Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bias in the Silicon Valley

My friend Lyneka tipped me off to the raging debate that has blossomed from a preview of CNN's upcoming latest Black In America. I've been too busy working on a new business launch to pay attention.

There's a video of my fellow Harvard classmate Soledad O'Brien interviewing TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. With a smug look, Soledad asks Michael who the top black entrepreneurs are and then if he knows any. He draws a blank, clearly thrown by the nature of the question. I won't embed the video because O'Brien doesn't deserve any more pageviews.

< digression > I guess she's "doing her job," but if someone black had to ask the question, I wish it could have been a respected journalist like the late Ed Bradley or Gwen Ifill. If you want to learn about a real "gotcha" question, watch Gwen in this video at the 2:00 mark.
< /digression >

Anyway, this is not about O'Brien. It's about race and bias in Silicon Valley.

I attend and have spoken at a number of tech conferences, where I am one of the few women and sometimes the only woman of color. It can be hard, but so what? Most things worth doing are hard.

Silicon Valley isn't colorblind. It has a culture and if you want to play in it, then be prepared to face and operate within that culture. Be prepared for the loneliness of being one or two of a kind in a room among people who almost never have to face that feeling, whether by their own design, by the shield of their privilege and affluence or by chance. They may never understand this idea or how you feel, but do they understand your pitch and will they fund you?

They may get caught by a ridiculous "gotcha" question like Michael Arrington did or they may say something clueless like John Doerr did more than three years ago. It doesn't make them racist, it makes them fallible. They are only racist if they choose to use their power against people expressly because of race, gender, nationality, religion, etc.

On a side note, in reading other items and watching videos related to this story, the idea of getting more minorities into computer science and math keeps coming up. I think that's great if computer science or math is your passion. But there are also no shortage of successful tech entrepreneurs who do not have computer science degrees-Steve Jobs, Chad Hurley, Jason Calcanis and Arrington himself among many others. And if it's acceptable for Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg and other guys to drop out of school because they are driven to build, then why should minorities be pushed to rack up debt in the pursuit of credentials?

Bias is everywhere. You can let it slow you down or blame it when you don't succeed. Or you can embrace the reality of how hard it is to do anything well-like fund a startup and grow a business to the point of survival, let alone success. There will be plenty of things to discourage the budding entrepreneur. The successful aren't halted by rejection, no matter what its basis. They remain focused on execution, persistence and determination.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your article. Keep it up.