James Damore: Before reading

BEFORE READING ACTIVITY

James Damore, a former senior engineer for Google, seemed to have done himself in through a self-inflicted wound. Sports  analogy. He did an own-goal.

Before reading his paper, I want to reflect on my secondhand encounters with his memo. In fact I am going to pursue an important reading strategy that involves before, during, and after reading questions to construct meaning.

 

MY BIAS

I must say that I am prone to being biased or skeptical when it comes to using biology and the study of human behavior to explain social issues or patterns. I’d much prefer if we all just blamed the media.

Although, my background is in social sciences, I still think that social science is pseudoscience. Why? I’ll be generous. Humans are at best 2 parts rational to 1 part irrational, while biology deals only with rational things.

What has stuck with me through my years was the candid confession of a professor. He said, “If you get a model that explains 30% of variation, you’ve hit the jackpot.”

My intent is not to be dirty or a mean-man. I’m guessing that that most of the research James draws on is pseudoscience.

Initially, I only heard aural accounts of his shenanigans. In the early days of the story, James was portrayed as an idiot at best and an angry bigot. He seemed to be someone selling old theories and beliefs about immutable genetic traits leading to substantial differences and personalities between the sexes. Immutable genetics drive-by.

I WONDER?

I wondered if his motive was at its core about anger issues. Anger with having to listen to “propaganda”. Anger with his chances of being CEO leveling to 50/50.

I encountered him visually and aurally predominantly on conservative social media. I always listen to conservative social media voices when I want or feel the need to be distracted by shiny objects.

I have to confess that I really enjoyed listening to James stumble through his practiced apologia: I just wanted to suggest ways to create a culture that attracts women into tech.

Very noble. However, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.

I’m wondering if James is just an armchair expert? Some experts seem to defend him as someone who has read lots of studies. Some even go so far as to suggest that his scientific background is a solid enough foundation to accept his voice.

My testosterone-self thinks he should have stuck to coding. He looks like a brilliant coder.

LISTEN TO RENE PLEASE

I found this quote in my first year Calculus textbook:

What passes for “knowledge” in our time is an uncritical mishmash of sense and nonsense, fact and guesswork, gossip and hearsay and clumsy propaganda – mostly acquired from wishful thinking, lazy reasoning, inadequate senses, credulous parents, overworked teachers, and self-serving institutions.

The above is apparently the opinion of Rene Descartes at the age of 23 years old.

DURING READING QUESTIONS

Here are my during reading questions:

  1. Is he a moron or a misunderstood hero?
  2. Has he explored counter-arguments to what may strictly be a reliance on nature arguments?
  3. Is his memo weighted towards solutions? What are they?
  4. Is the science credible and relevant to his apologia?
  5. Should he have left this issue to the experts? Is he an expert?
  6. Is is memo just pyrite (fool’s gold)?
  7. Is he looking to use science to support a gender caste system?

“If we will only abstain from assuming something to be true which is not, and always follow the necessary order in deducing one thing from another, there is nothing so remote that we cannot reach it, nor so hidden that we cannot discover it” (a quotation from Part 2 of Descartes’ Discourse on Method)

Your Social Awareness is Due for an Update

Do you feel 100% equipped and ready for conversations about today’s most talked-about, controversial topics? In today’s quickly changing world, certain topics, when brought up in a conversation, can make people uncomfortable. We sometimes don’t know how to talk about religion, for example, without accidentally stepping on someone’s toes. Here’s where training comes in.

When you think about it, our social awareness, just like our electronic devices, sometimes requires an update in order to be as equipped as possible for the changing environment. Before I continue directly on the topic of social awareness, I want to first unpack this timely metaphor because I believe doing so will effectively communicate the intended message here.

If you own a smartphone, computer or tablet, you have probably been notified by your device more than once that an update is available. They don’t always force you to update, but it comes highly recommended in order to maintain functionality. Eventually we do update our device because at some point we begin to run into problems. 

updatecomic

Technically speaking, updating your device keeps you safe from known security holes. In fact, by  not securing your programs through updating, you leave your system open to compromise, making your software vulnerable to error. Consider this now: Is your awareness of today’s social issues up-to-date? Or is it currently vulnerable to error? Filling the gaps in awareness can help you avoid doing or saying something that accidentally offends someone, and can also prevent a lot of unnecessary embarrassment.

At Breakview we strive to help people fill the gaps in awareness and we also provide and practice strategies for confronting your own personal bias as well as the biases of those around you.  I believe Maya Angelou said it best when she wrote the following:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

MAngelou

Critical Self-reflection as a Learning Tool

Critically reflecting on your workplace relations is an effective and (seemingly) simple way to manage your professional workplace persona. From a training facilitator’s perspective, when I carry-out a training with an individual who has had time to try and think back, apply hindsight, and consider the impact they have on others, it makes the training go very smoothly. The individual has thought about their impact and would like to learn how to avoid situations that have potential to offend, which in turn means that I, as a facilitator, have the pleasure of working with a person who is already equipped with a good attitude and eagerness to learn. Having said that, the idea of critical self-reflection does not always come easily. Sometimes we need help.

This idea of critical self-reflection on workplace behavior evolved from a similar idea that has been measured and tested in the field of medicine.

4-Step Model of Critical Reflection

This four-step model originated from a need for critical reflection on behalf of employees in the medical field (RNs, doctors, etc). In fact in a study on the 4-step model, the results demonstrated that the four-step model of critical reflection “allowed participants to reflect on clinical learning issues, and raise them in a safe environment that enabled topics to be challenged and explored in a shared and cooperative manner.” (Walker et al, 2013) This type of reflection is without a doubt a vital part of the medical field’s procedures, givien that lives are in their hands; but I can’t help but see how this can and should also be applied to members of a workplace culture as a way of maintaining respectful human relations. Without any further ado, the four-step model looks like this:

  1. Break apart (or deconstruct) our practice into pieces, and question what is considered ‘normal’, ‘proper’ or ‘accepted’.
  2. Confront any of the difficult or ‘untouchable’ topics that these questions raise.
  3. Explore (or theorise) these issues by asking yourself: what are the possibilities? How could we do this differently? Who or what can I refer to for advice?
  4. Think of alternatives (think otherwise). Put our pieces back together to create better ways of thinking about and doing our practice.

Sounds simple, right? Actually, some of these steps require awareness and skills that many workplaces either lack or have placed on the back-burner.  Ask yourself, critically of course, if you have any questions as to what is considered ‘normal’, ‘proper’ or ‘accepted’. Also ask yourself if you struggle to confront the difficult or ‘untouchable’ topics in your workplace. If you answered yes to either or both of those questions, then you may just benefit from taking a course on workplace sensitivity in order to fill any gaps. Sometimes we just need to bounce our thoughts and ideas off of somebody outside the workplace culture, and we can of course be that entity for you; in fact we bring an informative, experienced consultant into the picture so as to provide healthy, productive feedback to your thoughts and ideas.

Here’s my last question for you to ask yourself:

Is it worth it to risk my workplace relationships, or should I take a day off work to get help with reflecting on my workplace persona?

 
Walker, R., Cooke, M., Henderson, A., & Creedy, D. K. (2013). Using a critical reflection process to create an effective learning community in the workplace. Nurse education today, 33(5), 504-511.

Asking Good Questions

Maxim – XVIII

It is easier to judge the mind of someone by their questions
rather than their answers.

Il est encore plus facile de juger de l’esprit d’un homme par ses questions que par ses réponses.

Gaston de Lévis, P. M. (n.d.). Maximes et réflexions sur differents sujets de morale et de politique, Volume 1. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from https://books.google.ca/books