We’re on the highway, headed towards a late summer family vacation. It’s one of those all day, marathon drives, our minivan packed to the gills with people and things, six noses buried in books and devices and baskets of dolls as the miles roll by.
“Hey Mom? What’s 16 times 24?” My son pipes up from the back, looking up from his game on the iPad.
My husband and I exchange a look. He laughs. I roll my eyes. There’s no way this question should be addressed to me; I deal with words, my husband handles numbers. I’ll be the one editing term papers with our teenagers one day; he’ll be the parent solving algebraic equations with them at the kitchen table. We’re yin and yang—we would’ve aced the ACT if we’d been allowed to combine our math and language scores.
My propensity for language means I’m the one who writes letters to the editor and updates Facebook regularly. His preference for order and practicality means he sets the budget and fills gas tanks when they’re low. He works in the medical field, I work for our four young kids at home.
Our differences make us simply that: different but not unequal.
Google software engineer James Damore recently penned an internal memo called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” that, in part, discussed biological and psychological differences between men and women and how they might impact the career paths pursued by each. The memo ended up costing him his job and ignited a social media firestorm about sexism and diversity.
In the document, Damore criticized diversity policies and gender culture within the company—words that angered some and galvanized others. Google CEO Sundar Pichai cut a family vacation short to return to company headquarters in California to handle the fallout from the leaked memo, and rejected Damore’s assertion that some employees aren’t biologically wired for tech work as ”offensive and not OK.”
The document itself is lengthy but worth a thoughtful read. The knee-jerk reaction might be to accuse the author of sexism, to write him off as just another entitled misogynist. After all, women have fought for years to have access to the same opportunities as men, and even so, many have to work harder than their male counterparts to realize dreams and reach their career goals today.
But on closer reading of the memo in question, I keep coming back to this: what if we truly remove gender from the equation? What if we frame diversity around talents and ideas, not which bathroom a person uses?
What if we left the words to the writers and the numbers to the people who know (without asking Siri) that 16 times 24 is 384?
Before anyone gets pitchforks ready, let me say this: I realize I’m taking an idealistic view here. There are some companies out there that would look at two equal candidates of opposite genders and award a position to the man based solely on his gender, and vice versa.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing to at least have a conversation about what might be possible if those biases were taken out of the equation?
Thinking back to our childhoods, my husband and I both noted that our parents never placed any gender-driven expectations on us. My husband was encouraged to nurture his natural tendency towards mathematics and enrolled in college-level courses while he was still in high school; his parents would have been just as pleased with him had he become a nurse instead of a pharmacist. I was supported as I pursued a career in journalism, then shifted gears to become a stay-at-home mother, both vocations of my own choosing. Our hearts, our time, and our talents guided us regardless of our genders.
Today my husband and I are raising four children in a world rife with stereotypes and societal pressures. What we try to impart on them as they grow and develop their own unique talents and interests, what we hope they’ll one day leave our nest with, is unwavering confidence to pursue their passions and the security of knowing they are loved no matter what.
If that means one of our daughters grows up to be a software engineer at Google, more power to her. If that means our son chooses to be a stay-at-home dad one day, more power to him.
Passion and personal success do not depend on gender. Equality is realized through the hard work of human ambition and sustained by the genuine support of one another.
And isn’t that the kind of world we’re all searching for?