I’ve touched on the topic of discrimination in Silicon Valley before, but in the last few weeks, there have been several examples of it entering (relatively) mainstream consciousness. I’m glad to see this being discussed more widely, as it brings a conversation I’m interested in to the realm of technology companies in general, and the culture of Silicon Valley more specifically. It all started with a heated Twitter argument between Vivek Wadhwa, Mike Arrington, and Anil Dash (among others) a few weeks ago, excerpted here. Start at the bottom:
Yup, I was proud of myself for jumping into the conversation there!
I know Arrington is sick to death of people debating whether or not he’s racist, but since I chose to write about this, I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think that’s his problem. I do, however, think he has a major problem with listening. Throughout all the exchanges (much more than what I’ve excerpted), Arrington is determined to take it so personally, not realizing that it’s not all about him and who he funds. I understand that the media has played “gotcha” with him, trying to draw out quotes out of context in order to make him appear a certain way (read: like a racist), and that sucks. Journalists should be doing the work of asking the hard questions, not looking for misrepresentative sound bites. Still, that’s no reason for Arrington to be dismissing his peers’ statements as “playing the victim” or “trying to scare up a few hundred new followers” (both directed at Wadhwa).
Arrington’s suggestion that female founders simply “share their stories” is particularly telling. As I wrote in my tweet, people do not want to come forward with stories of discrimination for fear of being labeled a victim – which is the word Arrington himself hurled at Wadhwa when he didn’t like what Wadhwa was saying. Why would anyone want that hovering over their actual work? They don’t, and so it becomes something to shrug off when working, pitching, etc. As such, the issue often only comes up in private discussions with trusted peers.
Over the weekend, Eric Ries offered up his own take of what’s going on in Silicon Valley. I think it’s a worthwhile addition to the dialogue, but it still leaves me a bit cold. It attempts a scientific method explanation for something that has to do with basic human flaws, which can’t really be measured. I appreciate the effort, but it’s heavily influenced by his own identity: he doesn’t have first-hand experience with what women/people of color are talking about, so he tries to approach it the best way he knows how. I don’t fault him for that, but the analysis needs something more.
I guess what I’d like to see is more of a commitment from people like Ries and Arrington to simply believe, and raise awareness about, the stories they are hearing from their peers that don’t look like them. The Ries piece shies away from that in order to appeal to people that share his own identities. I’m pretty sure that part is subconscious: he is writing what he himself would accept as an explanation for all of this. That’s okay, but it’s not enough. Here’s a conversation between Dash and Ries summing up my feelings quite well: