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If the Shoe Fits: the Myth of Meritocracy

by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThose who believe that tech is a utopian-like meritocracy need to wake up to reality.

Silicon Valley is indeed a meritocracy for those to whom these criteria are not hurdles. But others—the blacks, women, and Hispanics whom it overlooks—find it an elite private club from which they are excluded. – Vivek Wadhwa (see the entire article series here)

According to Mitch Kapor, who founded Lotus and (for those of you who are too young to remember) sold it to IBM in 1995 for $3.5 billion, the idea that all it takes is hard work and a god product to be a success in the Valley is pure fantasy.

“There’s an admirable belief about the virtues of meritocracy – that the best ideas prove the best results. It’s a wrong and misguided belief by well-intentioned people.”

The idea that merit matters goes further down the drain when you see comments, such as the most recent one from Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame.

One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can’t if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it’s a strong pattern we’ve seen.

Or this comment.

I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon…Whereas when you’re starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.

Kapor now runs Kapor Capital, a for-profit venture firm focused on funding minorities whose ideas are focused on improving opportunities for the poor through education, sees the world very differently.

“We have a responsibility to give people opportunities to do what they can do. It’s a fundamental tenet of democratic society. Libertarians who believe in a completely minimalist state, and don’t feel we have that responsibility, are harming humanity.”

Choosing a role model is a private decision.

Who will you channel? Mitch Kapor or Paul Graham?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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3 Responses to “If the Shoe Fits: the Myth of Meritocracy”
  1. MAPping Company Success Says:

    [...] I almost laughed when several held the tech startup world up as an example of how meritocracy worked, since nothing could be further from the truth. [...]

  2. MAPping Company Success Says:

    [...] Not surprising when you consider the attitude of Valley stalwarts like Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who publically stated that he would be unlikely to fund someone with a strong accent or a woman. [...]

  3. MAPping Company Success Says:

    [...] strong accents or women with young kids or who are planning on having kids according to Paul Graham of Y Combinator (more on Graham [...]

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