The male leaders of Silicon Valley have done their share of squirming in 2018, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements coming on strong in technology, as they have in the media and entertainment industries.
Bloomberg TV anchor Emily Chang wrote about the ugliness of sexual harassment in tech in a book called Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. As Chang and others have pointed out, women are vastly outnumbered in tech circles, and they have to figure out how to navigate workplace discrimination despite stats showing that diversity — and women, in particular — can make businesses more successful and profitable.
At the Milken Institute’s Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, last week, Chang moderated a panel of women of tech on the topic of moving beyond “Brotopia.” Panelists included Bo Young Lee, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Uber; Erin McPherson, head of content strategy, acquisition, and programming at Verizon; Kara Nortman, partner at Upfront Ventures and founding member of All Raise; Elaine Paul, chief financial officer, strategy, and business development at Hulu; and Melissa Waters, vice president of marketing at Lyft.
I thought it was a remarkable discussion on an important topic in tech. Here’s an edited transcript of the panel, and a link to the video.
Emily Chang: We’re going to talk about going beyond Brotopia and how we do that, but first I think it’s important to talk about what Brotopia is, and how we define it. Erin, I thought we’d start with you. I’ve written 300 pages about it, but I know not everyone has the same definition. What do you think Brotopia is and what are the problems it causes?
Erin McPherson: Brotopia — and I love that term, thank you for coining it — is the strange and magical land where men flock together, generally men who are similar in background, approach, and personality type. It’s grown up in Silicon Valley, a place where the people in power don’t see it. It’s disguised. To me, a big part of Brotopia that’s dangerous is it’s disguised. It’s subtle. It’s not as overt as the back of the bus.
This is an important topic because, when I’ve experienced it, the people who are in Brotopia are well-meaning, often. They think they’re rewarding the best performance. We’re color-blind. We’re gender-blind. But they’re not, because the lines of Brotopia run really deep. It’s important that we name it, claim it, and figure out how to move beyond it.
Chang: Kara, you see companies big and small at the earliest stages. I’m curious what you think the problem really is. When you see companies starting off really excited to change the world, how do they maybe get off track?
Kara Nortman: It’s this word, this term, cognitive bias, that’s taken on a new life. Cognitive bias is a natural thing. It’s almost Darwinian. We spend time with people like us so they won’t eat us. It’s just natural, when you start something, or before you know you even have something, because most startups fail, you’re going to tend toward people who you have chemistry with, who you’re like. They’re more likely to look like you and act like you.
You have to make a real, overt effort to break that. All the data in Emily’s book — it lays out amazing examples of not only how to do this, but why to do this. If you look at the example of Slack, they talk about how from the very beginning, they built a diverse recruiting team. Age, ethnicity, gender. If, from the very beginning, you make this a priority — by the way, I have this conversation with my all-female companies as well — it’s much easier to build from there.
It’s not that people have bad intentions when they’re doing this with their fraternity brothers. It’s just the easier path. The hard path is to be thoughtful about how to build in different thinkers from the beginning.
Chang: Bo, you joined Uber a month ago with a very cool job, chief diversity and inclusion officer. Obviously Uber’s problems over the last year have been well-documented. Why did you take the job?
Bo Young Lee: Me personally, the reason why I took the job is I want to make things better. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 18 years in the diversity and inclusion space. I’ve been in my last role for about five years, and I really turned around an organization that was 140 years old. We moved them from being a company that could have walked out of the 1970s to an actual modern company. This was Marsh.
People said, “Now that you’ve turned the company around, you can just sail the ship forward.” I could, but I could also take on one of the biggest challenges out there. The opportunity for me was too big. When Uber first called me I actually had a five-month-old baby at the time, and now she’s 10 months old. Everyone asked me if I was insane, and maybe so. But really, it’s been a pleasant surprise, in the last month, to be there and realize — I want to go out there and say, the public perception of what Uber is versus the reality, it’s 180 degrees difference.
Chang: What is the reality?
Lee: The reality is that 99.9 percent of the people there are dedicated to what they do. They’re proud of the products they’re creating. They’re kind. They’re inclusive. They’re team-builders. They’re collaborative. What happened, in my read, is there were these few individuals who cultivated a culture, and that’s what manifested in the truly bad behavior we saw splashed around the world.
The thing is, a lot of those people who really wanted to do good work and build relationships within the organization, they didn’t feel empowered to raise their hands and say, “I don’t agree with this. That’s not how I behave. That’s not how I act.” The other voices were so strong. We really made this shift in the organization to remove some of the hierarchy and allow more of those voices that wanted to make the shift to elevate.
The great thing that I see is, when you talk about Brotopia — a lot of the stuff you wrote about in your book, like micro and macro aggressions, the higher standards that women face, those are all the behavioral manifestations of Brotopia. If you go a level deeper, you have to understand the culturally normative behaviors that are there. Things like hierarchy, emotional expression, internal and external control, all the stuff you see from social psychology and a cultural perspective. If you start to anatomy Brotopia in that way, and then you look at Uber, you think, “Wow, it’s not really as masculine dominant as people think it is.” But that’s the narrative that’s out there.
Chang: It’s an interesting opportunity that you’re here as well as Melissa from Lyft. This isn’t about Uber versus Lyft, but Melissa, I’ve talked to John Zimmer, the president of Lyft, and his argument would be that diversity and inclusion has been part of their DNA from the very beginning. I’m curious what your response is to that. Has that been an advantage in the competition over the last several years?
Melissa Waters: Personally, I’m just going to say, Bo, I’m rooting for you. The collective good we’re doing across this entire sector is good for all of us. To your point, Emily, that’s totally accurate. We very much believe that point of origin is powerful, and it’s had a powerful impact on our business. That should be true for all businesses.
The origin story, for anyone who looks after or thinks about their company’s origin story, is something that you end up living with no matter how old your company is. I’m sure Marsh spends a ton of time figuring out how to move from their point of origin into a different place. We’re only a six-year-old company, but when you go back to the roots of the organization, founded by two guys, very young at the time — they were young entrepreneurs who really needed a lot of help. They needed to be able to guide something that was an early startup into Lyft.
One of their first and lead investors was Ann Miura-Ko from Floodgate, who’s on our board. Ann was a huge part of the culture-building at Lyft. She was a strong seat at the table in helping shift the origin points of the company. She also introduced us to our general counsel, who’s still with us today. She’s on our leadership team. That’s grown up into a place where women have had a seat at the table since the beginning.
We’ve not just rested on our laurels. We’ve had to say that that point of origin is only going to get us so far. Now we have to continue to double down on it. But that moment of looking at how to start a company, for anyone who’s in the midst of starting a company, or looking at people who are starting companies and evaluating their work — the point of origin is very difficult to move beyond. It takes a seismic effort to change that once it’s started.
I applaud Bo and all the work her team is doing in making those shifts at Uber. At Lyft we very much believe that those points of origin have helped us build a strong foothold in the market.
Chang: I do think the term can be applied not only to Silicon Valley, but to business in general. We’ve seen the revelations about what’s happening in Washington. Sexism and sexual harassment exists everywhere. There’s a particularly interesting brand of it in technology, but Elaine, I’m curious to hear from you, given that Hulu straddles the two worlds of tech and entertainment. How do you see this problem when you compare those two worlds?
Elaine Paul: It’s an interesting observation. We do sit right in the middle of tech and media. There’s been really significant catalysts for change and calls to action in both of those industries over the last six to 12 months.
Hulu sits in an interesting place. On the one hand, almost 40 percent of Hulu’s employees are engineers. On the other hand, we’re one of the leading-edge digital media companies. Speaking on points of origin, one thing that we’re proud of, and one of our greatest assets, is our culture. It’s been very carefully cultivated over years and years, before these significant catalysts for change. Our culture has very much been based on establishing openness and respect. Some things that are hot topics today, Hulu has been very aggressive about over the years.
Sexual harassment training has been in-person, something that’s foundational to the company for years. It’s not something where we just put on a video. That’s a core part of our culture of respect, openness, and character matters. We’ve also established, as we’ve gotten larger, an official diversity and inclusion initiative with an executive in charge of that.
You spoke about recruiting. We’re making very conscious efforts to be focused in our recruiting, our training, and our leadership training about building a diverse workforce. It’s good for business. All the studies out there show that having diversity in leadership and diversity throughout the workforce is good for the bottom line. When you’re a consumer-facing brand and business like Hulu, it’s important that our leadership and workforce reflect the customers we serve.
We’re in television. We’re in digital media. We’re broad by the very nature of that. It’s critical that we have a diversity of opinion in the board room, in leadership, and throughout the company. We’ve been able to institute all sorts of awareness and training for unconscious bias, starting with recruiting, and then building on up into management training as we promote people through the ranks, to try to be as inclusive as possible.
Chang: One of the myths I try to bust in the book is that women always quit to have children, when in fact women in tech are twice as likely to quit as men, but they’re not leaving to take care of their families. They’re leaving for jobs in other fields. They’re 870 percent more likely to leave tech than they are to leave jobs in other fields. The reasons they describe are a hostile environment, feelings of isolation, things like that. Erin, I wanted your help in deconstructing that. You never got married. You don’t have children.
McPherson: We’ve talked a lot of times about how I prove that point. I’m a single cat lady.
Chang: Do you think that’s gotten you farther ahead?
McPherson: No, I would not say that. It’s a personal choice, but I definitely — I’m 49. Coming up on the big 5-0 next month. I definitely bought into the myth that I’d get married and have kids after I got “there,” wherever “there” was. And that’s because my mom had kids at 19. She said, “You have to go do this for us. You have to go slay the dragon.” So I put that personal stuff aside, but then you wake up and think, “Wait a minute. I’m 40. Oh, crap. I missed that.”
I’m happy about it, but I’ll also say — It’s helped my career, because I haven’t had those outside responsibilities. I’ve been able to take the big deal that travels me around the world. I’ve been able to work nights and weekends because I haven’t had those obligations. But where I don’t think it got me as far is — this goes back to this basic thing we’ve been talking about. I actually think I’m not normative.
At a certain point, how does a senior person invite me to dinner with his wife? It’s awkward. I notice that I function better in an organization when I’m in a relationship. People want to invite you and your significant other to a theater or to dinner. Let’s face it. Professional advancement, in my opinion, happens outside the workplace too.
I had a law school professor, David Wilkins, who did a lot of work on the glass ceiling for women and minorities at Harvard Law. He had the theory that you don’t get promoted unless someone thinks they know the “real you.” When it comes down to who gets promoted, who makes partner, who makes SVP, you need advocates in the company who know you as a person, who are willing to vouch for you. That means social time, learning about your interests.
To that point, I think I didn’t get as far. I’ve definitely had opportunities because I’ve been free and unfettered, but at the same time, I’ve found I’m not as close. I’m not invited to the golf weekend. I’ll admit that I don’t think I want to go to the golf weekend with this guy and his wife. It’s awkward. But it does call on all of us, to be included as a manager in a hierarchy, to go that extra mile. Granted I’ve had amazing mentors who’ve taken the time to get to know me in appropriate ways and it hasn’t mattered that I wasn’t married. But it takes more effort.
It’s what we’ve been talking about, this thinking outside the box. This person isn’t like me. They don’t do the things I like to do for leisure. They’re different than I am. That needs to be celebrated. Even if it’s uncomfortable, how can I interact with Erin outside the office in a way that doesn’t involve couples going out?
Nortman: Right now, Brotopia is essentially talking about masculine-normative behavior in corporations. But you just brought in another behavior. You brought in heteronormativity. I face that same challenge even though I’m straight, married, and have two kids, because — my husband is in academia and there’s a lot of socialization that happens with the families of various different professors at the university. A lot of professors are men, and a lot of their wives are full-time moms. They don’t have super-executive-level careers. We go to all these events and all the professors are supposed to be over here talking about work and the wives are supposed to be over here talking about furniture. There’s that assumption that when the men get together, the women are going to go talk about something domestic. I don’t fit into that, and that impacts me as well.
You have to challenge these kinds of normative behaviors, these underlying dynamics, and say, “How do we shift these norms?” How do we have more feminine-normative behavior, non-heteronormative behavior in the business world?
Chang: Also, in the early days — Erin, something you mentioned that you wanted to discuss was, you would go to the strip clubs with coworkers?
McPherson: Totally. I started out my career thinking I’d win this race by being one of them. I was better at it, probably, than a lot of you guys. [laughter] I’m genetically blessed as far as my ability to drink a lot. I’d go to the club and think, “I’m gonna outdo you.” This was as a young lawyer. I worked at a hardcore trial firm where I was one of 11 women. If you won a case, that’s how you celebrated.
It took me until my early to middle 30s to realize that wasn’t a winning strategy. Actually, I’ll never be one of the guys. That’s okay. There would be men that would celebrate and support my career regardless of that. I stopped doing that, thankfully. But it was a learning curve.
Chang: It still happens. We all know about Susan Fowler and her bad experience at Uber. I interviewed her and other women at Uber who were invited to strip clubs in the middle of the day, invited to drink in the middle of the day. It didn’t matter that they got back at 3 a.m. as long as they got their work done. That was okay. There were kegs open on the floor. I realized running Uber 2.0 now, how do we even begin to address something like that, when it is so broken?
Lee: There’s a great quote by Daniel Cameron about how people never make a decision based on data. Basically, you need to tell stories. You need to find the role models. You need to find the north star that will help to shift people’s beliefs. That’s how you do it. You find the role models in the organization. You highlight them. You tell the stories around them.
Dara Khosrowshahi is such a good role model in that regard. He’s a father who talks about his kids quite often. He has two younger twin boys, about five years old, and you always hear stories about them. He shares about his own challenges in his career, about D&I, and about how he didn’t necessarily think about gender inclusion for a long time. He’s talked about how he went through his own evolution. I’ve been sharing those stories, and more and more we find these role models. That’s how we start to change behavior.
The other way I would say — I’m in the very un-sexy, boring business of D&I, which isn’t very un-sexy and boring right now, but — it’s really about looking at every human capital process we have and asking ourselves, is there a prototypical masculine behavior being emphasized in this process? How do we introduce more neutral to feminine normative behavior here?
Do you have competency models? Analyze those word for word. If you have words like “drive,” which were in some of our cultural values, that’s a masculine concept. Can we take that out and get something a bit more neutral in there? It gets down to that really systemic stuff, the boring, but super important work. When people suddenly start to interact with our people strategies, they think, “Oh, this is now driving me toward a more inclusive result. Prior to this change it would have led me to just lean on my bias.”
Chang: It’s fascinating how those things play out in pitch meetings and venture capital, where — just going by the statistics, women-led companies get two percent of funding, yet we call it a meritocracy. Men get 52 percent of what they ask for, whereas women get 25 percent. Qualities that are seen as positives in men when they’re in a pitch meeting are seen as negative in women. A young man is seen as high potential. A young woman is seen as inexperienced. Words like “visionary” and “genius” just don’t get used to describe women, but they’re used to describe dozens and dozens of men.
At All Raise — which, by the way, is so exciting, speaking of role models. These women have been on the cover of Forbes for this nonprofit they’ve launched to increase the number of women founders, the size of the checks they’re getting, and the number of women making decisions about writing checks. But how do you even begin to tackle that kind of behavior? It’s so hard to say to someone, “Just change the way you think about women.”
Nortman: I’ll give you one anecdote personally that I was thinking about as you guys were all talking. I actually went to the firm I’m now a part of as an entrepreneur. I raised capital for my startup when I was seven months pregnant. What I find remarkable in retrospect is I never thought for a second that it would prevent me from getting funded. I never felt all the things that were probably happening at the time. I was a lot like Erin early in my career. I started out in a very male environment. But a lot of it is finding your male allies. It’s educating them. It’s giving them the space to make mistakes and be the best version of themselves and have them take up the cause.
We came together not in an entirely accidental way, but a woman named Aileen Lee invited all the women partners at the top institutional venture funds to come together for dinner in the wake of all the bad news coming out of our industry, which was pre-Weinstein. She thought there was something we can do. What’s crazy is that she reached out to 40 women. In the whole industry, there were 40 women. We sat down and just started shipping product.
We started with this thing called Female Founder Office Hours, which is, how do you create a safe space to come in and get advice on pitching? I was a venture capitalist before I pitched, and I still found it very confusing to be on the other side. That evolved into a movement that I think even surprised us. It evolved into a number of us doing hundreds of hours of work and building real friendships across firms. All of that was new.
The thing that’s become important now is how you keep that drumbeat going every day. How do you create a space in your life for all the good men out there? Most men are good. Even if they’ve done bad things, they want to do better. There’s a minority we’ve focused on that have done so much bad. We’re trying to focus on, and I’m trying to personally focus on — when I get a chance to go on a long run every week, I think about how you get men to be thinking about this every day.
How do you get male entrepreneurs getting money from women and women entrepreneurs getting money from men? How do you take entrepreneurs who look a certain way — if you’re an African-American man and you’re going to pitch a room full of white people, or a woman going to pitch a room full of men, it’s very unnatural. Imagine you’re a white guy going into a room full of African-American women to pitch and how that would feel.
I do think there’s a lot of ground game every day. Successful men need to ask the women in their lives what they can do. We need to find small ways to make progress every day. We’re in this wonderful moment, and it’s cool to be on the cover of a magazine. The Jewish mom is very happy. But what’s really important is that we’re talking about this six months from now, and we’re measuring real results. We know that more diverse teams are not just a mission. It’s reflected in better financial performance, in meeting more end users, in funding more business initiatives that will make businesses sustainable over the long run.
Chang: There is a tangible in there, which is, all men can ask the women in their lives what they can do. What are some others?
McPherson: One thing that I’ve found really powerful about what you guys have started to do with All Raise — going back to the point about how we don’t make decisions based on data. We make decisions based on emotion, based on what’s happening around us, based on what we see. It’s very much that mantra of, you can’t be what you can’t see. That certainly exists around this topic. But what I’ve found interesting about All Raise is that you guys went out and said, “We want to create a groundswell of commitment around founders for change.”
We know that the undercurrent of the culture in Silicon Valley, in addition to the Brotopia dynamic, is also competition. It’s a very small community in which all of these folks are highly networked with one another. The minute somebody sees somebody else doing something different, all of them start swarming to find out how they can do it and how they can be part of it.
Chang: It’s a different kind of “me too.”
McPherson: It is, and it’s a powerful one. The concept of harnessing the competitive nature of this group, giving people the examples, giving people the ability to be inspired, showing something simple and tangible that they can take back to their organization and implement with their teams — the more we can do that and take advantage of the competitive nature and social sharing that happens within the industry, that’s going to go a long way.
Chang: We’ve heard a lot about how men are scare, how men don’t know what to do. I’ve been asked a lot of times about a white male revolt and what we’re going to do about that. Are you hearing that in your organizations?
Lee: I would say that white men, and men in general, at Uber are saying, “I want to do something. I don’t know what it is. Can you please role model for me?” Historically, what we’ve often done is that we make women or people of color have to be the educators in this process. The good thing, though, is that there are people like me in Uber now. I want to be able to find some other white men in the organization who already have an inclination to be inclusive, who’ve demonstrated that, and then really upscale them to be true inclusion champions.
I want them to be the ones facilitating training. I want them to be the ones doing the coaching and the advising for other white men. When you look at the training companies often do, it’s a woman standing there doing the training. It’s usually the black woman or the Hispanic woman or the black guy. I want that to be the white guy. I’m hoping to find those white men who are already inclined, make them even better, and put them out there to be the ones who help other white men come along and give them that tactical advice about what to do.
Chang: The feelings of anger, do we have sympathy for that?
Waters: No. Sorry. The stats show that women are 51 percent of the population. Six percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. When you look at women of color it’s .4 percent in CEO roles. When I think about white male backlash and the question of whether we should be caretaking that sentiment, I don’t have any sympathy for it. We’re all owning this issue. But it’s most often women of color who are on the front lines, men of color on the front lines, having to coach about this.
I don’t think anything is going to change in seismic ways until every company goes back and looks at itself and says, “Do we have the right culture? Do we have the right permission here? Do we have the right people here? Do we have the right process in which to get the right people? When we get them, do we do enough to support them when they’re here?” So I don’t have sympathy for that sentiment.
Paul: I’d love to build on what you said and come back to something we’ve alluded to about — often a block for women is family. If you get to a place where you’re building a family, that can suddenly become a conflict with a demanding job. It’s exacerbated in tech. That’s something I feel personally. Prior to being a CFO, I was in M&A. That was a super demanding career, and during that time, I had three children over five years. I wondered how I was going to keep that up. I felt I had to figure that out.
Now I feel great personal responsibility as a leader in my company, with my team, and in my industry, around helping companies see the way to a really critical piece of getting women in the C-suite, getting women to the top of leadership. It’s helping support them through their transition, pre-children and post-children. That’s through generous and supportive parenting leave, through personal time off, through enabling managers to be flexible with their employees as they come back from bearing children.
If we really want to change things, we need women throughout the organization and women at the top to advocate. That’s our responsibility, everyone sitting here, from where we’ve gotten, to bring that back to our companies and be advocates at the leadership table, and also in the teams we manage. We need to show examples of how we can do that, show flexibility, and show support. Again, if you’re not doing that, you end up with giving your company the opportunity to have only 50 percent of the population in leadership positions. That’s ridiculous. You want to maximize your opportunity to succeed, and that means embracing 100 percent of the population?
Lee: That’s a great point, this idea of creating a revolutionary caregiver-inclusive workplace. I’ll tell you, in the one month I’ve been at Uber, I’ve had as many young men as young women come to me and say, “I’d love to start a family soon, and I don’t know how I’m going to do that with the long hours we have to work.” If we were to move away from this Brotopia, prototypical masculine work culture, we’ll allow those men who want to be good partners, who want to be great dads — we’ll give them the opportunity to do that.
Millennial men, who make up the majority of my work force, they have a very different view of what their role is going to be with their kids. The ones who really want to be full partners in child-rearing, they feel that if they were to articulate that out loud, they would be seen as weak. If we allow for more of a female-affirming organization, you’ll see those men coming forward. You’ll see men taking full parental leave. You’ll see men asking for more flexibility. The fact is, unless we can get men asking for that same caregiver inclusion, it’ll never be perfectly okay for women to do the same thing.
Nortman: This is exactly where I was going to go. Emily, the name of your next book should be, “Why Do Men Die First?” I’ll put that in a more positive way. I really do believe you catch more bees with honey. I agree with everything everyone is saying. One of the biggest things I’ve done recently is realize, “I have this amazing woman under my nose. How can I help her more?” How can I help the woman associates at my firm become partners? That’s the most tangible thing I can do.
The flip side is, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who wrote the famous article, “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” she now talks about how there’s two sides to every person. There’s the caring side and the ambition side. The gender stereotypes are, men must sit fully in ambition and women must embrace caring. Those Venn diagrams don’t cross over. We end up having all this conversation about how you allow women to do both of those things, bring caring into an organization and still have ambition and have it be appreciated in whatever form it’s packaged. But we can also bring that over to, how do we allow men to care about caring, to act in a different way?
All the data shows that once you get an organization — I think it’s about 30 percent of any sort of difference. Let’s say it’s gender. Once you get to that point, you get men acting in less masculine, less testosterone-driven competitive ways. Everyone becomes a bit softer and more collaborative. I’m the only woman investing partner at my firm, and it’s one of the most diverse firms in the world. I have two African-American men partners, out of probably 10 total. We come from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities. But the second we hired a woman, even just into a marketing role, I felt a bit of relief I didn’t know I needed.
Figuring out how to celebrate the men who enjoy caring and create those policies — I’d love to talk about my husband up here for 20 minutes. He’s as caring as I am. My ambition has allowed him to be more caring, even if he’s as competent and ambitious in the same job as me. Those dialogues at home, and those dialogues in the workplace, are ultimately what’s going to move us forward. It’s not just about women.
Chang: We want to give people some tangible things they can take out of this room, men and women. I get asked all the time, “What can individuals do? What can I do?” What are some tangible things people can do to change Brotopia?
Lee: For individuals, the best thing you can do is really sit down and ask yourself for a moment, “What is my cultural orientation?” Often, when we think about how to become more inclusive, we think, “I need to learn more about other people. What are women like? How am I more inclusive to women?” But we don’t really ask ourselves, “What do I do? Am I emotionally expressive or emotionally neutral? Am I very hierarchical or very flat in my understanding of power? Do I have an internal or external control orientation?”
We don’t really know much about ourselves. We don’t realize how much of ourself we project onto other people. My norm is the right norm and everyone is deviating from my norm. The more time we spend getting to know ourselves — I know that feels a little squishy, but the more we know who we are, the more we can say, “That’s why I built this team that has these attributes. Because it’s me that’s doing it.” I know this is hard for men, because you’re raised not to be very introspective. Spend some thinking about how you behave and how your behavior impacts the people around you.
From an organizational perspective, one of the key things an organization can do is allow for all opinions to thrive. One of the challenges we see now in this Me Too environment, this hyper-D&I-focused environment, there is a fear in the organization that—I’m going to say the wrong thing, so I won’t say anything at all. In the 18 years I’ve worked in D&I, I’ve heard everything. I’ve heard every wonderful thing and every horrible thing. People say to me, “How do you not lose it when someone says something horrible?” Because if I have a judgmental reaction to what someone says, that shuts them down. They’re no longer going to engage with me. Then I can’t move them forward.
Instead, I approach them with a mind of acceptance. I say, “Tell me where you are. Now I know where you are and I can work you to where we need to be as an inclusive organization.” I would encourage all organizations — can you allow for discussion without judgment? That’s actually really hard. But those are the things I would pick out as a starting point.
McPherson: Individually, if you hire or manage people, get specific. Not just best intentions, not just being more inclusive, but very specific. I’m the first one to say this year that I brought my team at Verizon up over 50 percent. I tried to recruit a young African-American woman for six months, and she pulled out at the last minute because she had a promising relationship here in Los Angeles. But really, make an effort, and a specific effort. I want 50 percent of my team to be women. I want 50 percent of team to be diverse.
Chang: How do we feel about that kind of quota?
Lee: There’s this mythology that if you want to become more diverse, you have to diminish quality. I think that comes from people’s beliefs about what quotas are. People think, “Oh, there’s no way we can radically change the diversity profile of our work force unless we change the qualifications of the people we accept.” For me, I believe — and this is going to seem weird — but I believe in growth targets. I want to see progress year over year. But I’ll never say, “In five years you should be 50/50.”
When you put out that kind of mandate, it can lead to people doing things that they think are very productive, but end up not being very productive. I would love for us to be able to increase the hiring of women 10 percent over the next couple of years, but not have a definitive number where we should be at this representational area.
Chang: There are a lot of organizations that say, “We want to be better. We’re trying to do this. We’re focusing on it.” But the numbers aren’t changing, or they’re moving very slowly. What is the argument for a more radical approach?
McPherson: Well, the word “quota” of course is so charged. It raises all those arguments about a drop in quality. Maybe I want to redefine “quota” a bit. What I mean, though, is specific measurable goals. You make a point, Emily. 10 percent of zero is not enough. In other words, is the growth target reflective of the radical change that we need? Therefore, I’d go farther than that. That’s where I would say, we want to be 50/50 by 2020 or 2022 or whatever you think is realistic, and then measure yourself against that. It’s not easy, but we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook by just saying we’ll do better.
The other thing I’ll say is I think we’ve breezed by backlash a bit. I don’t feel sympathy or empathy for it, but at least anecdotally, I’ve had a lot of male colleagues come by and say they’re afraid. I think we do have to have safe spaces to have the conversations about what’s appropriate and what’s not. I’ve gotten to the point where someone is saying to me, “I’d like to say, in a politically correct, safe way, that I like your shoes.” It was funny, but it’s reflective of a fear now that I think everyone is feeling.
I’ve welcomed the open conversations. That’s what we can do on an individual level. I do agree with what’s been said on the panel. The outliers are bad actors and in some cases they’ve committed crimes, but the majority of men are well-meaning. Certainly I’ve had great supporters in my career. I want to be a safe place to have a conversation and hopefully further education on both sides.
Lee: It goes back to that question of empathy and sympathy. I don’t have empathy or sympathy per se, but I do have understanding for the white man. Part of that comes from I’m actually married to a white man, a white man who is from an incredibly privileged background. My daughters are the grandchildren of Korean refugees, and they could also be Daughters of the American Revolution.
Here’s the example of where my understanding comes from. My husband, for the first 40 years of his life, was a witness to racism, but he never experienced racism himself, the sting of racism. He didn’t really understand what it meant. When my seven-year-old daughter was four and in preschool, she had her first experience with racism. A bunch of blond girls in preschool went up to her — she’s biracial, dark hair, brownish skin, dark eyes — and said to her, point blank, “You’re never really going to be pretty because your hair is too dark.” Somehow four-year-olds had already learned white supremacy, in the most progressive Upper West Side zip code you could imagine.
My daughter comes home and tells this story. I’ve heard this all my life. I’m Asian-American. I’ve experienced racism in this country. I know how to deal with it without getting angry. I was able to talk her through it. My husband was so angry. It was his first intimate experience with racism, because his children are him, right? He was ready to go out and beat up some four-year-old girls. I said to him, “This is a learning opportunity for you. Think about the anger you feel from the most minor experience of racism. The next time you wonder why black people are angry, why Latins are angry, why women are angry, this is what it is.”
That’s what I mean when I say I don’t necessarily have empathy or sympathy, but I have an understanding. A lot of men don’t know what sexism feels like. A lot of white people don’t know what racism feels like. They’ve only witnessed it. That’s why I talk about no judgment. You can say anything to me and I will be neutral to you. How do I give you these experiences?
Chang: If anybody wants to go to the confessional, they can talk to Bo after this.
Nortman: Coming out of the summer, the great thing about my firm is that each one of us — there’s something on our own that’s natural to us. It’s equally important for men to drive diversity as much as women. One of my partners came to me one day and said, “Hey, I think we should add diversity language to all of our term sheets.” We put minority investors in tech companies who come in at the earliest stage when we can make a difference. We call it the Bettinelli Rule, after one of my partners, Greg Bettinelli.
It basically says, “This is an important value to us. You will make your best effort to interview multiple candidates for every C-level role that come from a diverse background.” We can’t enforce that, but it creates the dialogue at that moment in time when you’re coming together and putting together your board for the first time.
One of the firms that did this went out on a big press blitz and I was thinking, “Come on, you just need to do it. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it.” We’re not a firm that’s afraid of press. We definitely don’t mind it. But things like this, we think you just do it. You stick your head down and do it. Emily actually learned about it from one of our entrepreneurs.
Chang: When I gave a talk about the book, I’d mentioned different companies that were doing this or that. This entrepreneur came up to me and said, “I took money from Upfront Ventures, and they have this rule. We’re six people, and two of us are underrepresented minorities and two of us are women. It’s working.”
Nortman: This was a white guy from Harvard that I funded. I’m an equal opportunist. 50 percent of portfolio is led by a woman CEO, it’s okay that I fund a white dude. [laughter] He took this, and in the first board meeting, he put a slide up that gave himself a report card on everything, including how he was doing on this initiative. He gave himself a B-, and by the next time it was up to an A-. That’s what Founders for Change is about. Not just looking at how you’re building the team, but who are you putting on the board? How are you being thoughtful about this from the beginning?
The second thing I’ll mention quickly — everyone here in this room is probably already an awesome advocate. But I think, when you are woke, you have to challenge your wokeness. You are the people who are most likely to make the change and role-model the most innovative behavior. I don’t know what that means for you, but I what I would say is, going through cognitive bias training is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done. We think we’re so progressive and liberal and woke. But how do you truly get people to answer the hard questions in a safe way?
I sat with two of my male partners last week during this male allies initiative at All Raise and asked them all these questions. What do you think we’re doing right? What do you think we’re doing wrong? How do we get more men involved? I got a bunch of very honest answers back that went into my head, but then I thought, “Well, what if we should switch boards sometimes? We see a ton of women deal flow, but what if I should just tee it up and hand it over? I can hire a woman or two women or minorities, but what’s going to make them the most successful in the first three months? What can I do that stacks the deck in their favor, that I can take no credit for?”
For me, in venture capital — breaking into venture capital is impossibly hard. I came in and my partner Mark sourced my first deal for me. He’s the face of the firm. I’m an equal equity partner in the firm, but I had to go build all these relationships with all these other men. He teed it up and gave it to me, and once you have that, it’s much easier to go forward. You have something to talk about and something to do.
This idea that you can just hire someone and then let meritocracy take over — you need to go out of your way to figure out how to challenge your own wokeness and become better. It is this room that will make the change. We need to figure out how to get more people into the room.
Paul: As individuals we can advocate from our positions of leadership. We can model and we can mentor. Those are universally important to getting this done. As organizations, I’m not a believer in quotas, but I’m a believer in a meritocracy of opportunity, and you have to make sure you’re really creating that meritocracy of opportunity. That starts with recruiting. That starts with ensuring that your organization is being as open-minded and diverse and working at it.
At Hulu we started recruiting at traditionally African-American colleges, which we hadn’t done before, to be more diverse in our recruiting and bring people into the pipeline. Then, how do you keep doing that all the way along as careers progress? As an individual you can be an advocate and a mentor, and as an organization, you can evaluate yourself critically in terms of how well you’re really doing. Both getting people in the pipeline and making sure they’re succeeding in the long run.
Waters: A lot of this is things we’ve done at Lyft and that I’ve seen in past lives at other organizations. The one thing I’ve seen at Lyft that’s different from what I’ve seen before, and something that I’ll carry with me through the rest of my career – that I’d replicate if I started other companies or worked at other companies — is having a value-driven organization that personally states, up front, that the number one value is to be yourself.
The power of that — it’s on the wall when you walk in to headquarters, number one of three values, and it’s repeated at all times. It gives cultural permission for people to show up no matter where they come from, what their background is, how they come in the door. You’re welcome here. We want your voice to be heard. We value it. We don’t want you to come in here feeling that you have to fit in to a cultural norm that we’ve set. That’s been incredibly powerful. No matter where I go in my career, I’ll pick that up and take it with me. I think it’s had a profound impact on all our employees.
The second thing — I’ve been a beneficiary of people sponsoring my career. I’m a huge believer in the power of individual sponsorship. The thing I would recommend on the individual side is, find a person you want to champion. It’s not just about championing them publicly or in meetings. It’s about beginning a career and expanding opportunities. It’s pushing them well beyond their comfort zone. Women don’t typically do that themselves. Stereotypically, we don’t show up and demand that we get new opportunities. Men and women alike, the more we can individually go out and take on expanding their opportunities on an individual level is incredibly powerful.
Audience: I run a venture-backed company in the consumer space, so I’m one of the two percent. I went through all the fund friction you’ve talked about. When I worked in finance, like most of the people here, I watched a lot of guys get together and fund their friends’ companies at the infant stages. In order to become a bigger company — it wasn’t easy for us to raise capital when we were small. It was very difficult. Do women, beyond mentorship, need to start doing those $5,000, $10,000 investments? Do they need to get into those social circles where they’re supporting, at the very beginning, with that initial capital to get to the key metrics that you then take to someone like Kara?
Nortman: For sure. Very quickly, the more we can get women investing — you invest in things where you feel like you have an insider advantage as far as understanding it or having access to it. I think a lot of women are similarly afraid to invest. What we see now, though, is a positive swell of more women investing. A lot of venture funds have what are called scout programs, and everyone wants women scouts.
We have a long way to go, but between the JOBS Act, Kickstarter, angel investing, everything else, I would say for sure. The more we can encourage women to just write small checks into businesses — you’re training future venture capitalists and you’re getting people funding. There are a lot more funds that have a gender lens now, particularly at an early stage.
Audience: I’m with a fintech company based in San Francisco. I’m excited about the conversation, but I wanted to ask, particularly about — as the conversation has begun to happen around diversity and inclusion in the Valley, particularly as it relates to bro culture — we’ve seen a lot more impact around gender diversity. But intersectionality, and what’s happened around African-American women and Latina women, who have an even smaller representation in the Valley — in the C-suite I’m probably one of less than 10 black women in the Valley, at any company. That’s unacceptable. I’m excited about this conversation, but even at this panel, there are no women of color represented here. When we’re having these conversations, what are you doing to ensure that African-American and Latina women are lifted up in these conversations that are happening, and this widespread growth that’s happening in terms of fostering women’s advancement in the Valley?
Lee: This is where I went back to spending time thinking about yourself. We talked a bit about cognitive bias. There is a tremendous amount of socialized racism in the Valley and in society that a lot of us don’t want to admit is there. There’s that concept of, “What do we do with all the good racist people?” The more you actually believe that you probably have racial biases, the less you’re going to act on those racial biases.
The reason I use the term “good racist people” is because we would not have a society as polarized and as bifurcated in terms of socioeconomic status if we did not have systemic racism flowing and up and down every part of our society, if the vast majority of non-black, non-Hispanic people did not have a little bit of racism in them. There’s this great tool called the IAT, the Implicit Association Test, that does stuff around race and our implicit associations around race. Eighty percent of all people who take the IAT show a moderate to significant “black people are bad, white people are good” — that implicit association. The vast majority of us have something in us.
But we’re all raised to assume that if we have a racial bias, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we must be a bad human being. That’s not the case. We’re socialized to believe that. If we act on that bias in a conscious way, yes, that’s bad. But we have to begin the process of, “Do I have an implicit association around race?” Almost certainly, yes, for all of us, including myself. The sooner we can have that honest conversation, the sooner we can make progress on this. That’s the big unspoken thing.