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The Globe and Mail

To the James Damores of the world: Focus on your own flaws

Marie Henein is a lawyer and senior partner with Henein Hutchison.

As debate rages about whether it was fair to fire Google employee James Damore for the now-infamous Google manifesto that explored women's so-called limitations, I can't help but think, why can't everyone just leave my gender alone? Once again, we are being filleted, dissected, and discussed as though we barely exist. Yet another round of public debate began about how our under-representation in various fields and in leadership roles has nothing to do with hundreds of years of inequality but rather is attributable to insurmountable biological limitations. Writers in article after article actually went out of their way to justify Mr. Damore's view of women. Was this seriously still happening?

A recent column explained that our biological differences, among other things, makes female lawyers better negotiators but worse litigators. Just as I was about to switch jobs, the author kindly pointed out that I was an outlier. I didn't know whether to be flattered that I am some sort of unicorn, concerned that I am considered more male in my disposition (a comment I have been the recipient of since elementary school) or disappointed that I now had to break it to countless talented female litigators that they should probably give it up and limit themselves to negotiation or more gentle, womanly professions. I look forward to more enlightenment on what our biology allows us to do. Given that technology, science, leadership roles, or any jobs requiring assertiveness are clearly out, we better hurry up as scores of young girls are being grossly misled into thinking they can actually do what they wish.

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Mr. Damore, in the course of his unscientific stream of consciousness, unequivocally makes the following point: "The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership." (Note: the italics are mine; the asinine quote is his.) He then goes on to mansplain – which was nice given the female biological aversion to ideas – that it is highly unlikely we are going to resolve the problem ourselves. He points out that females do not succeed because they are more inclined toward feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women in general, he argues, have a stronger interest in people rather than things; our extroversion is expressed as gregariousness instead of assertiveness; we are agreeable, neurotic, and have a low stress tolerance. I get it. We feel more and think less. We are an emotional, under-thinking, overstressed gender. But it's not all bad news: we have a hell of a lot of empathy and mushy feelings.

Golly gee, if only I could overcome my natural biological disposition toward feelings rather than ideas, maybe I could understand Mr. Damore's point. Or just maybe his biological disposition skews toward feelings rather than well-articulated, grounded, scientific ideas. Who knows? Maybe I can find a man to explain it all to me.

Look, if you want to debate the pros and cons of diversity policies, knock yourself out. If you want to dispute a company that extends certain benefits or opportunities differentially, go right ahead. There are ways to meaningfully challenge an employer's policies. But a manifesto explaining to a substantial portion of your colleagues that they are underperforming because they were made that way – that has very little to do with meaningful discussion.

Let me be clear, you can say whatever you wish. I am a staunch believer in freedom of speech and the expression of opinions, even offensive ones. Fragility of mind when faced with opposing thought and shouting people down does not in any way advance our pressing democratic goals. And there is no crime in being stupid, but if you are an employee you are fireable. Mr. Damore should have thought of that, but perhaps his biological male assertiveness got in the way.

So I have a proposal for the James Damores of the world: why don't you focus on your own biological inadequacies, and stop thinking about ours. After all, you know them best. He and his compatriots can feel free to write as many manifestos explaining male deficiencies, of which my feeling, female self – with aggressive male undertones – is convinced there are many. This exercise would consume both time and thousands of pages, but please, please leave my gender alone. We do not need you to explain what you perceive to be our limitations, thank you very much. We do not need to be told that we will fail and not lead because we are "more compassionate" or our brains are wired differently. We've got this. Focus on yourself. If only Mr. Damore had spent 8 of his 10 pages setting out the flaws in his personality, he probably would still have a job. The only inferiority that Mr. Damore definitively demonstrated is his own.

Finally, a word of advice: Girls, do not bother to read the manifesto. It isn't worth your time. Read about Marie Curie instead who said: "We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained."

She was a scientist, by the way. Mr. Damore didn't mention her.

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