Pando

White men to women and minorities in tech: We (still) DGAF

By Sarah Lacy , written on December 7, 2017

From The Gender Wars Desk

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece called “White men to women and minorities in tech: We DGAF.”

I aggregated a couple surveys that showed that most men in tech still blamed “the pipeline”-- something that’s been thoroughly debunked as the cause for a lack of inclusion-- and that only 5% of tech companies felt diversity was a top priority. 75% were unaware of any diversity initiatives in their companies. And 40% of men were sick of the media talking about it. Those last three stats were courtesy of study by LinkedIn.

This week, LinkedIn released the results of year two of this same diversity in tech survey. If you think that a year of it dawning on men just how awful it is to be a woman, just how many creeps with proposition you, grope you at pitch meetings, or worse….just how prevalent these “me too” stories are… precisely how large the tax walking around the world in a woman’s body has been on female founders would impact those numbers, well, you’d be right.

THE NUMBERS GOT WORSE.

As in, white men in tech care even less now.

Only 3% of white male VCs consider diversity at top problem now. That’s right: The number went down after the year that 2017 was. After they watched some of their brethren lose jobs and lose entire funds because of their treatment of women.

Wonder why women and minorities leave the industry? This. All of this right here.

Your Gurbaksh Chahal caught on tape abusing his girlfriend, pleading guilty and getting sentenced to jail and still speaking at a tech conference. Travis Kalanick still controlling Uber’s board despite all that his toxic culture has wrought on his employees, the Valley, and his own users. Your Justin Caldbeck groping and propositioning dozens of women, getting fired for it, still getting a positive recommendation to start his own firm, getting exposed… and then being invited by Duke to teach a course on the dangers of the bro economy.  Robert Scoble getting invited in for a VIP of tour of the new Apple headquarters after multiple women came forward with allegations against him. Women accusing Shervin Pishevar of horrific treatment, and his responding in a Trumpian threat to go after them for attempting to smear his name. After Michael Arrington and Brock Turner poked their heads back into the news and said, “Hey! What about us! Can we have some redemption too?”

And on. And on. And on.

And after a year of woman after woman bravely coming forward with nothing more to gain than her hope that the next woman won’t have to feel a Justin Caldbeckian clammy hand on her thigh or experience a Shervin Pishevar holding a pony in one hand and groping the small of her back in the other hand…. After all of that the message is this: Even fewer of us care about diversity now.

I was doing a Weekend Essay video for LinkedIn about my book in New York a few weeks ago, and they asked me about this survey, sharing the early results with me while I was on camera. You can see and hear my immediate reaction here. It’s something when even the industry’s resident buzzkill is shocked at new lows of morality and empathy.

More from the survey:

  • This year, LinkedIn asked if diversity ranked as one of the top two concerns, and only 13% of investors said yes. Nearly half of all white male investors said diversity was their last concern. This backs up what Pando has been saying for years: When the tech industry says something is “toooo hard!” what they mean is they don’t prioritize it.
  • One white male founder expressly said he placed no priority on diversity saying the following: “Hiring people based on skin color or gender is idiotic. I only want the best working for me. If that means that my organization is all men, fine. If that means my organization is all white women, fine. If that means my organization is all black men, fine. I don’t care as long as they produce and keep their sensitivity at home.” This flies in the face of everything proven about the benefit of diverse organizations, not to mention what’s been proven about unconscious bias. Data and science simply will not reach founders like this.
  • More than 70% of investors and founders said there was “little to no change” in the last year in how people at their companies treat people with regard to harassment and diversity in the last year.
  • More men and women felt the media was dwelling too much on all these horrific stories of abuse, harassment, and sexual assault.
  • 70% of founders still say their companies have no formal programs for addressing greater diversity.
  • Despite not considering this a priority, white men feel great about the future of diversity in the tech industry. As with last year, they predict it will magically get better within the next five to ten years. And as with last year, I’ll say: That has never magically happened on its own in the history of any struggle for equality.
  • Everyone still blames “the pipeline.” (Here’s a refresher on the many reasons this argument is generally considered a red flag and a cop out.)

In last year’s piece I also cited First Round’s Annual State of Startups, and the newest version of that one came out this week too. I should note, for context, I took issue with some of the ways the questions around diversity were asked in this study.

For instance, in a question on what will solve some of the problems around harassment, respondents were only allowed to pick one, as opposed to other questions where they could check all that applied. Few people I know think only more media pressure, or only hiring more women and minorities will change everything. This is a complex, insidious problem woven into the fabric of society, tiny invisible signals we send boys and girls from the earliest ages. It’s simplistic to pretend there’s one silver bullet.

There was also a question that asked when the problem would be solved, and implicitly assumed that we all believe it would be. There was no option of, say, “I don't have any confidence that tech will on its current trajectory." Frankly, the results of the LinkedIn survey point to that as the most likely scenario. Again, this seems to undercut how intractable this problem is, and how few white men in power prioritize solving it.

I objected most to a question on what the cause of such little diversity was. The options to pick between included the (debunked myth of the) pipeline problem and unconscious bias. But actual conscious bias and sexual assault were not on the list of potential answers. That takes a head-in-the-sand kind of unwillingness to look at the news everyday of 2017 and assume none of the bias in tech is intentional. It sends a message that there are no bad actors here. We know that’s not true. Look at the largest company in the ecosystem, FFS. Susan Fowler is on the cover of Time Magazine for bringing Travis Kalanick down. (I brought up all these concerns with First Round when the survey went out, and they were very receptive to my suggestions.)

Those flaws aside, this survey is worth looking at because First Round had nearly double the responses. LinkedIn’s survey is specifically about diversity, so you have to care-- or be incentivized enough-- about the topic to even fill it out. First Round’s is about the broader state of the ecosystem and diversity is just part of what’s asked. Still, there is a familiar disconnect between men and women’s views of the industry, and more than a little white men DGAF in there...

Here are some of the findings this year:

  • 78% of female founders say they’ve been or know someone who has been sexually harassed, compared with 48% of male founders. 70% of female founders say harassment in the industry is still underreported, versus 35% of male founders. The reality: Men are still not remotely aware of what women face raising money and building companies.
  • Men were four times more likely than women to say the media has “overblown” this issue. Wow. 22% of men-- nearly a quarter of those surveyed-- think the handful of VCs who have been accused by name is “overblowing” a systemic problem that has resulted in only 3% of startups having female CEOs. Think about that.
  • Women picked more female VCs, pressure from LPs, and blacklists for investors and tech leaders as the three best ways to solve the problem. Men picked sensitivity training, more media coverage (even though it’s “overblown”?) and more female VCs. The take away: Again, data is ignored by men. More female VCs is one of the only things that’s proven to change how many women get funded. Women, not men, wanted actual repercussions for bad actors. Sensitivity training has proven to have a limited impact, and even cause more damage in some cases. As someone noted on Twitter, women wanted “tactical solutions”; men wanted “optical illusions.”
  • 66% of women said their gender made it more difficult to raise venture capital. At first I was like, “Whoa, who did that other third raise money from?” But then I reflected on my own experience. Because I was already deeply connected in Silicon Valley, I’d have to say, I don’t think my gender hurt my ability to raise capital. For both Pando and Chairman Mom, I was able to raise oversubscribed rounds at good terms. And I have raised money pregnant and with a baby in the room. Studies have backed up that when someone is deeply connected in an ecosystem, unconscious bias has less of an impact because other facts about that person’s competence mixes into that “gut feeling” about an entrepreneur. That biases women who are privileged enough to be connected in an ecosystem, and likely favors older female founders. My guess is that some of that third were in that boat. They were serial entrepreneurs and known quantities.

So, it was already clear that the so-called “data driven” industry of Silicon Valley didn’t care about copious evidence that showed how gender and racially balanced teams perform better. It was already clear there’s a disconnect between what men experience in the industry and what women experience. And now after a year that should have addressed both of those? It’s clear, that white men in tech largely think widespread sexual assault and sexual harassment isn’t a priority to fix either. Versus last year, even more think the media should just shut up about it.

Noted. We’re gonna have to do this on our own, women, minorities, older folks, and everyone else left out of the narrow “gut feeling” of Silicon Valley pattern recognition.