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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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Is Your Leadership Hurting the Bottom Line?

leadership4 ‘Bad Leader Behaviors’ That Affect Productivity, Profits

What can business leaders and managers learn from watching the earnings of publicly traded companies?

“Plenty,” says Kathleen Brush, a 25-year veteran of international business and author of “The Power of One: You’re the Boss,” (www.kathleenbrush.com), a guide to developing the skills necessary to become an effective, respected leader.

“When looking at the corporations reporting lower-than-expected earnings, you need to read between the lines. They are not going to admit that the reason is a failure of leadership, but 99 times out of 100 that’s what it is.”

She cites Oracle, the business hardware and software giant, which recently reported a quarterly revenue shortfall based on a decline in new software licenses and cloud subscriptions.

The company is “not at all pleased with our revenue growth this quarter,” Oracle co-president Safra Catz told analysts. “What we really saw was a lack of urgency that we sometimes see in the sales force …”

They are pointing the finger at the employees, but they are really admitting a failure of  leadership, Brush says.

“Do you know how simple it is for managers to motivate sales people? If indeed the lack of sales urgency is the problem. There are dozens of bad leader behaviors that can cause sales to decline,” she explains.

In her work for companies around the country, from restructuring operations to improving profitability, Brush says she sees an epidemic of bad leader behaviors.

“When I point them out, most leaders downplay, or refuse to acknowledge, the impact their behaviors are having on their bottom line. But, in companies where leaders change these behaviors, employees become engaged and motivated. It is really that simple to increase productivity, innovation, and the bottom line,” she says.

“If you’re a boss examining your own lower-than-expected performance, instead of wasting time searching for scapegoats, look in the mirror. Most bosses unwittingly exhibit bad leader behaviors daily that cause their businesses to suffer.”

Here are four increasingly prevalent and damaging behaviors:

• The unethical boss: This is a category that doesn’t just annoy employees, it appalls them. As such, it’s a powerful demotivater. When a boss breaks or fudges the rules, cheats, lies or indulges in behaviors that reveal a lack of moral principles, he or she loses employees’ respect. Without their respect, a boss cannot lead. In addition, when a leader indulges in unethical practices, he gives his employees permission to do the same. Padding mileage reports, splurging on business travel expenses, failing to take responsibility for mistakes – they all become endorsed activities by the boss – the role model.

• The unfair boss: Our current societal efforts to treat people equally – think gay marriage, health care reform, the children of undocumented immigrants – have led to confusion among some leaders about “equality” versus “fairness” in the workplace. “I talked to a manager who gave all his employees the same pay raise because ‘he wanted to be fair,’ ” Brush recalls. He then seemed mystified that the productivity of his best employees declined to that of an average worker. “Rewards can be powerful tools of motivation, but they must be administered fairly.”

• The buddy boss: Bosses can never be buddies with their employees. Ever. Friendships neutralize the boss’s authority and power. They can also cloud a leader’s objectivity and hinder her ability to correct behaviors, to delegate, and to hold employees accountable. When friendships compromise output, it’s the boss who will be accountable. “Be friendly to employees, but do not cross the line that muddies the relationship between boss and friend. It could cost you your job.” Brush says.

• The disorganized boss:  Workplaces are filled with employees who lack direction because disorganized leaders don’t deliver and manage plans and strategies to guide their teams. What’s the chance of an unguided team maximizing its productivity to create competitively superior innovative widgets? “What’s the chance of employees being inspired by a leader who leads like a doormat or by random thoughts?” says Brush.

“As a manager, you wield a tremendous amount of power,” she says. “You can be an incredibly negative power or a positive one who’s looked up to by both peers and employees.”

“For the latter, bosses have to purge the bad behaviors.”

About Kathleen Brush

Kathleen Brush has more than two decades of experience as a senior executive with global business responsibilities. She has a Ph.D. in management and international studies. Brush has been teaching, writing and consulting on international business and leadership for companies of all sizes, public and private, foreign and domestic.

 

 

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A Relentless Race to the Bottom

by Seth Godin

They’re shutting down Jimmy Wang’s store. Shutting down a successful little business.

Walgreen’s is moving into town, my town, a town with three or four small drugstores and plenty of places to buy stale cookies, thank you very much.

I’ve written about Brother’s market before, an anchor in my little town. The only place to get hand-picked fresh food, pretty much, and the sort of market you could imagine moving to town just to be near. Remember those little markets where they actually care about the produce they sell? In a world filled with bitter cash register jockeys, Brother’s was different. A smiling face, a family member mentioned, a don’t-worry-about-the-pennies sort of interaction.

I’ve probably shopped there a thousand times, and every single time it brought a smile to my face.

The problem is that while Brother’s was in a race to the top, a race to create more and better interactions, Walgreen’s is in a race to the bottom. They exist to extract the last penny from every bit of real estate they can control. That’s the deal they made with their shareholders.

The landlord who owns this land lives in another state. He doesn’t care. He can ignore the protests and the petitions.

And Walgreen’s won’t even notice the community outrage. We can write letters or call or boycott the new store (or all their stores) and the local manager, the local region manager, the state-level manager, the head of store operations–none of them care, of course, because it’s just a job to them.

Real estate is the soul killer here. You can’t have a beloved local market and a public drugstore chain occupying the very same spot. Pundits like me can talk all we want about being remarkable, about leading and about making connections, but when a public company wants your spot, when it can extract a few extra pennies per square foot, you lose.

The internet has opened the door for millions of businesses to do things differently, because there are other assets now, assets that can transcend location. Your permission to talk to customers, your reputation, your unique products–you can build a business around them online. But that doesn’t work so well if you depend on local (and leased) real estate, if you’re selling watercress or radishes, apparently.

One by one, store by store, the chains expand, earning a few more dollars a share and further insulating themselves from the communities they used to serve. No, my neighbors and I don’t need another drugstore, we have plenty. That’s not going to change Walgreen’s mind, and it’s not going to help Jimmy and his team, either. My heart goes out to them. Thanks for everything you did for our community, guys.

The race to the top continues. It’s just a lot harder if you have a landlord.

 

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