Kara Swisher: All right. So we’re going to talk about an issue, obviously, that’s really important to me and to Recode and to all of us, it should be, which is not just #MeToo, but diversity, women, people of color, all having a more inclusive tech community which I think we can all say — I can say since I can say these things — Silicon Valley gets an F. It still gets an F on this stuff.
So let’s come out and have a discussion of how we can make that happen and make it better and not just complain about it, but things that we can do.
We have Aileen Lee, who’s the founder and managing partner of Cowboy Ventures; Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, president of Step Up and founder of the Boardlist; and Megan Smith, who is CEO of Shift 7 and the third U.S. Chief Technology officer of the United States of America.
So, I don’t know where to start. Let me start with you, Aileen. You and I did a podcast and one of the things you said on it that really struck me — and actually a lot of listeners — was the “good guy” thing. Can you talk about that? Let’s start talking about the problem itself. And each of you, I want you to think about what the problem itself is. And I really do want to talk about solutions, because we all know the numbers. They suck. Let’s start with that, because I thought that was fascinating from you.
Aileen Lee: Okay. Hi. So I have a problem with the saying that a lot of people use, which is called, “He’s such a good guy” — and if you pay attention to it from now on, you’ll notice how often people say it — which is: You’re sitting around a board table. Let’s say if a company’s doing well they’re thinking about their next round of funding and we usually make a spreadsheet of who we’re going to call for the Series B or the Series C. And usually it’s a bunch of guys sitting around the table and I’m the only woman. And someone will be like, “Oh, what about Jeff Smith?” And someone else will be like, “Ah, he’s such a good guy. I love that guy.” And then someone else will say, “What about Ben Jones?” “I love that dude. What a good dude.”
Then I’ll say, “Well, you know, what about Sukhinder or Megan?” They’ll be like, “Oh, does she invest in security?” And the conversation and the questions you get because they don’t know her. “He’s such a good guy” has nothing to do with whether he should join the board, whether he’s going to add value to the company, whether he knows the right customers or the technology or their product or has the expertise.
But that’s the qualification for how a lot of people get invited into investing in companies or getting hired into roles. And the questions that people ask around women candidates or people of color or people who are different or people who are unknown are completely different. So it bugs me. And I would like us to not use it anymore.
Kara Swisher: Okay, nobody use it. That’s it. So let’s just define what you guys are doing to do this. Talk about your three things. Let me start, let’s start with Sukhinder, because theBoardlist has been around the longest.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Yeah, a couple of years. So theBoardlist is a talent marketplace to solve the problem of “there are no good women for my board.”
Kara Swisher: Right.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: “Where are all the good women?” It’s a curated marketplace where CEOs and senior executives with board experience nominate great people for board service and companies come and search.
Kara Swisher: It’s a binder, binder, right, full of women?
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: It’s more than a binder. It is a marketplace, in fact. But yeah, to answer your question, 2,500 women, 500 board seats, 150 placements. There are plenty of good women, right?
Kara Swisher: And the concept is that boards are the easiest, probably the low-hanging fruit in terms of getting and attracting … a different board.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: For sure, because boards are not only low-hanging fruit, they’re the white space for private companies. People think of board seats as high risk. I think of them as actually a great way to get introduced to talent, particularly in a private company where you can set the terms and figure out if somebody’s a great fit.
Pure white space. Easy to do. And the start of theBoardlist is, as I think we once talked about, was a number of tier one VCs coming in to see me, to ask me when I was a founder myself, “What should we do, Sukhinder, about the problem of women in the Valley?”
And I said, “You could solve 100 percent of the culture problems in the Valley today if you put a woman on every board of every Series B company and beyond. So let’s go.”
Kara Swisher: So, when you think about that, because it’s interesting, because boards ... One of the things that — I’ve said this a number of times — is when it comes to boards there’s plenty of tasks, there’s lots ... You can argue all you want about other jobs, but boards, there’s plenty of people to pick from. One of the stories I did many years ago was one on the Twitter board. I started off that, “Why are there 10 white men on this board?” Like I just want to understand that. You remember that piece?
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: I remember.
Kara Swisher: I think it’s the single great ... I could have retired after this lede I did, which I thought was the best lede of all time. I was writing about this fact, like it’s mathematically impossible that this is how it ended up. And I said, “Here on the board of Twitter, which has three Peters and a Dick ...” Come on, that’s Pulitzer material!
Of course, Dick Costolo, and he’s like, “Well, Kara, I can’t believe you did that!” Dick did his whole neurotic thing. And he’s like, “I can’t believe you did that — but that was funny.” But it was the idea of standards, that “we don’t have standards.”
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Yeah, “we don’t have standards” and we ,,,
Kara Swisher: We have standards, but it never is brought up when it comes to women.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Right, and we have standards but it doesn’t happen until the shit hits the fan. Right, we’ve all seen that in the boardroom recently in tech companies. “We will get to it, but …” It’s all the buts. My favorite “but” is, “I don’t know. I don’t know of any good women.” That’s my favorite “but.”
Kara Swisher: Explain what you’re doing.
Aileen Lee: At All Raise?
Kara Swisher: Yes, at All Raise.
Aileen Lee: All Raise is a new nonprofit for the tech industry that was started last fall. Hopefully, everyone here, if you’re interested, can become a member. We’re going to be rolling out membership. It’s exciting. We were talking about not complaining, and obviously there’s lots to complain about, but what’s exciting about All Raise and theBoardlist and a lot of things that Megan’s been doing is this is about people in an industry, who understand an industry. In our case, it’s basically the most senior women in venture capital and tech venture capital in America getting together and saying, “We’ve got a problem in our industry. What can we do to fix it?”
The data is terrible. We’ve heard lots of personal stories about people of color and women and people who are different having bad experiences. It’s not been a level playing field. I think we all now acknowledge that it has not been, so what are we going to do about it?
So a bunch of women, probably almost a third of the senior women in the industry, because the industry’s really small, got together for dinner around a dinner table. And we talked about what are the problems that we can fix in our industry? And we came up with two specific goals that we thought would move the needle the most. One is doubling the number of senior women partners in the venture industry and doubling the number of women that get venture funding that are co-founders of venture-backed companies. And if we can move the needle on those two things, we can change our industry.
But rather than just throwing down those goals we actually then brainstormed: Okay, what are the programs that we are going to put next to them? What are the products that we can build? And let’s just start shipping stuff and trying stuff. So we started a thing called Female Founder Office Hours that has done super well, and we’re expanding it by state and by city. Then we launched something called Founders for Change, which is around founders galvanizing around ... trying to work with modern funders and to basically modernize their cap tables and make their cap tables and their teams more diverse.
And we’ve been trying a bunch of different things. I think it’s pretty unique, where it’s not about like playing gotcha or penalizing people for the past. It’s about moving forward together and teaming up and trying to change an industry from within.
Kara Swisher: And you’re raising.
Aileen Lee: Yes, we are open for business, if you want to contribute to allraise.org.
Kara Swisher: For what? For doing these different programs?
Aileen Lee: Yeah. It’s a nonprofit. We’re hiring staff and we’re working on scaling so that we can leverage lots of volunteers, support programs and basically try and ship a bunch of different products that will try and address lots of different members and touch points in the industry.
Kara Swisher: And Megan, you’re doing stuff around the country, trying to find talent. So, explain what you’re doing. You’re also involved with Times Up, correct?
Megan Smith: Mm-hmm.
Kara Swisher: And trying to bring tech into it?
Megan Smith: Yeah, so, just overall to frame this issue, I think this is the moonshot. I mean, if you could actually field the whole team, of the whole country on things that they wanted to work on. Can you imagine, with these amazing tools and tech that we have?
I’ve been working on a lot of different things. We’ve worked at Google for a long time on this, and earlier. There’s hundreds of thousands of jobs open in the United States and it’s gonna get more. It’s gonna get bigger and bigger. One of the things we are doing, Leanne Pittsford, who created Lesbians Who Tech, created a tech jobs tour. I just joined up with her. We went to 25 different places across Appalachia and Milwaukee and Birmingham and Memphis. There’s 45,000 young people out of school and out of work in Memphis. And there’s open jobs. So, why aren’t we bridging this talent?
So we found that it’s not really about conferences and talking about it. How about just hustle? So we would just go in and run a career fair in the evening and find the techies in town, because they’re always there. I remember President Obama was going to Boise, Idaho, and there were 15 tech meetups in Boise. One of them had almost 800 people in it. So there’s lots of techies everywhere, they’re just invisible to their neighbors if we’re outside of Silicon Valley.
So how can you get people meeting each other? So we started to do that, speed mentoring that, and then you find people who are diving deeper. As a specific example, there’s a guy named Nick up in Idaho and he’s a boomerang, which is one of us from one of these centers who’s gone home. He’s from Coeur d’Alene and he wanted to be home. So he’s opened an incredible space. ADK bought basically a warehouse downtown, turned it into the coolest tech center. They’ve got amazing startups. They’ve got coffee, they’ve got all that.
And then he’s like, “How do I get the rest of my neighbors in this state in?” And he actually organized teams, five different teams to go across the state to 20 different locations and run, “Try out this coding thing.” They ran 57 events in three days. I went to the Indian reservation in Plummer, where there’s 1,000 people living and 40 people showed up. We had iPads and Spheros. People were there, whether it was this forestry guy who wanted to digitize stuff for his business or whether it’s grandma and grandpa and the grandkids.
And after this event, 700 people in Idaho signed up to learn how to code together. Apple came and we were doing Swift. And so now there’s book clubs in Idaho. Of those 700 people 32 percent of them make less than 20K. Half of them are women. And Apple is showing up by video to mentor them.
So there’s sort of this hustle way and it’s happening all over the country, in the Mississippi Delta, across the board. We were in Appalachia, in Pikeville, a tiny town. We’re driving by the Coca Cola bottling facility and we’re thinking, “Oh, that’s cool.” And then we’re like, “Oh my God, of course the tech company’s in the cool building.” They had founded a company called Bit Sources. This is coal miner entrepreneurs who had made many companies in the coal sector, who have transformed to bit source, drill bit source code company. 800 people applied for those 12 jobs, and their first job was learning to code. Now they’re reshoring jobs to America in Pikeville. And also, I love their culture. They’re Silicon Holler. They don’t have Silicon Valley —
Kara Swisher: I gotta say, I wish they would stop all that stuff, but okay.
Megan Smith: Yeah, but I love that the point of it is just to, that it’s this kind Appalachia cover together with now tech, advanced tech. Great stuff. They had the fabulous ads diagrams that we know from Google all over the wall and also celebrated their own history.
Kara Swisher: What do you think the problem is? First, let’s talk about what the problem is in Silicon Valley. Let’s identify it from your perspective right now. Look, nobody could ignore all the #MeToo stuff and all the stories. And I think Uber, for a company brought in to — I’m going to talk to Dara later about that — for, “Oh my God! This is the worst place on Earth” kind of thing. And Susan’s memo really did, but it’d been around. We had the Kleiner Perkins before, we’d had lots of things. And you were at Kleiner Perkins also. I want you each to identify the problem from your perspective, because it has to really start in Silicon Valley or within the tech industry.
Aileen Lee: The problem, one problem?
Kara Swisher: Well, pick one.
Aileen Lee: There’s so many. Venture capital has been, for decades, a private industry of small firms run by white males. And they’ve hired white males and they’ve funded white males. And it’s the “good guy” problem, right? And you look at the data and people say, “Where are the women?” Well, the women have not had a shot from the beginning.
If you look at the money that goes into startups, all-female teams get 2 percent of venture dollars. Founding teams that have any female on them at all on them get 10 percent of the dollars. So it’s 90 percent of the dollars are going to all-male teams. There’s bias. Any of you who is a hiring manager or runs a company, you know in all your business processes there are biases. So we need to systematically map out our industry and our business processes and try and take the biases out of them, because you can’t look at the end result and be like, “Oh, it’s their fault.” People have not been given a shot and we need to re-engineer our business. But that’s what happened, at least in the venture world, is that good guys have hired and funded good guys.
Kara Swisher: And so, other problems?
Aileen Lee: Also, to be honest, sexism as well. The layer below “good guy” is not getting looked in the eye when a woman is pitching a male venture capitalist. He’s looking somewhere else; it’s not okay.
Megan Smith: There’s really interesting data out of some researchers in New York. It’s showing, it’s from TechCrunch, and they took all the videos of the pitch competitions at TechCrunch, and they looked at the questions that get asked to different people. They found that the questions that go to women are usually decelerating, you know, “How’re you gonna hold on to your market?” Then the questions asked to men, by far, were like, “How big is this?” You know, they were accelerating questions. And people were raising far different amounts of money because of this. They found that the good news, in terms of solution making, is that this is happening, our culture is doing this, none of us created this, we inherit it but we’re doing it; so we gotta stop.
Good news is that they also found in the data, for the women who could catch the negative question and say things like ... and turn it around, answer it but turn it around. For example, “Actually the market share is growing so even if we’re holding a slice of the pie, we’re still gonna be larger. Here’s how it’s bigger,” whatever, however they do that, that can happen. We have to train people for that. But it’s incredibly depressing, you look at the data, the reality, the truth of this and you know, we use media ... One of the things we’re doing in Time’s Up is actually — and a lot of this work is people are starting to use actual software to help ourselves. So the Kapor Center has been pitched competitions around HR Tech, people ops tech, we do have mitigated bias. We can run, let’s say that we have a job req going up, we can run it through some tools to help us broaden it so more people apply and it’s less sexist and racist in its biased way. In Time’s Up, we’re using AI and machine learning and natural language processing on what we’re putting on screen.
Today it’s 15 to 1 boy programmers to girl programmers in children’s TV; that’s worse than the industry. So every time our children are watching TV, they learn boys do this and girls don’t. That’s just not true, but it’s the bias of the Hollywood person who didn’t mean to animate or do that. How can we give tools as you’re making this media that you can see who’s not talking, who’s more central, really cool stuff that’s coming out of USC, working with Geena Davis and others. That’s part of sort of the screen team in Time’s Up.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Right, on a more pragmatic level, we’ve talked a lot about systematic bias, and I’m with you. But at a more pragmatic level, I think that we are in an industry that has valued speed above everything else, right? The reality is to fix these things, to create a better pipeline, to fix your board, these things require intentionality, slowing down and actually taking your time. And so, at the more pragmatic level, we may all not be able to change our biases but then it takes intentionality and to set aside the time to do the basics. I mean, it is the basics, right? The basics on building a pipeline. The basics before you go out and hire a great white male for that direct report job you have as the CEO of a company, why don’t you just stop for a moment and look at the level below and figure out if there’s a woman you can groom for that job? That takes intentionality. So I feel like systematic bias is like, it’s daunting. You’re like, “Wow, how do we all fix our biases?” but like one below that is the pragmatism of like, “Okay, guys,” it takes intentionality and time.
Megan Smith: We published a thing in the White House, I encourage everybody to look at, which is called “Raise the Floor,” because we’d walk in the room and people’d be like, “God, I don’t know what to do about this.” We know a lot, we don’t know how to totally fix it but we have a lot of practices in the area of leadership, what leaders can do, in the area of our culture. You know, Susan Wojcicki’s always talking about, “What are we doing for the people who are here right now? What practices can we do?” Like an example, there would be feedback, making sure everybody’s getting feedback, not just the person who gets invited to lunch. What can we do in our pipelines and what can we do in our ecosystem, including children. And stopping ourselves from saying, “Hey, we gotta work on diversity, what are we doing for the kids?”
Yes, computer science for all, that works, let’s go. Wyoming just passed that. Chicago, you can’t graduate from school without having coding, so that will bring us a lot of equity, but they’re not coming right away. So let’s do that and what are we doing for the people who’re right here? Why, like Evan was saying yesterday, why is this not on the management team meeting every single week as a standing item and how are we not crowd-sourcing from our employee resources group better?
Kara Swisher: So all of you’ve worked in the industry, it does seem daunting. Daunting is an excellent word for it because it doesn’t ... I’ve been around for a long time, it seems to be the same thing ... Was the Uber thing a moment? Like you had Harvey Weinstein as a moment, there’s all kinds of things, you know, that’s an appalling story. We’ve had versions of that, not quite that level of a horror show that was perpetrating but awful stories. Where do you imagine that ... do you imagine this is that moment or not? Because I thought it would be with Kleiner, I thought it would be a lot of stuff.
Aileen Lee: You did, we thought that was it, Kleiner?
Kara Swisher: Yeah, I did, I know. But where did you, is the Uber thing ...
Aileen Lee: I think Kleiner ... Ellen Pao was very brave to stand up to Kleiner and that was a start. Susan Fowler’s memo was a start. I think Binary Capital — I mean Justin Caldbeck — and there are a lot of women who we know who were impacted by those many years of bad experiences.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Yeah, so did it take an apple cart? Absolutely.
Aileen Lee: There’ve been many, you know, Better Up, gamergate ... or sorry, BetterWorks, sorry, not Better Up. You know, there have been many, SoFi. Last year, it was like every month there was a new story where you could no longer ignore it.
Kara Swisher: What do you imagine the impact is? Because sometimes it feels like the story’s gone and then you get ... it goes like this.
Aileen Lee: I think ... we have a lot of work to do but I’m pretty optimistic because I also think like, you know how researchers of demographics say that Gen Z and millennials have different values than baby boomers? The way that younger consumers think about brands is different than how people who are baby boomers think about brands. Younger people care about like, “Where was this made? Is it organic? Did they treat their employees fairly?” They have different values, they care about brands in a much more holistic way, in a 360 way, than I think prior generations have. I think, actually, the impression that people have of Silicon Valley of kind of like the hoodie-wearing bro who only hires his bro friends and cruises around San Francisco in a pack kind of like assessing women is a stereotype that actually is really the minority now in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
I think one of the benefits of all the shitty things that we learned about last year is that a lot of founders read those stories and they were like, “I do not want to be that guy,” or, “I don’t want to build that team,” or, “I don’t want to lead that kind of a company.” They sit with their staff and they sit with their board and they say like, “Okay, let’s never be this. How do we change things up? How do we build a great culture? How do we ...?”
I’ve sat on boards where a CEO, without prompting, will say, “Hey, we’re 15 people now and we’re all guys. We’re at risk of building a company that none of us wants to work at. How can you help us change who we hire next and make sure that we build the kind of company that would make us proud?” That’s the conversation that is happening in so many boardrooms right now and in so many companies. The customer has changed and so, I think, actually, the firms will change too because this is ...
One of things we talk about at All Raise is this is about motivation by greed as much as — more than fear in a lot of ways. People don’t want to lose business, they don’t want to lose customers, they don’t want to lose talent, and they will lose all those things if they actually don’t build a great culture and a team that looks like a modern company and a modern team.
Kara Swisher: So greed rather than fear?
Aileen Lee: Yeah.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Fear is excellent.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: I think fear has worked as well; but it’s both. I would say, last year, the reason I think it’s a tipping point that we’re not coming back from is because, as you know, this is a small world, we all live in it, we can all walk out the halls and know three-quarters of the people in this room. Reputational loss, even more than financial loss, is a driver for behavior. I think actually loss ,and loss of reputation, I think those were the drivers and the catalyst. I think there’s greed on the one hand, like I want all the available talent and I don’t ... I think there is absolutely fear of repercussion because, for the first time, there were repercussions.
Kara Swisher: Because there are repercussions.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Absolutely.
Kara Swisher: I was dealing with someone at Uber and we were writing that India rape story, for example, which I was so ... I couldn’t believe when we uncovered that. Someone said casually, “When are you gonna stop?” And I said, “When you stay down and that’s when I’m ... when you can stay on the ground, like don’t get up again because I’ll hit you again” kinda thing. And it worked. They’re like, “Oh,” and I’m like, “No, really, I’m gonna hit you again, get up, go ahead.” It was really an interesting thing but what it was is ... what I felt like had happened is that it was more like, “Are you gonna keep at this? Are you gonna keep at this?”
So how do you sustain that and the idea? Because you’re not a rager, but anger, I think, is a very effective thing. I think staying angry is an excellent way to create change. Really for the future, it doesn’t motivate the group of people you want to motivate. At the same time, feeling like you have to pet these people, like, “Good job for not grabbing that woman’s ass, nice work,” is really irritating.
Megan Smith: I think there’s two things. One is I think it was shocking for everybody in a bunch of ways last year as this came out. One dimension was that all the women, we all know that this is true and this has happened to all of us at varying degrees. I think for a lot of men, some men are doing this and a lot of men were surprised and didn’t realize how widespread this is and how extreme this is and how oppressive it is. I think that that was a reckoning moment for us.
Now, I have to tell you, I was talking to my sister-in-law who worked with [Richard] Stallman at the beginning of Open Source. You know, in her work, in Boston, the beginning of this industry she had to sit at her bench, she’s an exceptionally talented electrical engineer, computer scientist, and had to have a Hustler magazine centerfold [on a wall in front of her], for two years, until she could get rid of it. If she took the elevator, people would attack her in the elevator. That was just the behavior of those people and no one was checking it.
So we’ve come somewhere, although I would admit that it’s pretty amazing to think of Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace and all the inventors. You know, Ada’s the inventor of the Darwin, you know, of us. She wrote a 55-page paper in the 1840s about computer science that she couldn’t even write. She had to attach it as notes and write “AAL,” like J.K. Rowling, to hide that she was a woman. But really, if you read it, it’s the definitive paper that Turing references. And so, we don’t know our history. We don’t know that women and men have gone to do this. Turing, of course, made the Turing machine. He goes to do the Manchester Baby, which is their first computer, ours is ENIAC and UNIVAC, and who works in his company but Berners-Lee’s mom? Tim Berners-Lee’s mom is the computer scientist there and she teaches her son, he makes the web.
So women and men have ping-ponged along in this, but we have to know that history because it drives the future. I’m hopeful about a lot of things. The thing that I’m personally focused on is not only raising our consciousness about caring about this and getting it into the boardrooms and into the leadership rooms and the real tools that we have and understanding the costs it has for our society. I think sometimes from government, when we were in there, we were applying all this cool stuff to NASA and Department of Energy but like, why weren’t we in Justice and in HUD and in Ed? Why weren’t we over there? We started to do that work but, you know, tech is for anything. Why should the Hogwarts tools be just for Steve Bannon and the Dark Arts, right? Then, for this and not for everything else?
Kara Swisher: So you didn’t stay in the Trump Administration as CTO?
Megan Smith: I didn’t get invited to! But I would like a CTO to be there someday, it’s really important. Just a fast thing about what Mark talked about this morning that’s fabulous, it’s not gonna take a lot more money to solve this, we have all the money in the world. The tech teams are not in government at the senior elite levels, of course not in NASA and AH, but I mean in the key places in Congress and so, taking a tour of duty is really important. Applying these things, these incredible tools to justice and poverty and these other areas and helping those teammates — who are extraordinary — [solve] harder problems. It’s harder to solve poverty than drive a car down the street by itself. So teaming up and these Navy SEALs teams with us included will actually go a long way. I call it “techifying,” everything else will diversify tech.
Kara Swisher: Let’s finish up talking about solutions and then we’ll get questions from the audience. If you all had to change one thing, because I think you’re absolutely right when you’re talking about men ... a lot of good men not realizing it. I think every woman I know has 10 stories of different micro-aggressions to very serious stuff. Not everyone’s down on the serious end but everybody has one.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Everybody has a story.
Kara Swisher: And most of the men I know didn’t know about it, like, “Oh I didn’t …” If I heard, “I’m so surprised,” one more time — it was shocking. It was sort of, it was also, “You’re an idiot if you’re not paying [attention],” but then I thought, “Why aren’t the women saying it?”
Talk about one, each of you, one solution. So, you’re doing All Raise training and bringing people ...
Aileen Lee: Helping women feel more supported.
Kara Swisher: What can people here ...
Aileen Lee: Go to allraise.org, and we’re just getting started, we’re an early-stage startup, but yeah, it’s an opportunity for professional development for women, for mentorship, for ...
Kara Swisher: And this is just women, not people of color, right? Because that’s a whole other ...
Aileen Lee: We’re starting with women, and I think we’ll have lots of stuff. I think it’s gonna be hopefully a very big tent where, regardless of who you are, if you’re on the mission and you wanna make a difference, you can become a part of All Raise.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: So I’m beyond stating the obvious, which is get yourself some great women for your board. I may go to the next level, which is I think one of the solutions for every leader in this room is figure out how you’re gonna make the next five women in your organization CEOs. You wanna change the founders. You wanna change this game, we need to take the talented and smart women who are sitting in all of your organizations and you need to make it your personal mission, and people of color ...
Kara Swisher: It’s not just sex. The training part. I’ve known so many people who get in there and then they move nowhere.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Yes, but you know it’s interesting, right? Just a side note. Everybody thinks women need training and people of color need training. I will say Silicon Valley once again is for all of us who got opportunities that none of us were qualified for. So this whole idea that you need to train women leaders and you don’t need to train men leaders is ridiculous. Let me just say that. Go find the talented women in your organization and talented people of color and make it your personal mission to take those high-potential leaders and get them into the CEO seat or the founder seat. And that’s how you will change this game. Get them into power.
Megan Smith: Yes, so the thing that I think about is about leadership here, and one of the big challenges is that this isn’t prioritized by leaders, even ... Of course we all care about this, but we’re not caring like the way we’re shipping the product. And so we just have to move the priority up, put it on the agenda, understand the basics, like again, raise the floor, what can you do. And also remember that incredible diversity leader you have in your HR department or whatever, they’re the coach, they’re not supposed to do all the work. It’d be like being in the NBA and the coach was trying to play all the games. You have to have everyone on your team doing this at all levels because this is a team sport, to include each other, and it’s uncomfortable, and get ready for that. And you’re gonna learn a lot. And can you imagine how incredible we can be when we do this? And the problems we will solve? And if you start thinking about market failures everywhere across all topics, and what you could address ...
And making sure that as you do this work you remember that we’re all complying to a style compliance of the rules. Open it up, let’s have fun at work. Who thought of the dumb idea “don’t cry at work?” Let’s get rid of all this stuff and let’s be ourselves, let’s have fun and let’s solve the most extraordinary problems. We got climate change coming at us, we got AI, we got algorithm bias, we’re gonna scale all this stuff, and we have extraordinary people. So the real moonshot is, how do we unlock the talent of our seven billion colleagues on the planet and bring it? And what we could be as humanity and where we can go on and off this planet?
Kara Swisher: Well, that’s a good way. Questions from the audience? I want men to ask questions, please. Up, men, or I will find you. I operate with fear. I know a lot more about you than you think. So please rise. I do not want only women up there. Kate, go ahead.
Kate: Yes. So earlier you were interviewing Brian Chesky of Airbnb, and when someone from the audience asked him if he was looking to hire a woman on his board, he kind of grudgingly said, “Yes, we’re looking to hire two women for diversity’s sake.” And to me this sounded pretty ingenuine and problematic, because he was looking at ... It seemed like he was looking at hiring woman like some sort of checklist he needed to fill out for diversity’s sake. And I was wondering if you find this problematic, and if so, how do we change this mode of thinking?
Kara Swisher: Just to be ... That’s my niece, by the way, Kate.
Megan Smith: And she’s playing out your point because she’s a centennial. So she’s demanding this.
Kara Swisher: Let me just be clear, I text him almost daily, “Where are the women on your board?” So I may be part of that problem. Go ahead.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Look, I think there is some level of, “I need a woman on my board because everybody says I need a woman on my board.” The converse of that is, look, if pressure right now in the ecosystem is what’s making you think about diversity, I will take that over zero progress. And I think the most important thing we can do for Brian Chesky and everybody else is help them find the most talented people for his board of which they may be women, and don’t stop at one, get to two or three. And then let’s go talk about the effects on his board, because I think, I’d love for it to not be a checklist but I will take a checklist and peer pressure over no progress. Sadly.
Orchid Bertelsen: Hi, my name is Orchid Bertelsen, thank you so much for having this panel. You guys are all badass. So my question is really around what Megan was saying about doing your tour of duty, bringing tech to solve problems in justice and poverty. I live in San Francisco, it’s no secret that homelessness is a huge problem there. You also see a lot of innovation and focus on creating apps or products for high net worth individuals to sell more products and make their lives easier. What kinds of incentives should be in place so that the people who have the skills and who want to do good in the world can be incentivized to create and focus their energy on solving complex problems like poverty, but that don’t make them a lot of money?
Megan Smith: I’m in the National Academy of Engineering, which President Lincoln started, and it was amazing to me to look at their agenda because it’s this same thing, this lopsided, the treasure, the agenda and the voice who gets to speak is on certain problems which are important, so self-driving cars, precision medicine, ad tech, there’s stuff that’s good to work on, and there’s these other things. I think one of the greatest things we learned with President Obama than as with others is that they’re extraordinary colleagues using other tools. I call it play the whole orchestra, so, “You’re using this part and we’re using this part.” We gotta get all this stuff mixed up. One of the greatest things you can do is not throw something at them, but get inside their team.
So how do you put technical people — I call it TQ, like tech IQ or tech quotient — TQ people at the table? When we work in these nonprofit government places, in tech the engineers rule. And then somewhere down here are the policy and comms people. That’s our stackrank. I don’t agree with it, but it’s what we do. But when you go to government, the policy and comms people are in charge and they’re very ... surgeon generals and scientists and others, but tech people aren’t even in the room. And so we get things like healthcare.gov because these people are doing the right thing on policy and those choices but their architecture is wrong. So I think it is who is missing from this team, not what to do. And add the people into those rooms. Use your philanthropy dollars to get technical expert people and help them hire them in these other sectors.
Kara Swisher: But at some point they’re just not going to have to make as much money. I was talking to someone who was thinking about this, who is so ridiculously obscenely wealthy, “I don’t know if I should do this.” And I was like, “You’re so poor, all you have is money.” I think they did it.
Martha Josephson: Hi, I’m not a man, but this is a guy-like question. Here’s the thing — oh, I’m Martha Jospehson. Here’s the thing: I wanna be one of Aileen’s good guys. I want that opportunity. I wonder if we should try to be that or if it perpetually sends the wrong message.
Aileen Lee: Like, “Oh Martha, she’s such a great gal.” I feel like I would rather someone say, “Martha’s so smart.” Or “Martha’s great for this job,” or, “She would add value.” Katrina [Lake] was saying, it’s not about culture fit, it’s about culture add. It’s like, “She would add a lot to our conversation.” Let’s not dumb down the answer to fit the low level that we live at today, let’s elevate the conversation.
Megan Smith: And let’s help each other do it.
Aileen Lee: Yeah.
Karla Monterroso: Hi, I’m Karla Monterroso, I’m the CEO of Code 2040.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Does everyone in this room know Code 2040? The 2040 majority and minority in America?
Karla Monterroso: So when I talk to the other racial and diversity CEOs we are all sensing the slowdown from companies and their commitment to purchase the products or invest in the things that need to be invested in, in order to make these initiatives, like, real initiatives. And I’m curious if you also sense that, and how do you discern that shift and how do incentivize it to be different in particular in a moment when we no longer have an administration that is moving social capital to incentivize this.
Kara Swisher: Okay, short answers, we have to wrap up.
Sukhinder Singh Cassidy: Interestingly, in my business I’m actually seeing an acceleration, rather than a deceleration. But I would say the long-term answer to this is to appeal to greed, not loss. Which means we need more Katrina Lakes, we need more women at the top, we need more women on boards in order to keep this an incentive. We need a pull; a push is not enough. That’s kind of my macro thesis.
Megan Smith: I think you always have to look for stuff that’s working, instead of, “Oh my God, this is exhausting, these are hard problems,” but there’s stuff that works, like you guys and others, so find them and just help them. That’s the best path. That’s how we scout for the seed round. Go find it.
Kara Swisher: Mossberg, if you could be short, I have one more question.
Karla Monterroso: I had one more a question but I’m going to defer to Walt.
Kara Swisher: Defer to Walt, but very quick, Walt, because I’m getting mean messages from Peter.
Walt Mossberg: Well, that’s bad. I’ve been there. I want to ask about a sort of collateral damage thing that’s happened as the #MeToo stuff has come out, which is that men who still have most of the power and most of the institutional knowledge in many companies have become afraid to mentor women.
Kara Swisher: Backlash.
Walt Mossberg: Huh?
Kara Swisher: The backlash.
Walt Mossberg: The backlash, in other words. And some HR departments, according to what I read at least, are advising men, don’t take a woman to lunch alone, don’t close your office door and talk to a woman that you want to mentor. I think this is a terrible thing, at least until we get — how do we get to balance? It’s part of transferring this knowledge, men sponsoring women. Not because they’re men, but because they have the power. How do we fix that?
Kara Swisher: All right, very short answers. Sorry, guys.
Aileen Lee: I agree. I think it’s a terrible thing. I think men should not be afraid. And we talked to the four of ... I think we did ourselves a disservice by shielding men from the conversations and the stories and the experiences that a lot of women and people who are othered in organizations have. Like, ask a colleague who is a minority in your organization, “Can we talk about your experiences?” And be open, have those conversations and take risks to get to know someone who you don’t know. We’re definitely not going to solve this problem by men saying they’re afraid to meet with women.
Megan Smith: I think you can also get creative, like take two people to lunch. If you feel nervous, take two people or three people. Go in a group, find others. I think you can do that. The other thing that’s really important for all of us in general is remember that the people who are the most left out are the women of color, and so making sure that ... it’s 50/50 men and women on the planet. In our country its 40 percent people of color, it’s five to 10 percent gender nonconforming, LGBTQ people, and from Time’s Up perspective, we’re always working on those kinds of numbers to have everywhere and so as you’re going to mentor, go find that group.
Kara Swisher: And no Mike Pence-ing it, any of you. Got it? Anyway, thank you so much, you guys. Sorry we have to go, we have a lot more questions, I apologize.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.