Silicon Valley’s Diversity Myth


I rarely think the world has gone mad but, once in a while, I am certain of it. For sanity’s sake, I have no choice but to risk being burned on a third rail issue and tell you that broad accusations of institutional bias and sexism in Silicon Valley are way, way overblown. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment do still exist, but not in the way being portrayed by diversity activists and the click-hungry media.

In a Bloomberg interview last week, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mike Moritz responded to a question about the lack of women partners at his firm, Sequoia Capital, by saying their job is to hire the very best team, regardless of race and gender, and they will not lower their standards.

That set off a media firestorm of criticism. Vanity Fair wrote “Silicon Valley V.C. Firm Can’t Find Any Women: The problem is you, not him.” Re/code said Moritz “delivered an astoundingly out-of-touch and dismissive answer to questions about hiring women.” And CNET wrote “Silicon Valley VCs still clueless when it comes to women.”

To top it all off, an article in Medium entitled “It’s Not Foot in Mouth Disease” suggests that Moritz did not misspeak, but rather revealed a “deeply hidden synaptic pathway” equating “women” to “lower standards.”

Look, I realize this is a highly-charged issue and I’m probably going to regret this, but having spent decades working in the tech industry with hundreds of startups, public companies, executives, entrepreneurs and VCs, I’m probably as qualified as anyone to take an objective look at what’s really happening here.

And while I’m sure the cynics will say that my anatomy precludes me from being impartial on the subject, I trust that fair-minded folks will at least hear me out. And for those with an axe to grind on this issue, try not to snap to judgment or quote me out of context with sensational headlines … the way you did to Moritz.

Let me start by saying that I agree with Medium on one point: I don’t think Moritz misspoke or that his responses were the result of foot in mouth disease. On the contrary, I wouldn’t have answered the question differently than he did. Nor could I have said it better.

From a moral, logical and experiential standpoint, it’s clear to me that Silicon Valley’s breakout success is to a great extent due to a colorblind, gender-blind, everything-blind culture of meritocracy that covets capability and values performance above all else.

And the tech industry’s leaders – at least the good ones – will not compromise their principals or standards in the face of increasing militant attacks intended to neuter that critical competitive advantage by the politically correct diversity crowd.

Contrary to the Medium article, Moritz was in no way, consciously or subconsciously, equating hiring women to lowering Sequoia’s standards. Not to put words in his mouth, but I’m sure he meant that kowtowing to artificial diversity quotas would compromise its performance standards, or something to that effect.

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair points to all sorts of data as evidence that “Silicon Valley’s gender-diversity problem” is a result of “institutional bias, sexism and culture,” namely that “82 percent of Google’s tech employees, 87 percent of Twitter’s (NYSE:TWTR), 84 percent of Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB), and 79 percent of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) tech employees are men.”

Let’s try to look at that logically, if just for a moment.

Does it make any sense whatsoever to think that Apple’s Tim Cook, who is openly gay, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote “Lean In,” and Google’s Larry Page, who hired and promoted Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) and Marissa Mayer (former Google VP and now CEO of Yahoo), are running institutionally biased and sexist company cultures? Don’t be silly.

Does it make any sense to suggest that the entire tech sector and the venture capitalists that fund them are all biased and sexist? If so, that would have to be the irony to top all ironies. In case anyone’s a little foggy on the geography of the region, Silicon Valley is part of the San Francisco Bay Area, perhaps the most liberal metropolis in America.

If Silicon Valley leaned any further to the left, it would plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

Or maybe, just maybe, this overwhelmingly consistent data really is the result of a supply or pipeline problem – that the hiring pool is very small because there are far fewer women than men in STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) fields – as Moritz suggested. Nah, that would be too logical, too obvious … and not nearly as controversial.

Besides, antidiscrimination laws have been on the books for six decades, now – longer than most of us have been alive. Does it really make any sense to believe that Apple, Google, Facebook, and venture capital firms like Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins risk negative press, public backlash, and litigation by discriminating? Of course not. That’s ludicrous on its face.

Truth is, this is not about discrimination, bias, sexism, or micro-aggressions. It’s about the tech industry being bullied and extorted by minority activists and diversity consultants to violate the tenets of meritocracy that made Silicon Valley great and America the world leader in technology. And the click-bated driven media just eats it up. That’s what this is really about.