In Silicon Valley, you have to look the part.
Sadly, that part involves wearing Warby Parker glasses, sporting a slim and cool T-shirt with a funky logo, prancing around in tennis shoes...and having one X and one Y chromosome.
As the father of three girls and one boy, I can't believe this is still true. How is it even possible? How could you only get hired in a development job or get venture capital if you look like Mark Zuckerberg?
At the SxSW conference, I attended a panel on diversity and gender inequality in the tech world because I wanted to find out more about what to do and why it is still a problem. It started out with a bold statement about how tech startups tend to hire only males. That is a terrible practice because it means an entire viewpoint is being neglected and ignored. Tech is not as rich, and in fact is missing a perspective that will dramatically improve the market.
Last year at this time, Megan Smith, the CTO of the U.S. Government, said at SxSW that how you look--e.g., the male geek--is still a stigma in tech circles. It was jaw-dropping to think that, if you are not male and walk into an interview room, you suddenly get sideways glances. Have these people not heard of Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg? More importantly, don't they know that there is an entire perspective missing from the tech starting world.
Iris Bohnet, the Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the director of the Women and Public Policy Program there said the main issue is stubbornness. As you can guess, it is not about having a "diversity" mindset or holding a class. When a company hires someone for a tech role or when a VC considers funding a female-led startup, the first step, says Bohnet, is to overhaul the talent management and acquisition process.
For starters, research suggests that there is a much better way to describe roles in a company, not using adjectives that are obviously designed to describe a role for women ("warm and caring teacher") to a skills based description. We use leading questions and leading job titles. Hiring should be more about the skills involved and not assuming this is a male geek job.
She said the way we evaluate new job candidates is also wrong. Interviews are not good at predicting future performance. She said a diverse evaluating committee for jobs is not a good solution because it is a bias and a demographic fallacy. "If we don't see male teachers, we won't hire male teachers," says Bohnet, suggesting that there is a root problem. The core assumptions need to change, not the policies.
A panel won't resolve those biases, either. She suggests that a panel interview is a bad idea, that it is much better--if the goal is to reach independent solutions--to do individual interviews. She said it is not about consensus building to reach a biased view, but asserting independent thinking. Too often, a panel is trying to avoid conflicts or do "what the company wants" and not what is right.
Bohnet did a good job of describing this issue as urgent. It's sad to think 50% of the population is not adding their voice to the tech realm, or that girls are not attending engineering school. Let me make this more personal. One of my kids has a brilliant theoretical mind. She sees things from a few more sides of the prism than most. She asks questions that make you stop in your tracks. Should she automatically enter the fashion world? Does she have to settle? I'd hate to think she would not have the same opportunities to explore a technical field.
Bohnet says the roadblocks are really designed by men and for men to make sure it is not about performance or skills but about a certain gender preference. That needs to stop.