The U.S. tech community has arrived at a decision point. We can continue standing on the sidelines, rubbernecking the destructive sexist behavior happening inside leading technology companies — usually by men being celebrated as “killing it” — OR, we can declare this a watershed moment, and just collectively decide to disrupt the behaviors and systems that seem to have gotten us here in the first place.
My bet is you’d choose disruption. So let’s just decide.
Reid Hoffman wrote a thoughtful post titled, “The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs.” Hoffman, Sarah Lacy and others have all made the apt point that there should be more audible outrage after the harmful behavior perpetrated by a VC against several female entrepreneurs. Hoffman says:
Other folks may think: well, that’s bad behavior but not my problem. If you think that, and work here in venture, think again. We all need to solve this problem. If you stay silent, if you don’t act, then you allow this problem to perpetuate. And you send the public signal, “we don’t care.”
Hoffman called on venture capitalists to create an HR function to create accountability for bad behavior and asked VCs to sign a #decencypledge to declare their commitment to zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
An industry-wide commitment to ethical behavior is a decent first step.
Pledges are good if they get people talking and looking hard at how they’ll live up to them. Pledges are effective if those conversations turn into intelligent new policies and practices.
What’s still leftover, though, is the question of how we ultimately transform tech culture so we can build truly meritocratic companies.
We have the opportunity to build a 50/50 system, a place where women and men work side by side doing the best work of our lives, building the truly great companies of tomorrow.
Any of us who have built founding teams, recruited talent as we’ve scaled businesses, and sat around the investment table know that we are completely dependent on our social networks.
Segment your LinkedIn connections or run down the roster of coffees you’ve had over the last six months. If you’re a man, you’re going to see a disproportionate share of people with a Y chromosome on that list. If you’re a woman working in technology or venture capital, you’re going to know a lot of men but you’re still going to beat your male counterparts in the number of women you know.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a conversation like this: “We would have loved to bring in a woman [fill in the blank: on the management team, as an independent director, as our new Partner] but we couldn’t find one.”
As they say, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that….
Enough hand wringing.
Enough head scratching.
Enough panel discussions.
Enough of women entrepreneurs almost exclusively being introduced to other women entrepreneurs and investors rather than the men who hold most of the capital.
Here’s what we have to do.
We have to reboot our networks so they reflect the organizations we’re trying to build.
We have to make it normative to work on 50/50 teams. We have to make it ordinary to be pitched by a woman founder (and just as routine to make a funding announcement about a woman-led company). We have to be determined to build founding teams that reflect the diversity of the people we want to recruit down the road.
If you’re ready to sign the #decencypledge and blow right past it to the next milestone, please join a new project I’m kicking off called, “50/50.”
If you’re an entrepreneur (even an aspiring one) or a venture capitalist, sign up to join us. For starters, I’ll curate some small breakfasts, lunches and dinners to introduce you to some people you’ll be glad you met. Every gathering will be 50/50 men and women. Where we can, we’ll work toward 50/50 investors and entrepreneurs. We can even shoot for 50/50 work/play, and just get everyone to a place where they EXPECT the gender diversity we all enjoy in our regular lives to be a more consistent part of our working lives as well.
50/50 seeks to catalyze a movement to help technology leaders and VCs build different and better relationships that we think has the potential to change the way work happens.
There isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to get us to gender parity in society or in tech. But building relationships is where everything starts. It’s where hubris gets checked, stereotypes get pummeled, and opportunity gets realized.
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