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Ducks In A Row: Sisterhood? Not Hardly

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/68397968@N07/14202695055

An interesting article from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant shows exactly what woman in the workplace face and the thin line they walk when they speak up.

We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more. (…) Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.

The critical words are, “both men and women punished them;” again, not a surprise.

The findings in the article aren’t new or even that surprising (here are two more from 2008 and 2009); I heard similar comments more than 30 years ago.

It gives the lie to the myth of sisterhood.

I never believed in the whole sisterhood thing — the idea that women supported each other.

I got support and encouragement from the men in my work world — it sure didn’t come from the women.

That’s not to say that women don’t form solid relationships and support each other, of course they do, but they aren’t based on an accident of nature, i.e., plumbing.

They’re based on common interests and ongoing discovery.

So while ‘sisterhood’ has worked for some, it’s dangerous to assume it works for all or all the time.

Image credit: MattysFlicks

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Ducks in a Row: Intel, $300M And Diversity

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/13476023723/Dozens of ugly stories in 2014 threw a spotlight on the lack of gender and color diversity and the prevalence of bigoted and frat house/misogynistic cultures in tech.

Individuals and companies are speaking out vowing to change things — talking, talking, talking.

Intel, however, isn’t talking; it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

Intel said it has established a $300 million fund to be used in the next three years to improve the diversity of the company’s work force [goal of 14%], attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.

The big difference between what Intel is doing and the rest of tech is not just focusing on STEM training and recruitment, but on changing the workplace so that those who join tech will stay in tech instead of being driven out by the current culture.

Changing culture is difficult within a company, let alone within an entire industry.

Google is already working on it, while most companies are suggesting/funding issues that are external, such as education.

Hopefully, the clout and funds that Intel is bringing to the table will makes a difference.

Image credit: Intel Free Press

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A Ray of Hope

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rich8n/6083030243

Trolls are the bane of the internet and harassing, insulting and degrading women is a prime focus.

This is especially true on Reddit, with extra attention paid to AMA sessions, such as the one held earlier this month.

…to cap off Computer Science Education Week, three women computer scientists from MIT did a Reddit ask-me-anything session to answer questions about programming and academia.

The discussion was flowing until—yup. You guessed it.

But because this is the internet, a few trolls showed up, too, asking bizarre and rude sexist questions, some involving parts of the human body. A PR person from MIT forwarded the links to us [Business Insider], asking us to expose these trolls.

To everyone’s amazement, instead of leaving it to the crowd to vote the yucky comments down, Reddit stepped in.

But Reddit aims for these AMAs to be respectful. Reddit’s policy is that it will remove comments that are “abusive or harassing” as well as “comments where there would be no possibility of a real answer, especially where it is deliberately creepy or offensive.”

Reddit exemplifies the anything goes/no censorship/trust the crowd to police itself internet.

One has to wonder if this is a sign that people have had enough, that anonymous hate and bullying are finally falling out of favor — at least a little bit.

Image credit: Rich Aten

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If the Shoe Fits: Diversity vs. the Rules of Tech

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the course of today’s culture I am a virtual nobody. Aside from this blog, LinkedIn profile and a few comments here and there over the years I have no visibility.

This was pointed out to me in an irate email that asked who I thought I was to belittle the wonderful world of tech on non-issues like diversity.

Actually, I was surprised at both the lack of four-letter words and that writer didn’t blast me publicly. When I complimented the former and inquired about the latter I was told that “Ryan” assumed I wouldn’t see anything done in social media (true), so he decided to write directly.

The following is specifically for Ryan and those who agree with him, as well as those who find these posts enlightening. And a shoutout to KG Charles-Harris, who sent me the link.

Leslie Miley wrote a post at Model View Culture called The Top 10 (%) Tech Rules, but could as easily have been “why nothing changes” or “a self-propagating culture.”

Hopefully Ryan and friends will accept Miley’s comments as valid, since his credentials are above reproach.

Working as an engineer at Google, Apple, and Twitter has afforded me a view of the hiring process that for years has produced a homogenous culture: mostly male, and significantly white and Asian.

The Silicon Valley hiring process has been homogenized to the point that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy—as entrenched as the “old, white guy” culture in the east.

I don’t believe much will change in my lifetime and maybe not in yours or your kids.

As Miley points out, habits are hard to break and breaking this systemic habit will make quitting smoking look like a stroll on the beach.

I am not optimistic about the future of diversity in tech. I see too many of my co-workers ask what university before they ask what applicants have accomplished. I see bias in the CS questions culled from the top universities, and preference given to candidates from the top companies, referred by their peers. The system now serves itself. And that will be the hardest habit to break.

That said, it could change.

How?

Read Miley’s post carefully and then stop doing what it talks about. In other words, be your own person and stop being an organization person.

Talk about it and, whenever possible, call out those you see abiding by the system.

Then share it over and over until it goes viral.

It’s a start.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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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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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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The Destruction of American Workers

Monday, October 20th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dpurdy/2954271099What’s going on?

Why is there such a disconnect between management and minimum wage workers?

A disconnect that goes beyond all logic.

A disconnect that treats low wage workers more like serfs.

Two weeks ago it was Walmart’s efforts to enforce a dress code at their employees’ expense.

Now it’s companies such as Jimmy John’s sub shops requiring minimum wage workers to sign noncompete agreements.

But who knows, perhaps there is a proprietary trick to spreading mayo that I’m not aware of.

California outlawed most non-compete clauses on the basis that people have a right to earn a living.

And then there is the sexual harassment of low wage women workers.

The study showed that women reliant on tips made up the highest share of those who had experienced harassment and that those who lived in states where the tipped minimum wage was $2.13 an hour (the federal minimum for tipped workers) were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as those who lived in places where a single minimum wage standard applied to all workers.

Whether large corporation or small business, it seems that those in the upper levels, who are financially secure, place little-to-no value on those who actually keep their company running.

And as for morality, well, that comes down to whether more employers decide that basic human decency requires viewing their workers not as interchangeable cogs to be paid as little as possible and worked to the bone but as valuable partners in building a company for the long term.

Centuries ago, when describing the actions of leaders, Lao Tzu ended by saying,

To lead the people, walk behind them.

Today it reads,

To lead the people, walk upon them.

Flickr image credit: Derek Purdy

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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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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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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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