8 Powerful White Men Who Are The Faces Of Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem
Diversity and inclusion issues actually have real faces and real people behind them. It’s time to hold the leaders of the culture accountable for helping fund and contribute to inequality. Many of these men have said how they really feel about diversity in tech. Some of them later apologized.
Michael Moritz, chairman of Sequoia Capital
Michael Moritz is one of the most successful investors in the history of Silicon Valley. Here’s how the chairman of Sequoia Capital explained the lack of female partners at his firm on Bloomberg TV in 2015:
“We look very hard. What we’re not prepared to do is to lower our standards. But if there are fabulously bright, driven women who are really interested in technology, very hungry to succeed, and can meet our performance standards, we’d hire them all day and night.”
Moritz is hardly a lone voice in Silicon Valley history in suggesting that hiring women means lowering standards.
About 85 percent of board members and executives are white men, and change is uncomfortable. “So because 95 percent of CEOs are white men, the status quo bias can lead board members to unconsciously prefer to hire more white men for leadership roles, ” researchers said in a Harvard Business Review report.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder recently conducted research and wrote about it for HBR. Their report began with these words:
There are more CEOs of large U.S. companies who are named David (4.5 percent) than there are CEOs who are women (4.1 percent) — and David isn’t even the most common first name among CEOs. (That would be John, at 5.3 percent.)
In October 2016, Sequoia announced that it had hired its first female investment partner in the U.S. — Jess Lee, 33, an entrepreneur and former CEO of Polyvore, an online fashion startup.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Jess to Sequoia,” said Roelof Botha, a partner, according to the New York Times. “Her rare blend of product and design sensibility, leadership and grit will make her a tremendous asset to Sequoia founders and our team.”
Sequoia has been an early investor in companies including LinkedIn and WhatsApp. A Welsh-born venture capitalist, Moritz is a philanthropist and author of the first history of Apple Inc., “The Little Kingdom.” He was a staff writer at Time magazine and a member of the board of directors of Google. He founded Technologic Partners before becoming a venture capitalist in the 1980s. Moritz was named the No. 1 venture capitalist on the Forbes Midas List in 2006 and 2007.
Marc Andreessen, cofounder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz
One of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley, Marc Andreessen said in 2014 that he thinks tech’s diversity problem is overstated.
Andreessen co-authored Mosaic, the first widely-used Web browser; co-founded Netscape, and founded the software company Opsware, which was sold to Hewlett-Packard. Andreessen has sat on the board of directors of Facebook, eBay, and Hewlett Packard, among others.
Here’s how Andreessen argued that Silcon Valley’s diversity problem was overstated in a 2014 New York Magazine interview:
“First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then ‘white’: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures. To believe in a systematic pattern of discrimination, you’d have to believe that we’re discriminatory toward certain people without being discriminatory at all toward an extremely broad range of ethnicities and religions. Because of Pakistanis, we’re seeing a higher-than-ever proportion of Muslim employees in a lot of our companies.
Andreessen said there weren’t enough skilled women and people of color in the pipeline. According to a USA Today analysis, “Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them.”
When India’s telecom regulator banned Facebook’s Free Basics — a global program to provide poor people with access to some free internet content including Facebook — Andreessen tweeted in protest.
Free Basics critics argued that it violates tenets of net neutrality, which stipulates that all internet content and users should be treated equally, CNN money reported. They said it was dangerous to allow Facebook to decide what content was allowed on Free Basics, and what was not.
Andreessen disagreed. “Denying world’s poorest free partial Internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong,” — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) February 10, 2016.
A critic of Free Basics said, “Hey, you guys are from the third world. You don’t know what’s good for you. We’ll think & decide on your behalf.”
Andreessen responded with: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” There was a deluge of condemnation, CNN reported. Andreessen later deleted the tweet and apologized:
“I apologize for any offense caused by my earlier tweet about Indian history and politics. I admire India and the Indian people enormously,” Andreessen tweeted, adding a smiley-face emoticon.
“I now withdraw from all future discussions of Indian economics and politics, and leave them to people with more knowledge and experience!”
John Doerr, venture capitalist, investor at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
In defending his company against a gender discrimination lawsuit, John Doerr said the greatest tech entrepreneurs are “white, male, nerds.”
In October 2015, Forbes ranked Doerr as the 135th richest person in the world, with a net worth of US $4.1 billion. Today, Forbes said he’s worth $5.5 billion.
In a recording of a public presentation played in Ellen Pao’s discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins, Doerr said:
If you look at (Amazon founder Jeff) Bezos, or (Netscape founder Marc) Andreessen, (Yahoo co-founder) David Filo, the founders of Google, they all seem to be white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and they absolutely have no social life,” he said.
The implication was that Doerr has preconceived notions of who is more likely to be successful in the tech industry, and that Pao did not fit that profile, Business Insider reported.
Doerr said Kleiner had backed some female-led companies including Flipboard, One Kings Lane, and BlueOak, but he admitted that the number of women in venture capital was “pathetic.”
Doerr was appointed in 2009 as a member of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board to give advice and on how to fix America’s economic downturn.
Peter Thiel, Palantir Technologies
Born in Germany, Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal in 1999 and was Facebook’s first professional investor. Thiel launched Palantir Technologies, an analytical software company, in 2004. He ranked No. 4 on the Forbes Midas List of 2014, with a net worth of $2.2 billion, and No. 246 on the Forbes 400 in 2016, with a net worth of $2.7 billion.
Two years before he cofounded PayPal, Thiel cowrote a book with David Sacks entitled “The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus.” The book demonized colleges — specifically Thiel and Sacks’s alma mater, Stanford University in California — for efforts at inclusion and allegedly “dumbed-down” standards and curricula for minority students, the Advocate reported. The authors also questioned rape victims.
Thiel in October 2016 apologized for the things he said about rape, the Los Angeles Times reported:
“More than two decades ago, I co-wrote a book with several insensitive, crudely argued statements,” Thiel said. “As I’ve said before, I wish I’d never written those things. I’m sorry for it. Rape in all forms is a crime. I regret writing passages that have been taken to suggest otherwise.”
The U.S. Department of Labor sued Palantir in 2016 for alleged racial discrimination against Asian people in its hiring and selection processes. The company did contract work for the federal government.
The Labor Department said Palantir hired 14 non-Asian applicants and 11 Asian applicants from a pool of more than 1,160 qualified people, 85 percent of whom were Asian, Telecrunch reported. The likelihood of that happening by chance is one in 3.4 million, according to the lawsuit.
“Federal contractors have an obligation to ensure that their hiring practices and policies are free of all forms of discrimination,” OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu said in a statement.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Peter Thiel was Facebook’s first outside investor. He was there at the beginning with $500,000 in seed money after a 15-minte pitch when Zuckerberg was still attending Harvard. Zuckerberg’s defense of Thiel, weeks before the 2016 presidential election, landed him on this list.
Zuckerberg issued a statement explaining why he was allowing Peter Thiel, the controversial billionaire investor and co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, to stay on Facebook’s board despite Thiel’s high-profile, highly criticized support of Donald Trump. Ellen McGirt said it best in Fortune:
In a post that was leaked to Hacker News, Zuckerberg said, “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and that excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.” In a backhanded defense that is almost comical, he went on to say, “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”
What could those be? One guess is “disruption.” Thiel, like lots of people, likes to blow stuff up in the name of progress, and blowing up the status quo has been, among other things, Trump’s persistent drumbeat.
That Zuckerberg uses diversity as the argument to keep Thiel around hits a nerve. The company has struggled to diversify their employee base—even blaming “the pipeline” for their troubles—and has made no visible attempt to change their all-white, mostly male management team or board.
But Zuckerberg has always surrounded himself with philosopher-investors, like Thiel, Parker, Marc Andreessen, and Reid Hoffman, to name a few—brilliant people who hold wildly different world views and love to debate. This diversity of thought should yield better outcomes in tech. But it almost always falls short. Because as different as their individual philosophies are, their collective way of operating—exploit inefficiencies, scale fast, etc.—is largely identical.
But “blowing stuff up” doesn’t scale well when it comes to people’s lives.
Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator
Y Combinator is the most prestigious startup incubator in Silicon Valley and perhaps the world, with a sterling reputation. “To be selected by YC is to obtain cachet, recognition, and $120,000” (in exchange for 7 percent), The Intercept reported.
But what YC co-founder Paul Graham really thinks lies buried in footnotes. In a 2005 blog post, he said he would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon.
He has also admitted to being impatient with CEOs who had strong foreign accents.
After ranking every Y Combinator company by its valuation, Graham told New York Times interviewer Nathaniel Rich in 2013 that he discovered this:
“You have to go far down the list to find a C.E.O. with a strong foreign accent,” Graham told me. “Alarmingly far down — like 100th place.” I asked him to clarify. “You can sound like you’re from Russia,” he said, in the voice of an evil Soviet henchman. “It’s just fine, as long as everyone can understand you.”
Born in the U.K., Graham is a computer scientist and essayist. He is known for his work on Lisp, and for co-founding Viaweb, which was sold to Yahoo for shares of Yahoo stock valued at $49.6 million. Graham proposed a “disagreement hierarchy” in a 2008 essay, “How to Disagree.”
What is Graham worth? Somewhere between $260 million and $1.4 billion based on two of YC’s most successful startups — Dropbox and AirBnB — an anonymous poster speculated in a 2014 Quora post.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Apple CEO Tim Cook is the man leading the company with the world’s largest market capitalization ($610 billion-plus as of December 2016) and the most profitable business in America, according to Forbes. Apple earned more than $9 billion in net income in the last quarter. Cook is hugely influential in technology, design, publishing, and entertainment.
The Richest puts Cook’s net worth at $400 million.
Cook talked about Apple’s diversity in April 2017 when he accepted the Free Expression award in the Free Speech category at the Newseum, Computer World reported.
“Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the U.S. and around the world — regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship, or who they love<” Cook said.
Not all Apple shareholders agree. Antonio Avian Maldonado II says Apple has been painstakingly slow in increasing the representation of minorities in its leadership.
Apple’s executives and senior leaders are almost entirely male (83 percent) and white (83 percent), according to the firm’s own numbers. Demographics of Apple’s U.S. workforce show that diversity at Apple improved slightly in August 2015 compared to August 2014. About 8.6 percent of Apple’s workforce was African American, a slight increase from 8 percent in 2014, USA Today reported in January 2016. But the number of female managers declined from 27.7 percent to to 27.1 percent.
Maldonado is leading an effort to force Apple to speed up its diversity efforts at the top levels of leadership, The Verge reported on Feb. 15, 2017. For the second year in a row, he has submitted a shareholder proposal asking that Apple “adopt an accelerated recruitment policy … to increase the diversity of senior management and its board of directors.”
Apple is opposed to such a mandate and recommended board members vote against it. Apple said it has “much broader” diversity efforts at work and has made “steady progress” attracting more women and underrepresented minorities, according to the Verge.
“Some of the excuses given by Apple and others — there’s not sufficient people in the pipeline, this and that,” Maldonado said. “Excuse my language, it’s bullshit.”
Apple has rarely had many people of ethnic or racial diversity on their board or senior leadership, Moldanado said. For a 40-year-old company “that’s laughable. That’s racism plain and simple. That’s all it is. There has to be plenty of people with sufficient qualifications.”
At the company’s 2015 shareholder’s meeting, Maldonado managed to get a question in with Apple CEO Cook. He wasn’t happy with the answer.
“Tim Cook was very defensive, and he presented the two black people on their leadership — but not senior leadership — as a sign of their diversity,” Maldonado says. “Personally, I took it as an insult. They were put on the spotlight as ‘here’s tokenism,’ and he didn’t seem to accept that.”
Tech entrepreneur and investor David Sacks is a member of the “PayPal Mafia“— a group of founders and early PayPal employees who went on to found other successful tech companies. When Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012, Sacks served as corporate vice president of Microsoft Office. In 2014 he joined Zenefits, a San Francisco-based startup company, becoming its CEO.
Sacks is the co-author with Peter Thiel of the 1995 book, “The Diversity Myth: ‘Multiculturalism’ and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford,” published by The Independent Institute. The book criticized political correctness in higher education and the dilution of academic rigor. It “drew a sharp rebuttal from then-Stanford Provost (and later President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor) Condoleezza Rice,” according to the Chronicle Peninsula Bureau.
Rice and the Stanford president said in a statement, “They (Sacks and Thiel) concoct a cartoon, not a description of our freshman curriculum” and that Thiel and Sacks’ “commentary was demagoguery, pure and simple,” Palo Alto Online reported.
Sacks apologized in 2016 for two statements about rape that he made in the book, according to The Guardian. He said that “the purpose of the rape crisis movement seems as much about vilifying men as about raising ‘awareness.’
“This is college journalism written over 20 years ago. It does not represent who I am or what I believe today. I’m embarrassed by some of my former views and regret writing them,” Sacks said.
Sacks made early-stage investments in startups including AirBnB, Cherry, Circle Inc, Secret, Eventbrite, Facebook, Mixpanel, OneLogin, Palantir, Pocket Change, ResearchGate, Sofa Labs, Scribd, SpaceX, and Uber.