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If The Shoe Fits: Expediency Is The New Core Value

Friday, May 5th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is much talk these days about ‘values’ and how companies need to base their cultures on them.

Many say that “cultural fit” is used to discriminate against older candidates, people of color, and women.

And that’s likely true if the company doesn’t included diversity and meritocracy as an integral part of their core values.

One recently added core value that isn’t talked about is expediency.

Here’s a great example from Facebook.

On May First, Facebook was accused of sharing information on how/when to reach “emotionally “insecure” and vulnerable teens on its network.” Naturally, the company denied doing it, but just the fact that they can should be very disturbing.

Even if Facebook hasn’t allowed advertisers to target young people based on their emotions, its sharing of related research highlights the kind of data the company collects about its nearly 2 billion users.

Also on May first Facebook announced a new effort to fight fake news — definitely expedient considering how angry people are — better late than never.

Facebook has appointed a veteran from The New York Times to lead its news products division, which is responsible for stopping the spread of fake news and helping publishers make money.

Making money is the number one priority — no matter how often a company says otherwise.

That’s what underlies expediency.

And I doubt it will change any time soon.

Image credit: QuotesEverlasting

Entrepreneurs: Stupid Follows Stupid

Thursday, August 4th, 2016


It’s always interesting to see young people following in the footsteps of their predecessors.

Even more so when they hotly deny doing it.

But the frosting on the denial cake is that they are following in some of the stupidest footsteps.

Which they are doing in droves.

Last week I wrote how stupid it is to stereotype 80 million millennials.

Before that is was management’s stupidity regarding Gen X.

Age, however, is the biggest stupid and has been for decades.

For Boomers, the breakpoint for when a person became hopeless and valueless was 30; Millennials raised it to 40.

As bad as age discrimination has been in general, it is far worse in tech.

VC Vinod Khosla crystallized and popularized this mindset back in 2011.

 “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

That means you can expect no more creativity from Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Marc Benioff, Parker Harris and Satya Nadella. (For insight to other fields read the article.)

Not to mention that 32 year-old Mark Zukkerberg only has a few good years left.

There are thousands more at all levels, I just picked recognizable people to better illustrate the stupidity.

The difference between when the Boomers did it and now is the notice and action being taken.

This past week, the EEOC joined a probe behind a federal class action lawsuit against Google filed last month, charging that the search giant “engaged in a systematic pattern” of discrimination against applicants over the age of 40. The suit, expanding upon a related case filed earlier this year, cited data from Payscale that placed the median age of Google’s workforce at 29, with a margin of error of 4%. By contrast, the median age for U.S. computer programmers is 43.

Actually, I will probably find it somewhat amusing to watch founders as they try to meet candidate demand for the compensation and perks of the past few years in today’s do-more-with-less/revenue-based-business-model world.

That also goes for many, not all, by a long shot, tech workers who are looking for those same jobs and perks.

So heed the advice I recently gave a founder who took advantage of my standing offer of free help (both my phone number and email are posted on this blog).

He asked how to land a “star” candidate looking for “yesterday’s” compensation and refused to consider anything less.

My advice was to take a pass, refer him to Facebook or Google hire a reality-based programmer who can do the needed job and was sincerely interested in his product and vision.

The only thing he might lose were a few late night bragging rights.

In short, grow up, get smart and hire talent — no matter its age or color or gender.

Flickr image credit: Ben Sutherland

Airbnb, Eric Holder and Discrimination

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016


Tech says they’re trying.

Experts love to call it “bias,” “diversity crisis” or some similar polite euphemism.

A simpler, more recognizable and much less politically correct term is bigotry — conscious or not.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky calls it discrimination, pure and simple, and wants to eradicate it from his platform.

“When we designed  the  platform, three white guys, there were a lot of things we didn’t think about,” Chesky said to an audience at the conference. “There are racists in the world and we need to have zero tolerance.”

There’s no question that people of color, especially African Americans, have more trouble booking on Airbnb.

There’s also no question that people of color are exercising greater and greater buying power.

As of 2014 Hispanic’s spent $1.3 trillion, people of African decent $1.1 trillion, Asians $770 billion and Native Americans $100 billion.

That’s a whole lot of buying power.

There’s also no question that Airbnb has been slow to recognize/admit to the problem — as has the rest of tech.

In a serious effort to change, Chesky has hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to “craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy.”

“This process isn’t close to being over, but we want to be as transparent as possible along the way because I know we’ve failed on that front previously. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.”

Which makes it likely Chesky is serious, since guys like Holder don’t come cheap — nor are they easy to shut up or buy off if the company isn’t serious.

Hopefully it will help.

But it will more likely be a cold day in hell before anyone or anything changes racist MAP.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Entrepreneurs: Stupidest Funding Criteria

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


Anyone who tracks the startup community hears stories of the stupid criteria investors use when deciding who to fund.

  • No strong accents or women with young kids or who are planning on having kids according to Paul Graham of Y Combinator (more on Graham tomorrow).
  • An anonymous investor who, although he considered the product and team brilliant, passed because the founder wasn’t Caucasian.
  • Age (way off base)

At a guess, I’d say that more than 90% of stupid turndowns are based on standard bigotry.

The other 10% fall in the Stupider category

  • Dislike of founder’s alma mater
  • Talk funny (Southern, Bostonian, New England, New York, Texas, etc.)
  • Grooming bias

Now Peter Thiel has added a new bias that is so silly it calls for a Stupidest category.

Don’t fund anyone wearing a suit.

A slicked-up entrepreneur is inevitably a salesman trying to compensate for an inferior product. Based on this perception, Mr Thiel’s venture fund instituted a blanket rule to pass on any company whose principals dressed in formal wear for pitch meetings.

There’s a basic problem with these kinds of rules.

  • No rule can be applied universally, without question and no exceptions.
  • Universal rules are just another form of bigotry—one size does not fit all.

But if a suit is a sign of “a salesman trying to compensate for an inferior product” then why does Thiel himself wear a suit?

Flickr image credit: Fortune Live Media

From Ageism to Sexism

Monday, April 14th, 2014


It’s pretty obvious that ageism is alive and well in tech.

As is sexism, which you can see from the email a female CEO received from an engineer she tried to hire.

But far worse are these examples of what women in tech face, exemplified by the latest bit of app stupidity.

“Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” –David Boulton and Jethro Batts at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon

Not to mention those who defended it.

“It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies” –Pax Dickinson, co-founder and CTO, Glimpse Labs

Or the incredible level of ignorance and pure stupidity exemplified by White_N_Nerdy on Reddit.

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Being old enough to remember, medicine, research and law were “mostly male” industries not that long ago—as were college and advanced degrees.

In the comments section of the article, many women say that prior to the Nineties women developers and engineers weren’t subject to nearly as much abusive harassment, which matches my memories from when I was a tech recruiter in the late Seventies through the Eighties.

What happened?

Please join me tomorrow for a look at what may be an epiphany of cause and effect for both ageism and sexism.

Flickr image credit: KAZ Vorpal

Ducks in a Row: Twisting Culture in the Name of Bigotry

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yetti/53409480/August 23rd was an interesting reading day for me.

First I read about the ingredients that nine different entrepreneurs utilized to create great cultures and are applicable to any company of any size.

Then I read what some would consider a rant about how culture was used to enable legal discrimination.

The ingredients described in the first article made me smile and shout ‘yes!’, because they are the same things I’ve been preaching for years.

However, the twisted use of culture to legitimatize bigotry and discrimination enraged me—as it always has.

I have long recommended using culture as a hiring filter and still believe it is one of the best around, since attitude is far more important than skills when it comes to who you hire.

People who believe manipulation is the correct tool for getting ahead do not belong in a company that promotes strictly on merit and accomplishment; in fact; they can easily destroy it.

However, a talent for manipulating people has nothing to do with age, gender, race, creed, color, alumni status or the myriad of other differences that may take you out of your comfort zone.

Flickr image credit: Paul Dixon

The Danger of Denial

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

www.flickr.com/photos/livenature/211469544/Ask any working woman (or gay/lesbian or person of color) and they will tell you that discrimination is alive and well.

Ask their executive bosses and they will tell you that’s true, but not at their company.

In other words, “they” discriminate, “we” don’t.

Or, as Jonathan Segal, partner at the law firm Duane Morris LLP so aptly puts it.

We all know there is unconscious bias. It’s just others who have it. We all know there are Boys’ Clubs. It’s at the company next door.

It’s hard for many people to believe that their organization could have a Boys’ Club. That they could be part of a Boys’ Club is inconceivable because it is inconsistent with how they see themselves.

In some ways, such denial is not unlike the denial of addiction. The first step in recovery is acknowledging the problem. The first step toward dismantling a Boys’ Club is to acknowledge it may exist.

Of course, that denial only lasts until you are sued.

Flickr image credit: Franco Folini

How Well Do You Hear Past What You See?

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Discrimination comes in many forms.

All of them are grounded in stupidity, but it’s age and appearance that I want to focus on today.

Layoffs are always a time when age is in the limelight, but this time it’s working in reverse.

“The share of older Americans who have jobs has risen during the recession, while the share of younger Americans with jobs has plunged.”

It seems that at least parts of corporate America have learned to see past the obvious.

“…employees whom companies have invested in most and who have “demonstrated track records…tend to be more experienced and are often older.””

So some companies have discovered that years of experience have substantial value when it comes to the success of the company.

But what about appearance? How much is hearing influenced by how someone looks at first take?

What better venue in which to consider this than the original British version of American Idol where the contestants are mostly young, generally good-looking and always bust their tails to make an impression.

How well do you think a slightly frumpy-looking 47 year old woman would fare under the scathing tongue of Simon Fuller?

How much do you think talent would offset the obvious visual assumptions made by both the judges and the audience?

Watch the judges and audience reaction carefully before Susan Boyle performs and how quickly it changes when she starts singing (embedding is disabled on this video); check out some of the more than 50 thousand comments.

Think about what happens when a “Susan” comes to interview; how well do you hear past her (or his) appearance?

Then come back and share your thoughts with us.

PS For a fascinating look at Susan read this article in the NY Times.

Image credit: cwsillero on sxc.hu

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