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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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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


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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