"Hey Grace, yes, coffee tomorrow sounds good. Can you send me your picture?"
I almost choked on my tea. A picture? Is this a new Silicon Valley etiquette when arranging a meeting with a fellow angel investor introduced by a mutual friend?
I was confused. Was there anything salacious in my "Free to meet up for coffee tomorrow?" text? What about my "Hey so-and-so said we have similar investment tastes and thought that we should meet up and exchange notes" email?
Then it dawned on me. He was the one confused. He thought I wanted him to invest in my startup and he wanted to ensure I am cute enough for him to secure a deal with a happy ending.
What should I do?
This experience came back to me as I was reading Emily Chang's hugely important Silicon Valley book Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley.
When my friend recommended this book to me, I was skeptical. I am becoming numb to the horror stories of harassment and discrimination that my women friends in tech have to endure each day.
For example, the founder of a company I invested in told me she had a huge culture shock when she traded Fortune 500 perks for a startup life. She was tired of answering "Tell me how you are going to grow this business while taking care of your five-year-old twin boys?" Apparently, many potential investors thought the answer to this question was much more important than her business plan.
Broptia is much more than a collection of grievances. Chang makes a passionate argument for why closing the door to aspiring women engineers, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs is not just bad for business, but bad for the future of our society.
She also offers practical tips on how to make your business more welcoming to women and to ensure no one on your team will send the kind of text message that I received.
Make “Having different perspectives is good for business" a part of your team culture.
Chang told the story of how Sergey Brin, founder of Google, insisted on bringing more women onto the team. Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO), Marissa Mayer (former Yahoo CEO) and Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO) were all Google early hires.
But Sandberg and Mayer left Google. The percentage of women in senior leadership roles at Google is no better than the industry standard.
So what went wrong?
If diversity is not valued as a critical factor in driving growth, excellent recruiting efforts are not more than a very leaky pipe.
Ask employees to refer diverse candidates.
Steward Butterfield knows diversity works. He sold photo-sharing site Flickr, which he co-founded with his wife Caterina Fake, to Yahoo for $20 million.
When he built Slack, an online collaboration tool, he doubled down on diversity. And it is paying off handsomely. Slack is valued at $5.1 billion and growing like crazy.
He has an interesting way of asking for employee referrals. He will go to his already diverse team and ask, “Can you refer people who look like you? I get white guys all the time. You can make a difference.”
By asking employees explicitly to refer diverse candidates, you are far more likely to get what you want.
Unconscious bias training needs a 2.0.
Does unconscious bias training work? Chang presents the grim stories of how good intentions on diversity often get pushed aside when other priorities take over the attention of the CEO and board of directors. She proposes a far simpler framework for each of us to get started:
- Be nice, treat each other with respect and dignity.
- Don't enable jerks.
- Make sacrifices (wait longer for an eligible woman candidate) to make diversity work.
- Stop blaming everyone else (a lack of qualified candidates, women like to quit and stay home) for the problem. It is time to look into the mirror.
I responded to the potential investor partner with a photo of me and my partner and this note:
"Sure! BTW, I am the person on the left, just in case you are confused. lol"
"Haha. That's so funny. I cannot make it tomorrow, let's talk on the phone?"
I read his text twice and purged his contact from my phone.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and spending time on the phone with someone who would prey on women is not part of it.
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