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

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/10190186943/

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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Ducks in a Row: the Problem with Change

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anemoneprojectors/5620251974

After 40 years the architectural profession isn’t any more open to women than it was.

In 1974, Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote that it was “appalling” that the institute’s national membership consisted of 24,000 men and 300 women.

Although women now account for half of all graduates of American architecture schools, they represent only 20 percent of licensed practitioners and an even lower proportion of partners in firms…

It took pressure from Millennial men in search of better work-life balance to force some law firms to effect change, in spite of the fact that losing a second-year associate costs $200,000 – $500,000 and nearly 50% of women lawyers quit.

Paying for women to freeze their eggs is the latest perk being offered, including by Apple and Facebook.

Many in tech believe that organizations such as Girls that Code and mentoring groups like WEST will change the dismal gender diversity numbers.

Facebook, Box and Pinterest announced on Wednesday that they have gotten together to launch a new mentorship program called WEST (Women Entering and Staying in Tech). The idea is to get more women interested in computer science, and to help them be prepared for the tech jobs of the future.

Google is ahead of the pack by taking a different approach and addressing unconscious bias.

Will any of these initiatives work long-term?

Doubtful.

Because, other than Google, none address the need for cultural change.

Changing culture is hard and it needs to start from the top, which means that leadership must change its MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

But considering the example set by the architectural profession I’m not holding my breath.

Flickr image credit: Peter aka anemoneprojectors

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Entrepreneurs: It Started with Ada

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace

I do love learning new bits, especially the kind you can toss out when someone says something stupid and shut them down cold.

I was working by Skype with a friend; she was at a cafe in the Valley and there was a group of braggy programmers who could have been poster boys for the “bro culture.”

At another table were 3 young women quietly discussing a problem one was having tracking down a bug.

When the guys realized that the woman were also programmers they started talking loudly about how women couldn’t program because they aren’t smart enough, blah, blah.

My friend shared what was going on and I quickly shared a link to an article I read last week.

It talked about women who were instrumental in the math world, but whose names were quickly erased from tech history.

My friend was in a slow burn listening to the guys, so she interrupted them and asked if they were aware that it was a woman mathematician, a Countess no less, who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence.

One guy said that was bull poop, so she suggested he Google Ada Lovelace.

And when he was done with that he should check out Jean Jennings and Betty Snyder, who were two of the original programmers of Eniac, the first general-use computer built and used during WWII.

In an interview, Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs authorized biographer, said

“If it wasn’t for Ada Lovelace, there’s a chance that none of this would even exist,” Mr. Isaacson added as he waved his hand in the air, gesturing as if to encompass all of Silicon Valley and the techies sitting around us.

The guys had gotten very quiet as they read the results of their search and left soon after.

The women left also after thanking my friend for her intervention.

Hopefully, the next time the women are being disparaged they will invoke the name of Ada Lovelace and share the story with their friends.

I love it.

Algorithms and AI—both from the brain of a woman.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Entrepreneurs: Deleting the Rose-colored Glasses

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualsugar/357908606

Entrepreneurs come in all forms, but most aren’t from the golden circle—right race, right gender, right families, right schools, right friends—although that’s who the media tends to focus on.

I don’t know what the actual breakdown is, but for convenience I’ll call it 10% golden circle and 90% the rest (probably not far off).

While the 90% are just as creative and talented as the 10% they usually have a very different entrepreneurial experience.

One that is far more difficult and fraught and, as a result, more often fails and with more catastrophic repercussions.

An article in The Economist takes an unbiased look at entrepreneurship in terms of the effort and cost, not just in money, but in physical and mental health, sans the magic of the golden circle.

I’ve known entrepreneurs from both groups and although the words used to describe the experience are similar the actuality is not.

It is one thing to work 80 hour weeks in a well-resourced environment with similarly-minded people and another to spend those 80 hours alone, using a café internet connection, living on ramen and peanut butter, with no support network or cheering section rooting for you.

Yes, people from the 90% succeed and some of the 10% fail.

The importance of the article is to debunk the stupid, inaccurate romanticism with which popular culture has imbued and colored the startup world and those who dwell there.

Flickr image credit: John Martinez Pavliga

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Ducks in a Row: Google and Bias

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/12139780184

Just as people are hard wired to respond to attractiveness they harbor other biases.

And just as the bias for attractiveness is anthropological, not biological, so are other biases.

Biases are fueled by assumptions, which are rarely logical—or conscious.

Google, along with most of tech, is rife with biases—both pro and con.

The idea of unconscious bias came to the attention of Google HR boss Laszlo Bock via a story in the New York Times about the biases among American university science professors regarding the difference in competency between female and male students (the women were ranked as less competent).

Unconscious bias, the sometimes useful tendency to make snap judgments (that subway car is empty for a reason), guides us into unexamined bigotry (she’s a woman, not a leader). 

Google being Google they approached the situation using a combination of education—not just for executives and managers, but for everybody

plus four specific steps to identify and deal with unconscious bias;

  • Gather facts.
  • Create a structure for making decisions.
  • Be mindful of subtle cues.
  • Foster awareness. Hold yourself — and your colleagues — accountable.

Google’s efforts are driven by competitiveness, as opposed to political correctness.

“If we have an employee base that reflects our user base, we are going to better understand the needs of people all over the world,” said Brian Welle, the researcher in charge of Google’s diversity training workshops. “Having people with a different worldview and different ways of solving problems gives you the raw materials to be more innovative and to be able to solve problems that nobody has asked before.”

Flickr credit: Don Graham | YouTube credit: Life at Google

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Ducks in a Row: Cognizant of Cultures

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/foxypar4/2168375264

Erin Meyer is the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business and teach cross-cultural management at the international business school Insead, in Paris.

His article explaining how he learned to identify seminar participants with questions by looking for “bright eyes” is something every manager should read—whether or not they are managing an international team.

Why? Because different cultures are more than a function of Japanese vs. Russian vs. British.

Just as culture differs from country to country it differs by areas within each country.

In the US it’s beyond the difference between Massachusetts and Texas or Nevada and Colorado.

The cultural differences between Northern and Southern California are considerable, as are the differences between New York City and Rochester.

Cultural differences can be even finer; think of the differences between the various Burroughs in NYC starting with attitude all the way to language and almost everything in-between.

Beyond that different cultures can exist next door to each other, passed on through families, friends and social media.

Some cultural differences are obvious, while others are extremely subtle.

But they all have one thing in common.

To succeed, a boss needs to recognize the obvious, tease out the subtle and address them all.

Flickr image credit: John Haslam

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Comeuppance

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cheezepix/4933836639Tech currently has a high profile for arrogance, not to mention chauvinism and bigotry, with Google, Apple and Facebook are its most public whipping boys.

However, their comeuppance came with the intense media focus that will likely force them to at least put some effort into cleaning up their respective acts.

Not like their psychological brethren on Wall Street.

And while tech has a modicum of excuse that stems from age—its frat house culture has gotten worse as entrepreneurs have gotten younger—proven by the numbers, i.e., more women entered tech in the 1980s than do today—Wall Street has none.

The investment banking world has always been a bastion of white, male elitists; and hardcore harassment—an old boys group that didn’t give a damn what anybody thought.

Arrogance has been synonymous with investment bankers for decades, so seeing it kicked in the teeth by upstart tech arrogance was exhilarating.

Google’s Larry Page created his own acquisition yard stick,

The toothbrush test: Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better? …The esoteric criterion shuns traditional measures of valuing a company like earnings, discounted cash flow or even sales.

Page, for example, is looking for “usefulness above profitability, and long-term potential over near-term financial gain.”

Potential and usefulness are esoteric concepts to most bankers and “long-term” isn’t even in their vocabulary.

Bankers are fine with the hard stuff revolving around money, but are often useless on human side.

But often, when big tech companies are looking to grow through acquisitions, it is the culture and vision, not the earnings and revenue, that are of paramount importance.

Of course, investment banks need to lose a lot for it to really start mattering, but it looks like they are.

The acquiring company did not use an investment bank in 69 percent of American technology acquisitions worth more than $100 million this year, according to Dealogic.

All I can say is that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of guys—their comeuppance was a long time coming and it’s hitting the only place they might notice—their bank balance.

Flickr image credit: Chris Hartman

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If the Shoe Fits: Seeing the Forrest, but not the Trees

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mSince Spring the media has been sharing stories and statistics about the rampant sexism, ageism and general bigotry in tech, its self-proclaimed “meritocracy” and the amazing male hyperopia (farsightedness) that seems almost incapable of recognizing bigotry in themselves or those close to them.

Y Combinator President Sam Altman and founder Paul Graham are a good example.

Last month Altman posted the importance of eliminating the gender bias in tech and Silicon Valley in particular, and that people need to stop pretending.

“One of the most insidious things happening in the debate is people claiming versions of ‘other industries may have problems with sexism, but our industry doesn’t.’”

He cited Y Combinator’s track record of accepting women founders into the incubator as proof that it isn’t sexist.

He did not, however, explain Graham’s statements in May that he doesn’t fund founders with strong accents or women who have/want kids.

Altman thinks HR can be a solution.

“Our sense is that many will benefit by doing it [human resources infrastructure] earlier. Traditionally, startups have thought of HR as a drag on moving fast and openness, but a well-running team is one of the best assets a company can ever have.”

However, the dozens of women who work for established companies with plenty of human resource infrastructure and have shared horrific stories on platforms from Whisper to Fortune are proof that rules don’t work.

The real solution in any company, from startup to Fortune 50 is a founder/CEO who backs a culture that is blind to gender, age and color and, most importantly, walks the talk, both professionally and personally.

This puts you, as a founder, in a position to truly change the working world.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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The More Things Change…

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/11347987415The more they stay the some.

Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Both of these go a long way to explaining the unchanging culture that fosters gender harassment in the workplace, most prominently in STEM fields.

…666 responses, three quarters of them from women, from 32 disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, biology and geology. Almost two-thirds of the respondents said they had been sexually harassed in the field. More than 20 percent reported being sexually assaulted. Students or postdoctoral scholars, and women were most likely to report being victimized by superiors.

Does a woman or minority in a leadership role actually have more ability to help level the playing field? Not hardly…

…when minorities and women behave in a way that calls attention to their race or gender characteristics — i.e. by advancing others like them — it separates them from other white male leaders, causing them to be devalued by their peers.

Schmoozing and small talk are considered lubricant in business negotiations, but they don’t work for women.

Men who engaged in small talk were likely to get positive ratings on questions about trust, overall impressions and solid foundations for a future relationship, (…)  When it came down to final offers, they were willing to give the men who chit-chatted nearly 8% more than they offered women who engaged in small talk.

Ben Horowitz, of Andreessen Horowitz, has a new book about startups and the Valley called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. There are exactly four women mentioned in the book and one is his wife.

In the first 90 percent of the book, I counted three females: a human resource staffer, a woman whose husband ran NetLabs, and Horowitz’s wife Felicia, a woman with “award-winning green eyes” whose focus seems to be family and her husband’s success. He doesn’t present a real-life female peer until four pages from the end, when he hires Margit Wennmachers, a marketing guru-turned-venture capitalist whom he dubs “the Babe Ruth of PR” and “Sultan of Swat.”

There are many anecdotal stories from women founders on the varied ways they are hit upon by potential investors, but this one in Forbes is first person sourced.

I met the author several months ago and was floored by the stories she had to tell about her dealings with mostly male investors. Like many men (as she writes), I knew women in tech faced a certain degree of chauvinism and harassment, but I’d had no idea it was so barefaced and routine, in an industry that thinks of itself as egalitarian and forward-looking.

In the real world, however, it seems that traction is the best way to stop investors from hitting on you.

Payal Kadakia, the founder of ClassPass, thinks it’s the fact that her startup has started to gain significant traction and now investors who once had an upper hand actually want a piece of her business. And they don’t want to say or do something that could mess up their chances.

In a 2009 post about repentance I wrote, “Repeating the behavior makes it obvious that there is no real remorse and that you see getting caught as the true offense.”

Or, in the words of Friedich Nietzsche,

“The consequences of our actions take hold of us, quite indifferent to our claim that meanwhile we may have ‘improved’.”

Flickr image credit: Wesley Fryer

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