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If the Shoe Fits: Bias Will Cost You Talent

Friday, May 29th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFollowing-up on yesterday’s post about the “attractiveness bias” I thought I’d share two other posts that will, hopefully, open your eyes and raise your awareness.

Awareness, as Google says, is the only way to fight any bias.

Many times in talking about attractiveness bias people assume that at least women are supportive of women — dream on.

And if looks weren’t bad enough, even the pitch of your voice affects the outcome of what you do — and I doubt that pitching is immune.

So before all these anthropological biases cost you talent try heightening your awareness to avoid these truly stupid, meaningless pitfalls.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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A Different Kind of Diversity

Monday, May 18th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7149966049/

I’ve had a lot of inquiries lately from managers who believe their teams have lost their edge.

Productivity is fine and they innovate, but in a predictable, prosaic way.

All were facing the same problem, but none could see that the source was themselves.

It is the same problem many bosses face, including Dan, whom I wrote about seven years ago.

So rather than spend my time and their money identifying the likely cause I sent each one this link and told them to call if they needed additional help.

So far I haven’t heard from any of them.

Flickr image credit: Denise Krebs

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The Destruction of Community

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

My friend Emily lives in Mountain View, CA.

In spite of all the stories about high rents and corporate bussing not much has been said about companies such as Prometheus Real Estate Group and its ilk that are responsible for much of the actual destruction of community in the name of progress and greed.

They do it by buying up properties, telling the tenants to move, and then doubling (or more) the rents.

Like other Peninsula landlords, Prometheus sets a baseline criteria for tenants to prove they earn more than three times the monthly rent. With that requirement, a household would have to earn more than $144,000 annually to be eligible to rent a $4,000-per-month unit, Scarboro pointed out.

Emily recently sent a letter to the City Council, which resulted in the story linked to above and a report on NBC Bay Area.

And here’s the letter that started it all (edited for length and clarity).

I have been a resident of Mountain View since 1999. Since I earn fewer than six figures I am a low – middle income professional by this City’s standards (and the word in the street is that the voice of folks like me carries little weight).

I am writing anyway because today I realized that if I am not for myself – who will be for me? Certainly not my current hometown.

I live on a private street with 24 town homes and most of us are low to middle income (by Silicon Valley standards). We are teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals, doctors (residents), beauticians, and more. We have patients, clients, customers and businesses in town. We are in our 30-70′s. Some of us have young children. Some are single Mom’s or just plain single. Several younger residents have disabilities. We are a diverse group by skin color, religion, culture, age and education representing what’s great about this City (or what used to be). Many of us were born here or have lived in Mountain View over 30 years. Some have lived on this street for 12 years or more. Our rents are not cheap. They range from $2500-3500 per month for our 1970’s style 2-3 bedrooms. We all pay our bills. Most of us love coming home and we have become a closely-knit community—which is increasingly rare in this town.

As you must already know, Prometheus Property Management’s latest takeover team has informed the 100+ residents on Forest Glen Street and at “Granada”, a nearby parcel with 14 townhomes (purchased at the same time) that we all need to pack up and “permanently evacuate” due to the new renovations allowing them to collect “considerable rent increases” “Feel free to apply as a new tenant but your rent must be no more than 30 percent of your monthly income or three times the new rental price.

That’s requires a salary of $12,000 per month or more at their rental prices.

I used to love Mountain View. Not anymore.

What kind of a City sanctions new owners to displace over 100 residents and literally destroy a diverse neighborhood where everyone pulls their weight and contributes to their City in so many ways? You may consider the 3-6 months notice we were given to be a generous offer (they are not starting to renovate until mid summer) but how truly generous is this when it’s a known fact that there is limited decent housing and whatever housing exists has monthly income requirements that non-tech folks cannot meet? (According to the article, even many Googlers don’t earn that. –Miki)

Since the initial shock of forced displacement many of us have spent days looking at comparable sized apartments in Mountain View (and immediate surrounding areas) only to discover that Prometheus is not alone with their outrageous monthly income requirements at 3x the rent. We have found that most property management companies and individual landlords have the same requirements.

Being the great company they are, however, the Prometheus takeover team urged some of us to apply for apartments that are Below Market Rate (BMR). Funny thing is, “there is no BMR housing in Mountain View and the list has been closed since December” according to the office that manages it.

This is the new Mountain View at its best demonstrating how to ineffectively follow its own guidelines. Preserving and enhancing quality of life for Mountain View residents is only for those with very low income or the top 10%.

A BALANCED City would require a new owner to increase rents and renovate for NEW tenants when current tenants move out. People are moving in and out all the time. There is no rent control. No one is going to stick around forever. Some just want their children to finish their HS senior year with the kids they grew up with.

A FAIR City would have policies in place that keep companies like Prometheus from disenfranchising long time residents who at the very least work in this city. Most of us would happily exist with a rent increase even with our old grouty tiles, stained Formica and fake marble counters and sinks just to be able to continue to more easily drive to work, keep our doctors and run our businesses.

Tell me — how can this once great City of Mountain View look the other way and through sanctioning Prometheus’s business practices- force people with disabilities, in their 60′s or with kids in school to abandon their homes and neighborhood suffering, in some cases, irreparable financial loss and emotional distress. This can’t be legal.

[signed] Emily White Mountain View, CA

New York City and surrounding boroughs instituted rent control decades ago and the city is anything but destroyed; municipals governments work closely with housing organizations to make it work.

Of course, in a country where greed is enshrined in our culture, corruption is legalized in the form of lobbyists and the Supreme Court voted to put for sale signs on our elections, Prometheus’ actions are completely legal — and even applauded in certain circles.

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Why John Doerr is Wrong

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/techcrunch/9727140956

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins believes that the most successful tech entrepreneurs are “white, male, nerds.

“That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen in the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. If you look at [Amazon founder Jeff] Bezos, or [Netscape founder Marc] Andreessen, [Yahoo co-founder] David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life.”

If you dissect it, is an ignorant, short-sighted statement, especially from such a  prominent star in the tech firmament.

Let’s take the words separately in their reverse order to see why.

In the tech world, nerds are typically consumed by the bleeding edge of technology, socially challenged and will doggedly pursue their ideas come Hell or high water.
Of course there are more male nerds. Starting in elementary school, girls are discouraged from STEM, whether it’s Barbie saying, “Math is tough!” to the unconscious bias that permeates our classrooms and companies.

As to white, nerds actually come in many shapes, sizes, genders, colors, faiths and from across the socio-economic spectrum. but anyone who follows the current state of tech culture shouldn’t be surprised.

The real reason that that white, male nerds are successful is that they get funded.

They get funded because they are connected — by family, friends, school friends, ex colleagues, etc. — which means they get into the right accelerators (just as Harvard and Stanford are the right schools) or are personally introduced to investors.

The end result is that if you take a superficial look at the stats Doerr’s comment seems to be true—but it is not.

Image credit: TechCrunch

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Will Curation and Safe Spaces at College Lead to a Fear of Living?

Monday, April 13th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stella12/14556898073

Earlier this month I shared a conversation with a founder who believes he can lead only one type of person.

It wasn’t that surprising, because the more things are curated the more we hear from and cleave to people like ourselves.

There’s no question that curation reinforces opinions, while eliminating conflicting ones, narrows people beyond from where they started and acts like fertilizer to unconscious bias and outright bigotry.

But isn’t college supposed to help change that by exposing students to people with different beliefs, experiences, attitudes, etc.?

Several years ago a couple of startups gave the college-bound a way to curate their roommates, so they could be sure not to be exposed to ideas, attitudes or upbringing not in sync with their current thinking.

Mangers have been doing this for decades by thoughtlessly hiring people like themselves, so they can stay within their personal comfort zones.

Now college students are taking the concept much further with the demand for “safe spaces.”

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material. (…)

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School commented, “Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity,” But “if college students are children, then they should be protected like children.”

This need for safety and zero-level tolerance for discord makes me wonder what will happen to the current college generations when they venture into the workplace, let alone the rest of the real world.

Image credit: Deb Nystrom

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Ducks in a Row: Are You Privileged?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fireflythegreat/6132347883

If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.

When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.

“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”

I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.

Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.

Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.

Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.

And therein lies the true problem.

Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.

Image credit: Dagny Mol

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Diversity, Silos and Trolls

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rotron/3655734558

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jm3/519148031

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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