qualified experts familiar with the vast amount of research on gender, overwhelmingly agree that these differences in no way account for the patterns of job segregation and inequality that we see today. Period. End of story.

For those who would like to dig deeper into the specifics, we have assembled some of our favorite, well-written and thought-provoking responses to recent headlines:

  • a succinct yet detailed account of what the science really says about gender differences

    In short, the authors note that after studying gender for 25 years, “We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.” They provide a wealth of evidence and link to a number of other studies and sources debunking myths and misunderstandings about gender difference.

  • taking a different tack: seemingly not understanding gender OR engineering

    This author points out that those who resort to biological arguments to explain the gender gap, not only seem to misunderstand gender, they also don’t seem to understand engineering. He then delineates problems with these kinds of arguments from an engineering perspective. In the conclusion, he highlights the futility and danger of treating this topic as a matter of legitimate debate, noting that we need to understand the difference between ideas that are up for debate and ideas that have been disproven like, “'I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs’…not all ideas are the same, and not all conversations about ideas even have basic legitimacy."

  • pointing out the futility of justifying anything in terms of natural differences

    As philosopher Julian Baggini once said, “nature is simply what is and has nothing to do with what ought to be.” Indeed, as the author notes, “One could argue that much of the course of human civilization has involved moving slowly away from our natural instincts by developing and observing laws and abiding to social norms.” Given this, “there is no moral value in attempting to justify a human behavior or phenomenon as ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ in the first place.”

In the end, there are two things that this recent public discussion makes clear:

  1. Just because you always hear it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Essentialism, a term worth knowing, involves statements that overgeneralize or exaggerate similarities among women (or among men), statements that act as though "traditionally" male or female characteristics are innate, or statements that portray women and men as essentially and fundamentally different. Find more research-based info on the problems with essentialism as well as tips to help you spot and respond to these kinds of essentialist statements in the NCWIT Critical Listening Guide.

  2. As long as these so-called “debates” continue, our commitment to using evidence-based research to refute these fallacies must also continue. It goes without saying.