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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

The Gender Pay Gap

Monday, August 17th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/15297085447/in/photolist-piKyyx-5mSbBG-ckNbaw-ks3yW4-GeqE4-qitLjM-jR1PuL-dmN115-4mfGLf-498nHi-rdc3FQ-4oSfth-7JtFFp-5u4owD-m2GGEf-azMEqC-p9gjCK-p7eaVG-oRMrnm-oRLzSm-oRMsJP-oRKVrT-oRM1fM-ayFh26-p9edMC-5u4oZB-s6Smnz-dRsLkh-daSriS-5u8Nod-bqZ9Hm-8YxYuh-dS3AHb-6hiwHn-CxeWS-jXtiMZ-qVwU4L-Cxf4R-Cxf53-5u4pbp-p9fJBt-oRM29a-oRLX5P-p9gexK-71NWuN-oRLWjS-oRM9Gr-oRM39s-oRM8Eh-8me6QK

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

Temperature Diversity

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lara604/4541116899/

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

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

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

Ducks in a Row: Pinterest’s Creative Harmony

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katdaned/3543936498/

Scott Goodson has worked at Apple, Instagram and Facebook; all hot companies known for their creativity, innovation and cultures.

Goodson recently joined Pinterest and found an enormous difference.

“I found Pinterest to be a very different sort of culture than I’m used to. One of the most unique things is that the company really values interdisciplinary work across the different functional areas of the team. The notion of empathy is deeply understood here. At other companies there’s a bit more of a competitive or even ruthless perspective, so it was really refreshing to see the level of cooperation here.”

He goes on to say,

“There’s definitely a stereotype of a successful startup that it’s often this aggressive, type A place and that’s just not necessarily true. You can have geniuses that are nice or geniuses that are really egotistical. But they’re both geniuses. So, we really want to work with the geniuses that are nice to each other and have a common level of respect.”

What neither Goodson nor the article mention is that Pinterest has a strong team of female designers and engineers.

While the founders are male, the culture they developed is one where women thrive.

It was a revelation to join the team at Pinterest and feel like I was treated like an engineer first, not as a female engineer. In most other places, I felt like people always treated me as a “female engineer,” like I was a novelty. People even called me a unicorn to my face. It was really nice to come here and not have that gender modifier in front of who I am.” –Tracy Chou, Pinterest engineer

Pinterest’s culture fosters creative collaboration and mutual respect because it is the absolute opposite of the typical frat-boy startup culture so common in the Valley.

Flickr image credit: katdaned

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

Ducks in a Row: Attracting Women to STEM? Simple

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kurt-b/4436722759

Considering all the hand-wringing and diverse efforts to attract women to tech, it turns out that it’s relatively simple.

Lina Nilsson is a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and director of innovation at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, noticed a quaint factoid.

…if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.

This held true at dozens of universities, such as D-Lab at MIT, Arizona State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University.

And it’s important to recognize that the primary, or even secondary, intent was not to attract women, but to solve problems.

None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.

The problem, of course, is that most existing companies and current startups are focused on money, while “women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”

Higher purpose vs. greed says it all. 

Image credit: Kurt Bauschardt

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

…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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