Someday we may no longer need in-depth chronicles of the tech industry’s woman problem. But not yet.
This month’s Atlantic weighs in with a cover story by Liza Mundy titled “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” The answers are depressingly familiar yet worth reviewing: Startups are “frequently run by brotherhoods of young men — in many cases friends or roommates — straight out of elite colleges” who seek “culture fit” as they scale up. Tech’s engineering culture celebrates individual genius, and the stereotype of the innately brilliant coder is male. Tech companies see themselves as meritocracies, but — thanks to the “paradox of meritocracy” — the belief that all decisions are merit-based gives leaders and hiring managers license to exercise their biases.
The healthcare debate had its Marie Antoinette moment yesterday, as GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Americans to stop buying smartphones so they could afford health insurance under the new Republican proposal. “Rather than getting that new iPhone, that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care,” Chaffetz said.
The race was on for pundits and publications to calculate just how many iPhones one would need to forego in order to pay your insurer. For most of us, you’d have to be getting a fancy new phone every month or so to even come close (Lifehacker). But Chaffetz’s comment didn’t only prove his ignorance of the basics of both healthcare and telecommunications economics. It suggested he was fundamentally unaware of how essential a working smartphone — i- or otherwise — is for navigating everyday life and work in America 2017 (Brian Fung in The Washington Post).
Davos, conferences, and how to change the dialog for the better.
Like many business-minded folks this time of year, I’ve been monitoring the news out of Davos, where the World Economic Forum holds its annual soiree. The coverage of this year’s event is of course framed in the dramatic news of the day: Brexit, Trump’s ascension to power in the United States, and the rise of anti-globalism worldwide. Had Trump and Brexit not won in 2016, I imagine Davos would be full of stories about climate change, corporate responsibility, automation, AI, and the realities of a post-industrial economy (that’s been a major focus on the WEF’s content on Medium, for the most part).
Instead, it seems “Davos Man” is having something of an identity crisis. Long the bastion of global free trade and neoliberalism, the World Economic Forum appears uncertain how to tackle what seems to be a genuine shift in the very structure of capitalism itself.
I am scared. About sharing my thoughts publicly. For the first time. And that’s unlike me. But engaging about women in tech is a minefield and so many choose to stay on the sidelines. Then three things happened (not including the nasty man’s behavior in the Presidential debate), all of which compelled me to write, all against the backdrop of having two daughters and many friends who are female founders, corporate execs and VCs.
The first incident is now known by many of us. A white male VC advised women to hide their gender online and in business communication in an OpEd in the WSJ. Sure what he is suggesting is repulsive, demeaning and would roll back women’s rights but that’s not the worst of it. This man actually thought he was helping women and he was so certain he chose not to get feedback before he posted. As expected he was excoriated and ultimately apologized.
Massachusetts draws a line in the job-interview sand. The most novel feature of Massachusetts’ new employment law bars employers from asking job applicants how much they made in previous gigs (The Atlantic). Legislators and activists hope to reduce the gender wage gap by breaking the loop in which small initial pay disparities turn into ever-larger inequities over the course of a career. Considering how stubborn the gender pay gap is, and how complex its causes (Vox), this experiment is surely worth a shot. But the law won’t go into effect for two years; it’ll be longer before we know whether it works. Applicants can still voluntarily tell Massachusetts hiring managers what they make, and the law guarantees workers the right to tell each other, too. Can limiting information in the hiring process really help? In the long run, more info is better than less: you can’t fix the system without knowing the data.
Lab keys are under the mat. Airbnb has taken the wraps off Samara, its new urban-planning innovation lab (Fast Company) aimed at “exploring new attitudes toward sharing and trust.” The first project: a communal housing project in Japan, done up in relaxing unfinished cedar, aimed at revitalizing small rural towns. How will these design projects contribute to the company’s bread-and-butter short-term rental business? Samara’s motto offers a clue: “The journey is long.”