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2013: The year of Silicon Valley’s half-hearted diversity push

 

The past year has been fraught with debate about Silicon Valley's inability to match rhetoric about meritocracy with regional employment of women and minorities.

The past year has been fraught with debate about Silicon Valley‘s inability to match rhetoric about meritocracy with regional employment of women and minorities.

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About eight months ago, it looked like 2013 might finally be the year that Silicon Valley business leaders would act to rectify their somewhat sorry records on corporate diversity. It looks like we’ll have to wait for 2014 to see how talk is translated into action.

To break the nagging diversity problem down by the numbers, more than 90 percent of startup founders are men, and 82 percent of founders are white. A recent analysis pitted the most valuable public companies in Silicon Valley against the S&P 100, and researchers found that 98 percent of companies in the S&P 100 have at least one woman director, while only 56 percent of the 150 public tech and life science companies studied can say the same.

Sure, past years have seen rare think pieces on the root causes of minority under-representation in the tech industry. But this year the conversation shifted (briefly) to the more concrete examples of how the continued failure to inject a broader range of perspectives into Silicon Valley business impacts the bottom line. Tech user bases are diverse, and some research shows that executive diversity could boost the bottom line.

So in the absence of improved numbers, perhaps the most relevant development in 2013 is the tech industry’s move toward publicizing concern about a dearth of qualified talent — another factor indicating that Silicon Valley’s over-reliance on white and Asian males may not be sustainable.

While tech spokespeople have been happy to talk about how much they value diversity, in theory, a central fact remains: Data-driven, well-funded Silicon Valley companies still haven’t done much to back up the talk with results.

Beyond one-off corporate partnerships with minority-focused organizations and recruiting efforts with undisclosed budgets, it’s difficult to say what impact, if any, the diversity push during the last year actually had on the makeup of Silicon Valley’s workforce.

A central irony for Silicon Valley in 2013: Though the year could easily be deemed the year of Big Data, it’s a nagging lack of comprehensive workforce data that makes it impossible to evaluate just how stratified Silicon Valley has become — much less to measure any progress on diversity issues. Companies aren’t required to disclose the demographic makeup of their employees, leaving the public with isolated, caveat-filled reports that show Silicon Valley lagging behind the rest of the business world.

Missed opportunity

Amid the noise — a flood of diversity-themed events, long-winded media articles and promotional press releases on the topic of women and minorities in Silicon Valley — a lot did end up happening this year.

In March 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg released her now-culturally-ingrained book on the workplace gender gap, “Lean In.”

The response from the tech industry was swift and, at least at first, emphatic: CEOs like Cisco’s John Chambers professed that their worldviews were altered; designated corporate diversity departments were bolstered or established; the Lean In Foundation created its own social network.

The even more galling lack of racial and ethnic diversity atop Silicon Valley companies — especially for Latinos and African Americans — also became a topic of discussion, though far less often than the gender gap.

But the lame sexist jokes continued. Twitter’s all-male, whitewashed pre-IPO board incited waves of criticism, though the company is far from an anomaly.

The dearth of women and minorities also doesn’t only permeate white collar tech jobs. The number of women in cleantech jobs — covering everything from energy IT workers to electricians — is disproportionately low. Overall income for black and Hispanic Silicon Valley residents, we learned this year, also declined 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively, from 2009 to 2011.

Most disconcerting is the lack of diverse job candidates in the tech talent pipeline — in particular the declining number of women and minorities studying computer science — which does not bode well for future change.

Will persistence pay off?

It’s important to note that there are bright spots in the gloomy realm of Silicon Valley diversity.

By all accounts, progress has been made from past decades, when the overall workforce was much more dominated by white, male executives.

This year alone, we saw wealthy investors experimenting with their portfolios in a bid to advance women. Sheryl Sandberg herself reported a spike in anecdotal accounts of women emboldened to seek better pay for quality work.

To combat the lack of employee data released by Silicon Valley companies, one online effort even seeks to crowdsource information about the number of women working at various tech companies.

Mark Taguchi, a former technology executive, now serves as West Coast managing director of minority professional development group MLT (formerly Management Leadership for Tomorrow). He told me that penetrating Silicon Valley’s tightly-knit tech world remains a challenge for the uninitiated for a simple reason.

“People operate in tribes,” he said. “They have groups of people that they learn to trust, that they work with, that they like.”

Whether that entrenched mentality will continue to win out over Silicon Valley’s professed penchant for meritocracy is the biggest question facing the region heading into 2014.

 

 

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Maximize Meetings- 5 Steps to Motivation

It’s conference time. You’ve selected San Diego as your location, and you begin perusing the specs of your location options. Golf course: Check.Swimming pool: CheckBanquet hall: CheckWindowless meeting rooms guaranteed to put participants into a coma? Stop right  there.
If you haven’t noticed, at most conferences, there are always a few participants playing hooky from the breakout sessions. And the ones who do show up begin nodding off at around 2:00 p.m. Punitive measures are hardly likely to amp up the motivation.So what can you do?Whether it’s a breakout session at a sales meeting, a weeklong conference or a single full-day meeting, maximize the motivation and energy of the actual meetings.

1. Choose a location that has outstanding meeting room facilities. Having facilities staff drag in a screen on a tripod just won’t cut it anymore. Give your presenters the environment and equipment they need to deliver a powerful presentation.  Choose a location that has meeting rooms with integrated systems and drop-down screens. Look for San Diego meeting rooms that reflect the quality of the work you expect.

2. Hold a pre-meeting with presenters. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the facilities and technology available to them. Have presenters sketch out their agendas and activities. Hold them accountable for fully utilizing the technology and tools provided.

3. Assign pre-work. Ideal pre-meeting work is brief, requires action (not just thought) and is meaningful. In addition, it should be made clear to participants how the pre-work will be used in the meeting. For example, a good pre-meeting assignment requires participants to locate (or gather from customers) numerical data that will be incorporated into a chart of graph at the meeting.  A poor pre-meeting assignment requires participants to show up with opinions. There is no action required and they are likely to do the assignment in the elevator on the way to the meeting, if at all.

4. Market the meeting. Have presenters send out preview information about topics and activities, including how the participants’ pre-meeting assignments will be used. At your presenters’ pre-meeting, you will have ensured that the topics and activities are, in fact, worth previewing. 5.Surprise participants with something fun in the last half hour of the meeting. Forego the usual cookies and coffee and have hot appetizers instead. Hold a drawing for dinner, a round of golf, or a show. At least that will give truants a reason to feel bad about missing the meeting!

Jessica writes about a wide variety of topics.  She especially enjoys writing about business. You can learn more about San Diego Meeting Rooms at http://www.palacasino.com/

 

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