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Ducks in a Row: Losing One’s Humanity

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015


I’ve been writing a lot about Silicon Valley culture and, since I don’t live there any more, I usually cite/link to articles from those deep in the tech world who do or who write me directly.

Yesterday a question came in on my Quora feed that asked about the differences working in SV vs. the rest of the country.

If you ever wondered if media descriptions and commentary were hype, propaganda, sour grapes, ignorance or a combination thereof, then you really should take time to read the responses, especially Ken Miyamoto’s.

Miyamoto is a non-tech guy who, at the decrepit age of 39, moved to SV and ended up working for “one of the the most badass and innovative tech startups.”

We have this culture of brilliant kids that have a power that they can implement from a numbers perspective, but often (not always) fail miserably at implementing from personality perspective, yes, but even more so from a social perspective within the workplace and anything involved with that. (…)

There’s a clear disconnect, socially. I don’t know if it’s the generation. I don’t know if it’s the inability to balance responsibility of  power and position or ego or what have you. But there’s clearly a disconnect. (…)

The SV is an environment that is overly self-serving, self-rewarding, with little to no practiced responsibility of the social aspect of “the game.”

Beyond that, the SV proved too often be an overly analytical and knee jerk reactionary culture. Here you have young kids thrust into powerful (big or small) positions and, well, they act like young kids.

So to me, the Silicon Valley is a perfect storm of brilliance, power, new culture, money, money, money, and utter lack of social responsibility at times. (…)

That’s the major difference. Going from student to “rock star” so quickly. It leads to ego, blindness, paralysis of analysis, etc. And that culture is ever-spreading with Venture Capitalists young and old ready and willing to profit from it. 

Too many of the tech crowd have lost touch with the rest of society, don’t possess the skills to re-enter it and don’t see this as a problem, but the long-term result of losing touch with humanity is to eventually lose one’s own humanity.

(Funny how one’s mind works. I’m not sure why, but writing this reminded me of Isaac Asmiov’s Foundation series. In short, the series tells the story of mathematician Hari Seldon, who spends his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. It is disrupted by an outsider known as the Mule, who was not foreseen in Seldon’s plan, so there is no predicted way of defeating him. Although I can’t connect it directly to the current love of data analytics, I’m sure it does and highly recommend it to you.)

Flickr image credit: kristy

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Gender Equity is Moving Backwards

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015


Following up on yesterday’s post about women and inequality, Adam Grant linked to a previous post about his own unwitting blindness.

In that post were some stats that should make everyone, including those who think things are improving, wake up to reality and understand just how far we are from anything actually changing.

Today, U.S. corporate boards have more men named John, Robert, William, or James than women in total. Recent coverage by Claire Cain Miller has brought more chilling data to light: in math, when graded anonymously, girls outperform boys, but when teachers know their names, boys do better. [emphasis mine] And when students rate their favorite professors, they describe men as “geniuses” and women as “nice.” This is sad and unacceptable. We may be in the 21st century, but we’re still a very long way from gender parity.

In study after study, on everything from candidate resumes to professor’s evaluations to student preference, where the only difference in identical credentials is the sex, as disclosed by the name, young and old, male and female, rated the women inferior to the men.

Look at the above statement (in bold), what chance is there that anything will change when kids are already subject to the same attitudes?

Women are overtly and covertly denigrated and sisterhood is a farce.

It’s been said change would come as older generations aged out and bosses were replaced by younger ones who grew up in a more diverse, tolerant and inclusive world.

I started hearing that 50 years ago and am still waiting.

In fact, we are moving backwards; the world was far more woman-friendly in the 80s and 90s, than it is now.

So don’t hold your breath; there is a quantum difference between political correctness and authenticity.

Flickr image credit: Anthony Easton

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Ducks in a Row: Seeing Ourselves Clearly

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015


A few weeks ago Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote Dear Men: Wake Up and Smell the Inequality focusing on why men can’t seem to wrap their heads around gender inequality.

In corporate America, 88% of men think women have at least as many opportunities to advance as men.

This is the finding of a major new study—almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies—by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company.

Just 12% of men felt that women had fewer opportunities to advance in their organizations.

Today, KG Charles-Harris sent a link to an article by Marshall Goldsmith about suck-ups, with an underlying focus on how easily we see traits in others, but not in ourselves. (I call it ‘but me’)

Almost all of the leaders I have met say that they would never encourage such a thing in their organizations. I have no doubt that they are sincere. Most of us are easily irritated–if not disgusted–by derriere kissers. Which raises a question: If leaders say they discourage sucking up, why does it happen so often? Here’s a straightforward answer: Without meaning to, we all tend to create an environment where people learn to reward others with accolades that aren’t really warranted. We can see this very clearly in other people. We just can’t see it in ourselves.

And that brings us to MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

MAP, in case you’ve forgotten, is what underlies and drives all our thoughts and actions.

While not seeing things in ourselves may be fundamental to our MAP, that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.

To do so is a choice, yours and no one else’s.

Choice is the most valuable thing that any of us have and it’s the most painful to lose.

Remember Dumbledore? He summed it up perfectly.

“It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p 333)

Flickr image credit: Peter O’Connor

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If the Shoe Fits: a Lesson from Stewart Butterfield and Slack

Friday, September 11th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBeing a woman in tech can be a serious drawback in 2015; far more so than in the 1980s and 90s — Tinder even dumped a woman founder on the basis that the company wouldn’t be taken seriously by investors. Sadly, they may have been right.

Leave it to Slack, valued at $2.8 billion, to do things differently.

According to its diversity report released on Wednesday, 45% of all Slack managers are female, with 41% of the entire workforce having a woman as their manager. “This means that 41% of our people report to a woman who helps set their priorities, measure their performance, mentor them in their work, and who make recommendations that will impact their compensation and career growth.”  In non-engineering positions, 51% of the workforce turned out to be female. Out of the roughly 250 employees worldwide, 39% are reported to be female.

Slack is considered the fastest growing software company in history and they certainly lead  the tech pack In gender diversity.

And while their racial diversity stats are as dismal as the rest of tech they are far more actively working on changing that, too.

Here are the company’s four hiring guidelines,

  1. Examining all decisions regarding hiring/recruiting, promotion, compensation, employee recognition and management structure to ensure that we are not inadvertently advantaging one group over another.

  2. Working with expert advisors and employees to build fair and inclusive processes for employee retention, such as effective management education, company-wide unconscious bias training, ally skills coaching, and compensation review.

  3. Helping to address the pipeline issue with financial contributions to organizations whose mission is to educate and equip underrepresented groups with relevant technical skills (like Hack the Hood and Grace Hopper), as well as supporting a variety of internship programs to broaden access to opportunity (like CODE2040). 

  4. Attempting to be conscious and deliberate in our decision-making and the principles and values by which we operate. Changing our industry starts by building a workplace that is welcoming to all so that a generation of role models, examples and mentors is created.

Slack is practicing what recent studies have proven; hiring women pays.

Give that some thought the next time your unconscious bias kicks in leading you to reject a candidate because she is a she.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: Politically Correct is a False Positive

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015


I sent an article about the “frat house” (AKA, sexist) culture prevalent in ZocDoc’s sales department to “Kevin”, a good friend who works in sales.

While agreeing about problematic sales cultures, he had a different take on culture in general.

His viewpoint, from someone who has been there/done that, may not be socially acceptable and could probably get him in trouble if posted on social media, but I can share it here — anonymously

Whether you’re a nigger or a bitch, this is the shit you have to deal with. I prefer environments where it’s obvious what the culture is, like this, than politically correct cultures where bigotry is the norm but you never onto why you won’t get the bonus, promotion or accolade with superior performance. Screw political correctness!

I believe it’s important to know where you stand, because then you can make informed choices. Give me this culture anytime – when I enter, I will know what the rules are. If I stay, it’s to accomplish a particular personal goal. When I leave (if not immediately), I will know why I stayed, left, and what I gained. I’m richer, they are poorer.

There is no such thing as “politically correct”. The term itself is an oxymoron that implies consensus building, popular sentiment or sinister machinations. Politics is about popularity — we never let others know where we stand or what we stand for in order to win a popularity contest. It is giving in to the tyranny of the mob, not daring to have unpopular opinions or stances, because one will not be popular.

Being a black man, I prefer a racist that’s honest about who he is and what he is. I prefer working for such a person because I know what to expect. I presume it would be the same for you as a woman regarding sexists. These days no one is a racist, we just have “unconscious biases” that prevent us from taking unpopular positions and that ensure that the powerful can continue to exclude the less powerful. 

Politically correct environments rob me of information, choice, and the ability to navigate astutely to attain my objectives.

I agree with Kevin, even in those instances where bias has its basis in neuroscience, it’s better to know.

Flickr image credit: Zaskoda

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The Gender Pay Gap

Monday, August 17th, 2015


In bygone days the ‘my father can beat up your father’ was a favorite taunt.

These days it’s more often ‘my father earns more than your mother’.

So goes the gender pay gap and has since women entered the workforce.

Much has been written and many hands have been wrung over the disparity of pay between men and women doing the same job.

But the bias isn’t always intentional.

A vast majority of them are fair-minded guys who want women to succeed. They’re absolutely certain that they don’t have a gender problem themselves; it must be some other guys who do. Yet they’re leaders of companies that pay men more than women for the same jobs.

Now an intriguing idea has surfaced playing off the SEC’s new rule forcing companies to publish comparisons of how much chief executive officers take home compared with ordinary employees

The idea is to do the same between males/females within each company.

This would be especially interesting in tech, which admits that diversity may be a great goal, but won’t happen any time soon, even in companies which have made it a priority, such as Apple.

In the event the idea gains any traction you can assume enterprise will fight it as passionately — probably more — as it fought the CEO comparison, which took five years to become reality.

Without the force of law, how likely that the comparison could become a reality?

There are two ways that come to mind.

  • The first is to have a company step forward and offer the information voluntarily.
  • The second is that an internal whistleblower will publish the information anonymously on social media.

The second is far more likely, especially in the data-driven world in which today’s companies must operate.

Flickr image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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Temperature Diversity

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015


Decades ago when my office was on the 35th floor of a Financial District tower in San Francisco I always had a sweater or just dressed warmly no matter the season, as did most of the women.

The cold never seemed to bother the men.

Fast forward to August 2012 when a friend emailed to say she had changed companies.

I was surprised, to say the least, since she held a senior position along with sizable stock options and I knew she would be leaving a lot on the table.

When I asked why she said it was a great opportunity, but the deciding factor had been the ambient temperature during multiple interviews — she was tired of always being cold.

Imagination? Personal idiosyncrasy?

No, actual fact, according to an article describing a new study published last week.

Finally, scientists (two men, for the record) are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

Just as a too warm office can slow people down and make them sleepy, so can a too cold office.

Bosses can alleviate the problem to some degree.

  • If your physical space operates by zones rearrange workers based on their temperature needs, as opposed to functional or gender lines.
  • If there is only one central control raise the temperature or at least try splitting the difference.
  • Provide snuggies, blankets and space heaters when needed.
  • Treat it as the problem it is and not as a joke or gender weakness.

While addressing the problem may have little-to-no impact on global warming, it could have a substantial impact on your talent acquisition and retention.

Flickr image credit: Lara

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Keila Banks: Be Indefinable and Inspired

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

How do people label you when they see you’re walking down the street, sipping coffee at your favorite place or in your work environment?

What do you see when young, black girls walk by giggling and talking?

Do you see potential? Do you see the next Zukerberg or Obama?

Or do you see tomorrow’s single moms, welfare recipients and drug users?

What would you see if Keila Banks walked by?

Would you see a girl who started blogging at six and taught herself to code at nine?

Or a girl no different from any other?

At the OSCON developer’s conference 13-year-old Keila descrubed herself as “indefinable.”

In a self-confident tone, she inspired the 4,000-strong crowd by telling them she wasn’t going to be limited by how people label her. 

And she encouraged the audience to do the same.

Now let Keila inspire you.

YouTube credit: O’ Reilly

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If the Shoe Fits: Understanding the Gender Fuss

Friday, July 31st, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThis post is for all the male founders out there who don’t understand the fuss about diversity, especially gender diversity.

After all, why bother finding female talent when it’s so much easier to find male talent?

What difference does it really make? (click “Resources”)

Venture-backed companies with females as founders or executives are more likely to go public, turn a profit or be sold at a steep price (source: DowJones)

Globally, companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and return on equity. (source: DowJones)

Download the Report

The difference is money, stupid; it’s the money.

Hat tip to KG for sending me the link.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: Neuroscience and Bias

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Urko Dorronsoro

This isn’t the first time bias has been the subject of a post, from attractiveness to the inherent dangers of your comfort zone to Google’s anti-bias training and many others.

The most important thing to learn from all this is that you are biased.

So am I and so is the rest of the human race, no exceptions.

Now neuroscience research is looking at bias and what it takes to disable it within an organization well beyond Google’s training approach, which may not do much good.

Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that educating people about biases does anything to reduce their influence. Human biases occur outside conscious awareness, and thus people are literally unaware of them as they occur. As an individual, you cannot consciously “watch out for biases,” because there will never be anything to see.

First, some basics; what is bias?

Biases are nonconscious drivers — cognitive quirks — that influence how people see the world. They appear to be universal in most of humanity, perhaps hardwired into the brain as part of our genetic or cultural heritage, and they exert their influence outside conscious awareness.

The great problem is that people can’t recognize bias until after the fact — if at all.

If you are highly self-aware you can train yourself to know areas in which you are biased based on historical perspective, which, hopefully, will send up warning flags when you face a similar situation.

But the best solution involves a team effort, whether at work, home or during other pursuits.

How then can the negative effects of bias be overcome? Collectively. Organizations and teams can become aware of bias in ways that individuals cannot. Team-based practices can be redesigned to help identify biases as they emerge, and counteract them on the fly, thus mitigating their effect.

Bias is real and it’s not going to go away because it violates what we want to believe about ourselves.

I highly recommend this article, not just for you, but to share with the various teams in your life.

Flickr image credit: Urko Dorronsoro

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