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Ducks in a Row: It’s NOT The Pipeline

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/billjacobus1/467939137/

There’s a standard response to why there aren’t more women CEOs: a lack of talent in the pipeline.

This is the same excuse used to explain the lack of women/minorities in tech or any profession, for that matter.

Typically, the response comes from white guys — mostly those from middle, upper-middle, and privileged backgrounds.

It’s the pipeline.

For years I thought it was a pipeline question,” said Julie Daum, who has led efforts to recruit women for corporate boards at Spencer Stuart. “But it’s not — I’ve been watching the pipeline for 25 years. There is real bias, and without the ability to shine a light on it and really measure it, I don’t think anything’s going to change.

Conscious, intentional bias is bad enough, but girls also have to contend with an unconsciously biased society and a dearth of powerful role models.

Women rarely consider themselves experts, unlike men, who will claim expertise on any subject, no matter how ridiculous.

A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.

Ellen Kullman, the former chief executive of DuPont sums up a large piece of the problem.

“We are never taught to fight for ourselves.”

Back in 2015, the brand Always showed an ad during Super Bowl that focused on what a putdown the phrase “like a girl” actually is.

A young boy’s response when asked if “like a girl” insulted his sister is telling.

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

What does the phrase sound like to a young girl?

It sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.

Britain, for one, is fighting back.

The UK’s advertising industry regulator has announced that portrayals of little girls aspiring to be, say, a ballerina while boys hope to be, for instance, a scientist or doctor will be banned from the country’s ads. Many of these air during kids’ programs and target teens through social media.

And if you think this example is extreme it is actually drawn from this Aptamil baby formula ad.

Can bias actually be addressed beyond training and conversation?

Join me tomorrow for a look at how a corporate sexist poster child became a lodestar for gender equity.

Image credit: Bill Jacobus

Privilege, Bootstraps, And Reality

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlehuw/9410579316/

Yesterday we looked at the hypocritical nature of Walmart’s culture, but perhaps it’s a reflection of what’s happening across the US, as opposed to an attitude unique to Walmart.

In the last half century, economic, political and social changes have altered not only the makeup of the workforce, but also what it takes to get a job and support oneself, let alone a family. 

Public policy does little to mitigate what’s happening, and much of enterprise is retreating.

“You end up with this perfect storm where workplace and public policies are mismatched to what the workforce and families need,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the non-partisan National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF). (…) Overall progress for workers has been slow, because the country is attached to an “ideal myth of America.” One where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps [emphasis mine].

Assuming bootstraps were once real, do they still exist?

Of course, there is no doubt that privilege is real — no matter how often and how much people deny it.

We all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it’s straight privilege, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we’ve gotten. Humans are prone to credit our successes to our own ingenuity, true or not. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked randomly selected subjects to play Monopoly. But the game was rigged. The winner of a coin toss got twice the starting cash and higher bonuses for passing Go.

Not surprisingly the advantaged players won. But as they prospered, their behavior changed. They moved their pieces more loudly than their opponents, reveled in triumphs and even took more snacks. Some, when asked about their win, talked about how their strategy helped them succeed. They began to think they earned their success, even though they knew the game was set up in their favor [emphasis mine].

Bootstraps depend on who you are.

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class was published in 1899 and in it he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” — no definition required.

Although you still find that in the 1%, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a sociologist, has a new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class — a new term that better represents the far-reaching consequences of what’s happening today.

Who is the aspirational class?

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth [emphasis mine], and to practice yoga and Pilates.

These kids grow up with better health, better education, more enrichment, a solid belief of their place in life.

No matter how liberal their parents’ politics, they consider the world they inhabit the norm.

Few consider it privileged — after all, their parents aren’t actually rich.

Most of these kids are white.

And so the cycle continues.

(Thanks to KG for sending me the first article.)

Image credit: Huw

If the Shoe Fits: Mike Rothenberg

Friday, September 16th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the beginning the story of Mike Rothenberg, founder of Rothenberg Ventures, is the story of just how far a privileged background and pure chutzpah can take a 28 year-old.

“What if you could combine the service-model approach of Andreessen Horowitz, and the founder-first community building offline and online approach of First Round Capital, with the processing power and reach of Silicon Valley Angels, and the discretion of Floodgate and the judgment of Sequoia? No one else can make the claim that they are even building those pieces. That’s what we’re doing.”

But a lousy manager according to his people.

…a demanding boss who needed to sign off on all decisions including investments, yet rarely made himself available to do so.

Four years later it’s the story of how fast a privileged background, super-size chutzpah, plenty of swagger, negligent management skills and questionable actions can bring you down.

And the very gifts that enabled Rothenberg to start his fund and carve out a name for himself in the crowded valley venture scene — his youth, his Stanford and Harvard degrees, and his dense social network and splashy events — may have set the course for his fiasco.

Read the story.

Look in the mirror.

Review your track record and actions.

Eradicate any similarities.

Hat tip to Anand Sanwal for pointing me to this story.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

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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