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Diversity, Silos and Trolls

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015


Yesterday we looked at how our society moved from a culture of narrow connections to one of mobility and a broader acceptance of those totally unconnected to us to the current regression back to responding mainly (often only) to those to whom we are already connected — no matter how tenuous or irrelevant the connection.

In other words, we went from silos to free-range and back to silos.

Ola Joseph says, “Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”

But today we reinforce our particular silos through social media.

Where once we were broadened, 21st Century media provides the means to assure ourselves that our opinions are shared by both followers and followed.

Trolls aren’t new, either; they are the modern version of poison pen letters.

According to Auden, “Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity retained.”

However, the anonymity of online communications allows us to unleash our thoughts with no civilizing or cultural leavening.

And so we join the ranks of trolls in one area, while bemoaning their existence in another.

Image credit: Roshan Vyas

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Kevin O’Leary Prefers Investing in Women

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Kevin Oleary

I love watching Shark Tank, whether the current season on ABC or reruns on CNBC.

My favorite sharks in order are Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John.

My almost-least favorite shark is Mark Cuban, but it is Kevin O’Leary who I really can’t stand.

I have no problem with a shark saying no, but to listen to O’Leary tear down not only ideas, but also the entrepreneurs themselves makes me slightly ill. His criticism is rarely constructive and sometimes it is downright destructive — especially to women founders, or so it seems.

So you can imagine my amazement when I read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine where O’Leary said he preferred women CEOs.

“Women make better CEOs. All things being equal, given the choice between a woman and a man, I would pick the woman every time.” (…) “If I want high returns with low volatility, that equals a woman.”

Like I said, amazing; not original, but amazing.

There are reams of statistics and dozens of studies that prove having women in senior management roles and on the board positively affects the bottom line.

Companies that have more women on their boards and in their senior management teams aren’t just opening doors to gender equality. They’re reaping greater financial rewards.

Kevin O’Leary is emphatic that his only interest is making money. He has no interest in furthering diversity or leveling the playing field for women — but he prefers to invest in them.

That should provide a lot of creditability to the studies that are so often shrugged off or rationalized into oblivion.

Image credit: ABC Shark Tank

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…Like A Girl

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Did you watch the Super Bowl today?

If you’re a guy you may not have paid much attention an ad from Always.

It looks at how #like a girl has always been an insult and an effort to change that perception.

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

But the insult goes far beyond the days of puberty.

“Will it work for your mom?” and “so simple your mother could do it” are catch terms, especially in the software industry, to indicate the product is simple (AKA, dumbed down) enough that anyone can use it.

The interesting thing is that if you call these same guys out asking if they are referring to their mom/sister/girlfriend/wife they usually say no.

The disconnect starts early. In the Always video at 1:06 the dialog is as follows:

Voiceover: “So do you think you just insulted your sister?”

Boy: “No, I mean yeah… insulted girls, but not my sister.”

There is a giant mental disconnect for most males between ‘women’ and ‘my women’.

And it is that disconnect that needs to change.

Image credit: Always

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Entrepreneurs: A Lesson From IDEO

Thursday, January 29th, 2015


How would you respond to the following?

  • Would you hire a woman?
  • Would you hire an old woman?
  • A really old woman?
  • Could such a woman contribute significantly to a project?
  • What could she teach your hot, young engineers?

While most founders would answer ‘no’ or ‘nothing’, IDEO thinks differently.

The company recently hired Barbara Beskind and both she and IDEO consider her 90 years a major advantage.

She applied after seeing an interview with IDEO founder David Kelley, who talked about the importance of a truly diverse design team and hires accordingly.

The aging Boomer market has companies salivating and hundreds are developing products for them.

The problem, of course, is that younger designers have no idea what difficulties older people face; not the obvious ones, but those that are more subtle.

Beskind does.

For example, IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one. Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

It really caused the design team to reflect.” They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem.

It’s the little things that make or break products and the knowledge of the little things comes mostly from having been there/done that.

That kind of insight is priceless.

Now how would you answer those questions?

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

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Ducks In A Row: Sisterhood? Not Hardly

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


An interesting article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant shows exactly what woman in the workplace face and the thin line they walk when they speak up.

We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more. (…) Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.

The critical words are, “both men and women punished them;” again, not a surprise.

The findings in the article aren’t new or even that surprising (here are two more from 2008 and 2009); I heard similar comments more than 30 years ago.

It gives the lie to the myth of sisterhood.

I never believed in the whole sisterhood thing — the idea that women supported each other.

I got support and encouragement from the men in my work world — it sure didn’t come from the women.

That’s not to say that women don’t form solid relationships and support each other, of course they do, but they aren’t based on an accident of nature, i.e., plumbing.

They’re based on common interests and ongoing discovery.

So while ‘sisterhood’ has worked for some, it’s dangerous to assume it works for all or all the time.

Image credit: MattysFlicks

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Ducks in a Row: Intel, $300M And Diversity

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/13476023723/Dozens of ugly stories in 2014 threw a spotlight on the lack of gender and color diversity and the prevalence of bigoted and frat house/misogynistic cultures in tech.

Individuals and companies are speaking out vowing to change things — talking, talking, talking.

Intel, however, isn’t talking; it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

Intel said it has established a $300 million fund to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force [goal of 14%], attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.

The big difference between what Intel is doing and the rest of tech is not just focusing on STEM training and recruitment, but on changing the workplace so that those who join tech will stay in tech instead of being driven out by the current culture.

Changing culture is difficult within a company, let alone within an entire industry.

Google is already working on it, while most companies are suggesting/funding issues that are external, such as education.

Hopefully, the clout and funds that Intel is bringing to the table will makes a difference.

Image credit: Intel Free Press

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Lean Startup Conference 2014: Wrap and Thanks

Friday, December 12th, 2014


KG Charles-Harris is once again attending the Lean Startup Conference and sharing his impressions and what he’s learning with you.

Once again the team of Sarah Millstein & Eric Ries has created a weeklong conference – the Lean Startup Conference – that hits it out of the ballpark! 

If you didn’t see my updates from last year’s conference, I must reiterate that this is the most useful of all the tech/business conferences I have attended.  And this year they took it to a new level of excellence in several different areas.

There were two very notable differences from previous years, firstly, the larger contingent and programming for enterprise organizations and government (intrapreneurship), and secondly, the significant inclusion of women and minorities in the speaker and mentor lineup.

One would think that for a startup conference, having a large portion of programming dedicated to mature and large organizations would be a distraction or departure from the core values and intent of the conference.

However, the way in which they developed the programming, it became a learning experience for aspiring entrepreneurs of how to not only grow their companies, but also for how to keep their companies vital and vibrant as they became larger.

Several of my conversations with people who came from large organizations and governments, both nationally and from far flung destinations like Norway and Portugal, displayed a tremendous optimism that the Lean Startup methodology had potential to revitalize their organizations and how they serve their customers/constituents.

The second important difference from previous years is that the conference was characterized by the diversity of speakers and mentors. 

In terms of gender, age, racial background and experience, the conference was replete with different perspectives that give us the knowledge that Lean Startup is good execution regardless of whether I am a diminutive woman from India or a large, bearded white male. 

This made the conference much more interesting than any other I’ve attended and the networking was exceptional as a result. 

Clearly the conference organizers thought carefully of how they could provide both a learning experience in business and a culturally expanding perspective. 

Thank you Sarah and Eric for both a superb learning experience, as well as a personally expanding event – truly exceptional!

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If the Shoe Fits: Diversity vs. the Rules of Tech

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the course of today’s culture I am a virtual nobody. Aside from this blog, LinkedIn profile and a few comments here and there over the years I have no visibility.

This was pointed out to me in an irate email that asked who I thought I was to belittle the wonderful world of tech on non-issues like diversity.

Actually, I was surprised at both the lack of four-letter words and that writer didn’t blast me publicly. When I complimented the former and inquired about the latter I was told that “Ryan” assumed I wouldn’t see anything done in social media (true), so he decided to write directly.

The following is specifically for Ryan and those who agree with him, as well as those who find these posts enlightening. And a shoutout to KG Charles-Harris, who sent me the link.

Leslie Miley wrote a post at Model View Culture called The Top 10 (%) Tech Rules, but could as easily have been “why nothing changes” or “a self-propagating culture.”

Hopefully Ryan and friends will accept Miley’s comments as valid, since his credentials are above reproach.

Working as an engineer at Google, Apple, and Twitter has afforded me a view of the hiring process that for years has produced a homogenous culture: mostly male, and significantly white and Asian.

The Silicon Valley hiring process has been homogenized to the point that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy—as entrenched as the “old, white guy” culture in the east.

I don’t believe much will change in my lifetime and maybe not in yours or your kids.

As Miley points out, habits are hard to break and breaking this systemic habit will make quitting smoking look like a stroll on the beach.

I am not optimistic about the future of diversity in tech. I see too many of my co-workers ask what university before they ask what applicants have accomplished. I see bias in the CS questions culled from the top universities, and preference given to candidates from the top companies, referred by their peers. The system now serves itself. And that will be the hardest habit to break.

That said, it could change.


Read Miley’s post carefully and then stop doing what it talks about. In other words, be your own person and stop being an organization person.

Talk about it and, whenever possible, call out those you see abiding by the system.

Then share it over and over until it goes viral.

It’s a start.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Ducks in a Row: Mark Andreessen’s Views on Diversity

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014


For all the talk about the lack of diversity some folks still don’t get it.

It’s a recognized fact that sometimes very smart people do or say very stupid things as reflected in Marc Andreessen’s recent comment explaining that companies actually are diverse.

“When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese.”

This is a direct contradiction of 2013 research done by Reuters.

A recent Reuters report found that the majority of Silicon Valley startup founders that receive Series A funding come from the same pedigreed cohort: either they previously worked at a large, well-known tech firm, a well-connected smaller tech company, they previously created a successful startup, or they come from one of three universities—Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.

Of course, one image is worth ten thousand words when proving this.

Andreessen also says that the lack of women and people of color in Valley companies is a function of education inequality and not having the right connections; another thought that flies in the face of facts.

Except for the fact that a recent analysis conducted by USA Today found that top universities are graduating black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering students at twice the rate that technology companies are hiring them. Last year, 4.5% of computer science and engineering graduates from top universities were black and 6.5% were Hispanic. But on average, just 2% of employees at Silicon Valley tech companies (specifically, the seven companies that have released diversity stats) are black and 3% are Hispanic.

The walls around the Valley investor community are far higher now than they were when in 1993 when he happened to meet Jim Clark, who suggested forming a company based on a program Andreessen wrote in college called Mosaic.

The Valley needs to wake up, bite the bullet and follow the lead of Google, instead of pulling Andreessen’s rationalizing over their collective heads.

Flickr image credit: Susanne Nilsson

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If the Shoe Fits: Is San Francisco/Bay Area Really the Promised Land?

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe Bay Area is touted for being the best place in the world for startups; the place that all others try to copy.

But is it really the best place?

I live in Washington State, just across the river from Portland, Oregon, AKA, Silicon Forrest. Lots of startups including a few that have jumped ship from San Francisco.

Tilde joins startups like Simple, Panic, and Sprint.ly, which have already set up shop in the city. Big-name companies like Salesforce, eBay, and Airbnb have also opened outposts here in recent months.

New York State offers cushy lures and there’s a lot more to the state than just New York City.

START-UP NY, Governor Cuomo’s groundbreaking initiative, is transforming communities across the state into tax-free sites for new and expanding businesses. Now, businesses can operate 100% tax-free for 10 years. No income tax, business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.

Detroit should be up for consideration, too, thanks to Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loan’s billionaire owner who bought 60 skyscrapers totaling nine million square feet.

He has brought 12,500 employees with him to downtown, and along with other private investors is funding the construction of a light-rail system that will connect the central business district with the neighboring Midtown district. Through his umbrella company, Rock Ventures, he formed a start-up incubator called Bizdom and a venture-capital firm, with some of the funded companies already expanding into other Gilbert-owned office space.

Or you might prefer the new Las Vegas being guided by Tony Hsieh, using $350 million of his own money, because he deeply believes that some of the best ideas come from the unplanned interactions of dissimilar people.

He has brought 12,500 employees with him to downtown, and along with other private investors is funding the construction of a light-rail system that will connect the central business district with the neighboring Midtown district. (…) Around the same time, the Las Vegas city government was also about to move, and Hsieh saw his opportunity. He leased the former City Hall — smack in the middle of downtown Vegas — for 15 years. Then he got to thinking: If he was going to move at least 1,200 employees, why not make it possible for them to live nearby? And if they could live nearby, why not create an urban community aligned with the culture of Zappos, which encourages the kind of “serendipitous interactions” that happen in offices without walls?

One thing all of these areas have in common is diversity; because living costs are lower their populations reflect real-world attitudes and concerns, as opposed to the more homogenized views of the wealthy, super-educated white males that dominate the Bay Area.

More on them next Tuesday.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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