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Ducks in a Row: Facebook — Racist or Just Dumb?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Considering it’s 2016 the unbelievably racist targeted advertising choices offered by Facebook are hard to swallow.

facebook-screenshotHarder still are their explanations.

First, they claim to prohibit this kind of ugly targeting.

Facebook says its policies prohibit advertisers from using the targeting options for discrimination, harassment, disparagement or predatory advertising practices.

They claim that advertisers won’t misuse these options.

“We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law,” said Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook. “We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

But their worst excuse is the old A/B test.

Satterfield said it’s important for advertisers to have the ability to both include and exclude groups as they test how their marketing performs.

Hence my question.

Is Facebook really so naïve they actually believe that the so-called “affinity choices” won’t be abused or, in the name of profit, do they just not care?

Image credit: Facebook via Pro Publica

Airbnb, Eric Holder and Discrimination

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Holder

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

Ducks in a Row: How Facebook Stepped in the Poo

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/

Facebook really stuck its foot deep in the doo doo pile when it claimed its racial diversity numbers, which are even worse than its gender diversity stats, are the result of a lack of qualified candidates.

What is really going on is the very real human desire to hire “people like me,” but using “cultural fit” as an excuse for their bias.

In a post shared widely on social media, the computer science student and iOS developer took Facebook and its Silicon Valley peers to task for focusing on whether potential employees are a “culture fit” — an ambiguous gauge often used to defend discrimination.

But that, of course, depends on what is meant by culture.

Culture is a reflection of the founder’s/company’s actual values — values equaling stuff such as how customers are treated and whether politics will rule over merit.

Culture is not a function of perks — or it shouldn’t be.

“Most of tech recruiting is currently not built to look for great talent,” wrote Thomas in her post.

“I’m not interested in ping-pong, beer, or whatever other gimmick used to attract new grads. The fact that I don’t like those things shouldn’t mean I’m not a ‘culture fit’. I don’t want to work in tech to fool around, I want to create amazing things and learn from other smart people. That is the culture fit you should be looking for.”

You wouldn’t necessarily expect tech, with its penchant for data-based decisions, to cherry-pick the stats, but Facebook is an amalgamate of human beings and their biases, so it’s not that surprising.

Then, of course, there’s the data — which you’d think a company like Facebook, reliant as it is on algorithms, would’ve parsed before blaming education for its diversity ills. There simply isn’t a pipeline problem as long as there are twice as many black and Hispanic computer science graduates as there are actual hires from these minority groups.

So, once again, the old programming saying ‘garbage in/garbage out’ proves true.

A perfect summing up of Facebook’s, and tech-in-general’s, “no pipeline” excuse.

Flickr image credit: gorfor

If the Shoe Fits: How Old is an Entrepreneur?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

Age is more a mental state than a physical one.

I’ve always said that smart people say/do stupid things and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is proof of that.

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

The problem is that the data the tech world is so enamored with doesn’t back that up.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher, worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.

The term “high growth” is key. 2010′s top two fastest-growing tech startups, according to Forbes, were First Solar, founded by a 68-year old, followed by Riverbed Technology, co-founded by entrepreneurs who were 51 and 33 at the time.

He should also inform the Merage Institute, which awards $100K to the top startup by a 45+-year-old founder (more runner-ups at the link).

  • In 2016 it was iSilla – Movement for people with disabilities
  • 2nd Prize –  SonicBone – Bone Age – Ultrasound Device for Bone Age assessment
  • 3rd Prize – Inensto – Aluminum Air Battery

In 2015 they were:

  • 1st Prize – NiNiSpeech
  • 2nd Prize – A new Hydrogen Energy Storage
  • 3rd Prize – Glasses for AMD Macular Degeneration

Brian Acton was 37 when he founded WhatsApp.

Notice that all of them solve a real problem — a problem of which they wouldn’t be aware if they hadn’t faced it directly or indirectly themselves.

Which meant they had real world experience.

Even Mark Zukerberg had real world experience; he wanted an easy way to engage and keep up with his friends. Remember, Facebook was originally started for college kids.

The reason Khosla is so far off base, is that an entrepreneur can only disrupt that with which she is familiar enough to figure out a better way or see a hole and fill it.

Hence young males created Tinder and its clones to hookup and Match and its clones for something more permanent.

If you look at socially oriented startups, many of their founders, both young and old, saw the need first hand, while volunteering and/or traveling, came home and created a solution that answered that need.

It’s not a matter of age.

It’s a matter of three things

  1. See the need/experience the want/desire what isn’t
  2. Think of a way to solve/provide it
  3. Possess the drive, tenaciousness, guts and slight insanity required to turn an idea into a reality and a reality into a company

And those three things can happen to anyone at any age.

My thanks to KG for reminding me of how important it is to help smash these myths.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: SAP’s Smart Hiring

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/treehouse1977/4664642792/

Some companies look spend millions in recruiter fees and poaching candidates from their competitors; others are more creative.

Those in the second category are open to staffing solutions far outside the box — even the standard race/creed/color/gender/national origin diversity box.

It’s called neurodiversity — those with some kind of cognitive disabilities, such as people with  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What do you do when you have highly repetitious work that also requires a high degree of intelligence — like software testing?

That is actually a viable description of people with ASD.

Of course, that means hiring people who, for most people, aren’t the most comfortable to be around.

Roughly 60 percent of people with ASD have average or above average intelligence, yet 85 percent are unemployed.

For smart companies, such as SAP, that group is a goldmine of talent and five years ago it set a goal to have 1% of their workforce comprised of individuals with ASD.

Hiring people with ASD isn’t about charity or financial exploitation; it’s about gaining a competitive advantage and partnering with Specialisterne goes a long way to providing the right program.

So far (as of 2013) about 100 people have been hired [by SAP] for jobs including software developer or tester, business analyst, and graphic designer, and pay is commensurate to what others in those jobs earn.

SAP use an analogy that individuals are like puzzle pieces with irregular shapes.

“One of the things that we’ve done historically in human resource management is, we’ve asked people to trim away the parts of themselves that are irregularly shaped, and then we ask them to plug themselves into standard roles,” says Robert Austin, Professor of Information Systems, Ivey Business School. “SAP is asking itself whether that might be the wrong way to do things in an innovation economy. Instead, maybe managers have to do the hard work of putting the puzzle pieces together and inviting people to bring their entire selves to work.”

That approach can benefit other forms of diversity like race, gender, and sexual orientation.

“Innovation is about finding ideas that are outside the normal parameters, and you don’t do that by slicing away everything that’s outside the normal parameters. Maybe it’s the parts of people we ask them to leave at home that are the most likely to produce the big innovations.”

Read the article and then decide what’s best for your organization.

Good bosses won’t have a problem with the approach; the rest will whine and resist.

Flickr image credit: Jim Champion

Ducks in a Row: Marc Benioff on How to Run a Company

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/15192444615/

By any measure Mark Benioff  runs a successful, highly profitable company.

Moreover, he runs one of the most socially responsible companies in the world.

This BI interview with Benioff captures in a short read how Salesforce is a perfect example of a founder who incorporated his values into his company.

His socially conscious approach began when he launched Salesforce as a startup;  long before it was profitable.

I view that as a critical part of my business. That’s why when I started Salesforce, on day 1, we put 1% of our equity, 1% of our product, and 1% of our time into Salesforce.org.

Where other CEOs talk, wring their hands and use media time to bemoan the problems, Benioff fixes them.

Gender pay disparity is a good example.

When he saw proof that women were being paid less he made changes to eliminate the disparity and did it without whining or handwringing.

Two women, one our head of HR and one who ran our women’s group said, “Hey, we’re paying women less than men at Salesforce.” I didn’t believe it at the time, when we actually looked at the information we were actually paying women $3 million less than we were paying men for the same amount of work, and so we made an adjustment to how we pay women.

When asked how other companies handle the issue he furnished not only the how, but also the why it doesn’t happen.

Every company has an HR system, every company knows their salaries, that’s obviously how they pay people, and all a CEO has to do is push a button and look at, “Do I pay women the same as men?” Most CEOs are afraid to push that button.

Furthermore, Benioff  sees an attitude from a few academics in the 1970s as responsible for much of today’s inequality, — in short, he doesn’t believe that that a company’s primary purpose is to maximize shareholder value.

I believe that for business, which is where I can speak, we have to shift from shareholder maximization to stakeholder maximization.

Salesforce has been ranked as one of the top innovative companies year after year for a very simple reason.

They can’t look to me for all the answers. I don’t have them, and that’s not our culture. They are coming to me with their ideas and their visions. It’s not my role to be the only visionary in town.

All in all, Marc Benioff is a superb role model, whether your company is large, small or just starting up.

Flickr image credit: TechCrunch

Entrepreneurs: Are You the Future or the Past?

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9716784497/

This post is for all the fact-loving, data-crunching guys who keep claiming that tech is a merit-based ecosystem where anyone with a good idea who is willing to bust their tail 80 hours a week will succeed.

If you are one of them you probably aren’t aware that March is Women’s History Month; a time to celebrate women’s accomplishments, especially in tech, since they are why you have a company/job.

How excited would you be if it took 10 years for your most important metric to double?

That’s what you see for founding teams with at least one woman — from 7.7% in 2006 to 17.5% today.

Whoopee.

It’s much worse for all-female founding teams — their funding dropped from 22.8 in 2014 percent to 18.9 percent now.

That totally sucks.

And it’s far worse when you add color to the equation.

What’s it going to take for this to change?

More female angels and VCs — happening very slowly.

More angels and VCs of color — a distant dream.

But more importantly, and hopefully sooner, more successful, entitled white guys will digest the numbers and decide it’s just plain wrong.

 Are you/will you be one of them?

BTW
Happy St Paddy’s Day to all my Irish and Irish wannabe readers!

http://free-extras.com/images/leprechaun_with_pot_of_gold-13323.htm

Image credit: TechCrunch/flickr and Free-extras

But Only If You Have A Brain…

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

First, a disclaimer: this post is in no way a recommendation for the University of Phoenix. In fact, I have long been against for profit education, especially UP, which is not only the largest, but one of the worst.

That said, I’d like to strip the logos from the new ad running on national TV and make it required watching for every boss in every business, whether large or small.

Pay particular attention to the last spoken line.

Do you have a brain?

Video credit: University of Phoenix

Ducks in a Row: Diversity Solution

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Finally!

Arwa Mahdawi (@ArwaM) has come up with a solution to the whole diversity problem.

Isn’t that terrific? Finally, a real solution.

Check out Rent-A-Minority for your next board meeting, conference or media interview.

And while you’re there be sure to read the user Stories.

I’m sure you’ll relate — on one level or another.

rent-a-minority

Hat tip to KG for sharing the site with us.

Ducks in a Row: the Cost of the So-Called Bro Culture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4612160187/

There is far more to diversity than gender, but I’ll save my comments on that for another post, although everything I say here applies to the wider exclusions.

Last Friday, in polite language, KG commented on the ignorance/idiocy of not hiring women, since they have to be so much better to achieve the same opportunities/promotions as men.

For proof, you have only to consider GitHub’s treatment of contributors.  

They found that when a woman programmer made a contribution to an open source project, that work was more likely to be accepted by their programming peers than contributions by men as long as those judging the work didn’t know the programmer was a woman.

If they did know the programmer was a woman, the work was more likely to be rejected.

For the unknowing, the bro culture refers to the culture found in most frat houses (although it exists in several other forms) and has become a hallmark of startups in Silicon Valley.

Jennifer Brandel, co-founder and CEO of Hearken, and Mara Zepeda, co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, wrote a terrific post that starts by depicting the startup ecosystem in sexual terms that perfectly drive the point home with the same class and light touch as Tootsie used to drive its point home back in 1982. (It’s a great read with serious analysis and suggestions for change.)

Startups, like the male anatomy, are designed for liquidity events. Consider the metaphors: “seed” funding, “up and to the right” trajectories, “acceleration,” “exit.” Paul Graham’s seminal essay “Startup = Growth” argues that explosive growth is the only measure of success. “Making it” means one of two things: go public or sell.

The bro culture also manages to turn a blind eye to just how much of their vaunted tech is the result of women.

Hilariously, it was not only a woman who the technology that paved the way for everything from Wi-Fi to GPS, it was film goddess Heddy Lamarr. She invented a secret communications system during World War II for radio-controlling torpedoes.

Dr Grace Murray Hopper invented COBOL, the first business-friendly programming language, in the 1940s. She was a computer scientist, a rear admiral in the U.S. navy and the first person to use the term “bug” in reference to a glitch in a computer system when she literally found a bug (moth) causing problems with her computer.

Then there is Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer who wrote the first algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence; her notes were an essential key to helping Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Not to forget Dr Shirley Jackson include portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Most of male culture runs on pizza and beer, which, according to Beer Historian Jane Peyton was developed, sold and drunk but Mesopotamian women centuries ago.

A few more that guys should be aware of,

  • Nancy Johnson invented and patented the ice cream maker in 1843 and is still in use today.
  • Margaret A Wilcox invented the car heater in 1893, as well as a combined clothes and dishwasher.
  • Elizabeth Magie invented Monopoly in 1904.
  • Anna Connelly invented the fire escape in 1887.
  • Maria Beasely invented life rafts in 1882, as well as a machine that makes barrels.
  • Dr Maria Telkes, a psychiatrist, invented residential solar heating.
  • Letitia Geer invented a one-handed medical syringe in 1899.
  • Florence Parpart invented the electric refrigerator in 1914, along with improving street cleaning machines.
  • Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher (where would guys be without it?) in 1887
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown invented CCTV in 1969.
  • Margaret Knight invented a machine that makes square bottomed paper bags in 1871, although Charles Anan tried to steal her work claiming that it wasn’t possible for a woman to create this brilliant invention.  She also invented a safety device for cotton mills when she was 12 that is still being used today.
  • Alice Parker invented a natural gas powered central heater in 1919 that inspired the central heating systems used today.
  • Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 1965, to which thousands of guys, and more recently gals, owe their lives.

Unwelcoming/disparaging culture goes far beyond the startup world and the pro/con about women is a minefield for companies, as witnessed by the Lands’ End contretemps currently playing itself out on social media.

The catalog had the temerity to feature Gloria Steinem, which brought a strong reaction from a customer.

“This family will not buy one single thing from Lands End ever again unless this drive highlighted by Gloria Steinem is fully retracted. (…) Lauding Gloria Steinem is beyond what I can understand from a company that ‘appears’ to celebrate family.” (Posted to the company’s Facebook page.)

Lands’ End apologized and scrubbed all mentions of Steinem, along with references to the ERA.

This, of course, brought enormous reaction from the other side.

As of midmorning Friday, close to 4,000 people had commented on the company’s Facebook post that addresses the flap.

Oops. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Lands’ End and other companies may lose customers when they end up in the middle of this no-win situation, but the bro culture has a much higher cost.

Talent.

And that can cost them the very breakthroughs that would put them on the road to an IPO.

Then again, with that attitude they don’t deserve great talent.

Which leaves KG and kindred spirits to scoop them up.

Flickr image credit: Duck Lover

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