Narrative: Tech is Not Diverse
Each narrative page (like this) has a page describing and evaluating the narrative, followed by all the posts on the site tagged with that narrative. Scroll down beyond the introduction to see the posts.
Narrative: Tech is Not Diverse (Jan 11, 2017)
Note: this is one of two narratives on the site which could be considered political, but shouldn’t be. As I explain below, this isn’t really a political issue – it’s about trying to ensure that the tech industry employs the best possible people, and that opportunities exist for all those who are qualified.
Written: January 11, 2017
The US tech industry is many things – innovative, disruptive, and fiercely competitive. But it isn’t as diverse as it could be – those employed in the industry tend to be disproportionately male and white, with women and at least some ethnic minorities considerably underrepresented. There’s also another element of diversity which is harder to measure and less talked about, which relates to the coastal and urban orientation of the US tech industry – Silicon Valley and other hubs tend to be characterized by a certain world view which is younger, more urban, and more open/liberal than the US as a whole. This isn’t a political issue per se – the tech industry and the world it serves suffer because of this lack of diversity. The working culture, the products and services produced, and the outlook of tech companies is poorer and narrower than it would be were women and minorities better represented.
The good news is that major tech companies are starting to take the issue seriously and address it. We’ve begun to see diversity reports from some of these companies on a regular basis, and there’s more reporting from the tech press on this issue too. And yet there seem to be systemic issues which prevent the industry from making significant progress here, some of which start long before someone from an underrepresented group applies for a job. The industry is making progress, but it’s slow progress and there are still far too many cultural and structural barriers to women and certain ethnic minorities. This is a problem we’ll be dealing with for years to come.
Apple has announced that its long-standing general counsel, Bruce Sewell, is retiring and will be replaced in the role by Katherine Adams, who joins Apple from a similar role at Honeywell. Normally, the departure of the general counsel at a tech firm wouldn’t be something I’d cover, but this is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, Sewell enjoyed a rather higher profile than most general counsels do over the last couple of years because he was a key figure in Apple’s fight with the FBI, among other things, and of course Apple’s lawsuits against Samsung and more recently Qualcomm have also been fairly high profile. Few corporate lawyers get to implement company strategy quite as directly as Sewell did during his time at Apple, especially with regard to privacy. Adams will obviously take over the Qualcomm case and others Sewell was overseeing along with carrying the mantle of protecting privacy in the context of law enforcement. Secondly, the fact that a woman is replacing a man on Apple’s board means that it now has two out of eleven members who are women. As I noted a month ago, the next tier down of eight executives is evenly split, but until now Angela Ahrendts has been the lone woman on the board. It’s good to see that start to change, and I wonder whether other executives who move on from those senior ranks in the coming years will likewise be replaced by women.
This article dropped on Friday evening as I was logging off for the week, so I’m only getting to it now. But this article was something of a bombshell, detailing not just the scale of harassment, assault, and other misbehavior by men against women in venture capital, but also naming specific names including some who hadn’t been accused previously. There really seems to have been a tipping point in the last few weeks on this topic, where far more women are now willing to speak out about their bad experiences and name their abusers and harassers. That, in turn, has suddenly exposed many man within venture capital and their past bad actions. This was a much needed change, and although the venture capital world and companies like Uber remain single small pockets in which the real state of things is finally being revealed, I can easily see this movement spreading and penetrating much of the rest of the tech industry. Justice Brandeis’ famous quote about sunlight (publicity) being the best disinfectant seems apt here: the more of these cases come to light, the more some of the perpetrators (like Justin Caldbeck and Dave McClure) will be moved out of roles or dumped by their employers altogether. None of this represents an overnight change, but it does feel like things are finally moving in the right direction, and those who have been protected out of a combination of fear on the part of would-be accusers and collusion on the part of colleagues are finally being exposed to some real consequences. There’s clearly a long way still to go, but breaking the wall of silence feels like a big step forward. Increasing diversity still feels like one of the most obvious ways to prevent this issue in future – at many companies, the overwhelming gender dominance of men is clearly a big part of the cultural problem, even though women seem to have protected some of those accused as well, either covering up bad behavior or dealing with it too quietly (as in the case of 500 Startups). Update: on Monday, per Axios, Dave McClure was asked to resign completely from 500 Startups, and did so, a step which should arguably have taken rather sooner.