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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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Ducks in a Row: Gossip as Sexual Harassment

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


As the women on Whisper say, and American Apparel’s Dov Charney proves, sexual harassment is alive and flourishing.

I mention that in case you are from off-planet.

But sexual harassment comes in another package; one that’s strictly hands-off.

It’s called gossip.

Because gossip usually revolves around looks, shape, weight and body characteristics, along with who someone is seeing and what they are doing.

Discussion of any of these subjects in the workplace will create a hostile environment.

Hostile environments lower worker focus, engagement and productivity.

Which many bosses don’t seem too concerned about, since they are often active/passive gossip participants.

They would care more if they had the ability to understand cause and effect, which seems to be a disappearing brain function (but that’s another post).

So in the name of better workplaces I’ll spell it out in easily understandable terms.

Gossip contributes to hostile, as well as just plain crappy, work environments.

Bosses who participate, facilitate or benignly neglect gossip will see the effect in employee turnover.

They will feel the effect in their own lowered compensation.

And they definitely deserve both.

Flickr image credit: John Haslam 

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Entrepreneurs: Does Investor Homogeny Reduce Success?

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014


Spending time with entrepreneurs is always enlightening.

I was at lunch with a group of them when talk turned to the current “media bashing,” as one person called it, tech was getting over the lack of diversity.

“Jason” said focus was critical in a startup and it was achieved best when the founders hired their friends and friends of friends.

He went on to say that while he understood the importance of diversity in a large company, focus was rarely a byproduct of diversity.

I asked if he considered focus to be as important for investors.

He said of course and went on (and on) explaining why it was even more important with investors, since they usually comprise the startup’s board.

Most hung on his words, since Jason was the big name that day (personally, I found him arrogant and patronizing).

I asked Jason if he would be surprised that research showed the greater the similarities between investors the less likely the success of their portfolio companies—success being an IPO.

They found that the probability of success decreased by 17 percent if two co-investors had previously worked at the same company—even if they hadn’t worked there at the same time. In cases where investors had attended the same undergraduate school, the success rate dropped by 19 percent. And, overall, investors who were members of the same ethnic minority were 20 percent less successful than investors with different ethnic backgrounds.

Conversation more or less died after I shared the URL with them.

They were too busy reading and then we were out of time.

Flickr image credit: Steve Voght

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It’s the Culture, Stupid

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014


There is a great deal of handwringing from business leaders, tech moguls, politicians and various pundits on the lack of women programmers and the dire consequences as a result.

As a result, along with their own atrocious diversity showing, Google just announced they will offer vouchers to women and minorities who want to learn to code.

Gregg Pollack, CEO of the Code School, Google is paying for three free months for any women and minorities interested in tech to expand their skills.

But knowing how doesn’t translate into wanting to do something.

And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of techie women, whether from startups, large enterprise or corporate IT, who have changed careers.


Simple. People get tired of going where they aren’t wanted.

There’s been a great deal of media ink recently documenting just how uninviting the tech culture is to women.

But if you aren’t up on the subject read the story of why the female co-founder of Tinder is suing for extreme sexual harassment (with plenty of proof).

At one point, at a company party, Mateen [Wolfe’s boss, hired after her] allegedly called Wolfe [Tinder co-founder] a “gold digger,” a “disease” and “disgusting”—in front of other people, including Sean Rad [Tinder CEO]. When Wolfe headed for the exit, a guest of Rad’s went after her and spit in her face. (…)

Mateen stripped Wolfe of her co-founder status, arguing that “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders, it just makes it look like Tinder was some accident.” The company had already been absenting Wolfe from the co-founder team when they spoke with traditional business publications like Forbes.

Read the article and the next time you hear “girls don’t like math/computers” mention that they may not like the atmosphere in which they would be forced to work.

And, cynical as it may sound, it’s not going to change any time soon.

After all, the worst examples are being inflicted by (supposedly) more enlightened Millennials as opposed to their big brothers.

Although the big brothers are nothing to write home about, as witnessed by 45 year-old Dov Charney’s actions that got him fired.

While it wasn’t his reprehensible actions, which have been ongoing for years, but rather that American Apparel’s financial performance is down.

If performance wasn’t down Charney would probably still be CEO and those same actions would be considered “eccentric,” instead of inexcusable.

Flickr image credit: jseliger2


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Entrepreneurs: Are Investors Watering Down Innovation?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3514537597/Innovation isn’t nearly as mind-boggling today when compared to what startups were doing in the late Seventies/early Eighties when I started working with them.

That’s not surprising when you consider who gets funded these days.

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.

Not surprising when you consider the attitude of Valley stalwarts like Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who publically stated that he would be unlikely to fund someone with a strong accent or a woman.

It’s been 15 years since I first wrote about the proclivity of managers to hire people like themselves and more over the years showing it leads to homophily and the negative impact that has on a company.

It seems it’s no different for investors.

They are funding people like themselves who were raised, educated and worked along paths similar to their own who they either know or are introduced to them by a friend.

“Like a lot of the investments [Instacart] that have come our way, a friend of a friend talked to us about it, and told us about it, and encouraged the founder and the CEO to come and chat with us. One thing led to another.” –Sequoia partner Mike Moritz

When you fund from a homogenous group, no matter where they are, creativity and innovation are watered down, because those groups tend to be insular and badly interbred talking mostly to each other.

If you’re fishing from a pond of rich white guys, you’re only going to get ideas that address the needs of rich white guys.

AKA, people like themselves.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

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If the Shoe Fits: Women on Your Board

Friday, June 6th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you have or are you planning to put a woman on your board as you grow?

If you are like most of tech and many other companies you aren’t/won’t.

What if it wasn’t about diversity, but about money?

What if having a woman would actually increase your ROI and valuation?

Most boards—public or private, tech or not—fit perfectly into the description offered by one governance expert: “male, pale and stale.”

The last thing most tech people consider themselves is stale, but when it comes to what women want in a product/service or how to engage them they usually come up short.

Doctors and pharmaceutical companies learned the hard way that drugs act differently in men and women.

The automobile and many other industries have traveled a slow and painful road to understanding how and why women buy their product, as well as what they want.

But can just one female board member make that much difference?

One recent report from Credit Suisse analyzed 2,360 companies around the world over the six years ended in December 2011. It found that companies with one or more women on their boards generated higher average share prices and better returns on equity during that period than companies with no women as directors.

As a startup your board is small and usually made up of investors, but that doesn’t stop you from having women on your advisory board, executive team and in senior positions.

Just please don’t use the tired old excuse of “no qualified women available.”

It isn’t true, but it certainly drives home your “stale” mindset.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Will It Ever Change?

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3031253/visualized/visualizing-googles-workforce-diversity-with-a-google-doodle#4Google is the first tech company to publically share its gender/ethnic breakdown and it’s as bad as expected.

BI, Google and the rest of the tech industry love to blame the lack of gender/ethnic diversity on the lack of available candidates.

Although there is a noticeable rise in “bro culture” when it comes to the tech industry, some of the blame lands on who is actually applying for the jobs. Around 30,000 students took the AP computer science exam, and only around 20% were female, according to the analysis, 3% were black, and just 8% were Hispanic, for example.

On the surface, the dearth qualified black candidates is a plausible explanation, until you consider that nearly double the number of black CS/engineering graduates are unemployed.

In fact, the center’s study found that even black students who majored in high-demand fields such as engineering fare only slightly better than those who spent their college years earning liberal arts degrees. Between 2010 and 2012, 10 percent of black college graduates with engineering degrees and 11 percent of those with math and computer-related degrees were unemployed, compared with 6 percent of all engineering graduates and 7 percent of all those who focused their studies on math and computers.

As for the lack of women programmers, girls are intimidated out of STEM classes and the horror stories of women in tech are enough to discourage many women from wanting to work in the industry—especially in startups and younger companies with their frat boy cultures.

We’ve been harassed on mailing lists and called “wh***/c***’ without any action being taken against aggressors. We get asked about our relationships at interviews, and we each have tales of being groped at public events. We’ve been put in the uncomfortable situation of having men attempt to turn business meetings into dates.

Over the years the pundits claimed that attitudes would change as older generations aged out and bosses were replaced by younger ones that grew up in a more diverse, tolerant and inclusive world.

I started hearing that 50 years ago and am still waiting.

But I’m not holding my breath; there is a quantum difference between political correctness and authenticity.


The June Leadership Development Carnival is hosted by Tanmay Vora of QAspire. I hope you enjoy the very excellent posts included there.

Image credit: Fast Company

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If the Shoe Fits: NIMBY Mindset Kills Meritocracy

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIf you don’t believe that there is a gender gap in the startup world’s so-called meritocracy entrepreneur Roger Huang begs to differ.

The internet is being shaped by males to be comfortable for other males. For those of us fighting for an open, and inclusive Web, this is something that should change, and it’ll certainly take more than a new application.

Huang’s post is worth reading because it is well annotated with links to the research and articles for the stats he cites.

I’ve written about it, too, and have come to the conclusion after years of listening to bosses that there is an unacknowledged underlying problem.

Most tech people recognize the problem, but don’t see the NIMBY side of it.

NIMBY means ‘not in my backyard’, meaning fix the problem without affecting me, e.g., create low income housing, but don’t put the housing in my neighborhood.

Backyards can refer to company and mindset.

That makes it pretty simple; if all bosses cleaned up their own backyard there wouldn’t be a problem.

So while problems in other people’s yards and on the wider stage loom large, a NIMBY mindset shows their own backyard as weed-free and thriving.

Flickr image credit: Jason White

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Ducks in a Row: When Will It Change?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014


The recent conversation I had with a group of managers was both eye-opening and depressing.

The managers were from a variety of companies, from startups to enterprise, most at mid-to-senior level.

They ranged from late twenties through fifties and, although not intentional, all were white.

The subject was diversity/inclusiveness.

Without exception, they claimed that their organization really was a meritocracy and that the media stories of gender/racial prejudice, especially in tech, were overblown or untrue.

Several commented that there was no real research that proved bias.

I pointed out a recent rigorous study that showed that the prejudice started long before careers.

Our analyses, which we reported recently in a second paper, revealed that the response rates did indeed depend on students’ race and gender identity.

I almost laughed when several held the tech startup world up as an example of how meritocracy worked, since nothing could be further from the truth.

The sad part is that they are good managers whose organizations are meritorious—at least in comparison to most.

I’m not sure if it’s naiveté, ignorance, wishful thinking or secret agreement, but when the people doing it right assume everyone else is, too, nothing will change.

Flickr image credit: Geordie Hagan

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Ducks in a Row: Ageism in Tech (a Video)

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago KG wrote about ageism and attitude and I followed up by considering an often ignored basic fact about age and change.

However, what I realized is that we had never shared the primary article detailing the situation.

But that’s OK, because it’s been turned into visualization for those of you who would rather watch than read.

 Credit: Jonathan Ezer

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