Are the gender comments generational?

imgresI have been reading the daily updates of the Ellen Pao vs Kleiner Perkins trial with interest.  Sexism exists and now we are watching it come to trial.  Then the article came out around Vivek Wadhwa who has now decided to step out of the debate of women in technology although he has supposedly been a huge proponent of change through his writings and research as a professor (at least he believes he is).  I say supposedly because he moderated a panel I was on several years ago (which he could not recall when I tried to remind him of it) where I got so angry at his lack of understanding the women issues on our panel that I found him demeaning.  I got so furious on the panel that I remember raising my voice to a breaking point and then several woman cheered me on.

I have heard all the stories, read the texts from married men harassing women entrepreneurs and witnessed a few things that have just left me aghast.  Yet I do want to believe (an eternal optimist) that these men are just stupid.  For many of the older men I wonder how they treat their mother and I certainly hope that they have daughters who can put them in their place.

A few things happened to me over the past few months that are still rambling around in my head.  Fred and I made a decision together to move to LA during the winter months. Granted that I do not have partners or LP’s but I do have a fiscal responsibility to many companies.  More than a few people have remarked to me how can Fred do that?  Can Fred be in LA?  Someone who I do business with wanted to know if Fred would be coming back and forth.  When I said no, he asked if I was holding him hostage.  They have not all been men who assume that Fred can make this move but I can.  I get it, he has partners and LP’s but still.  Each of their comments towards me essentially discounts what I do.

Another person asked me what we did in order that we could both move out here for an extended period of time.  My answer was that we both invest in mostly technology start-ups.  Fred has partners and I am a lone gun investing our money.  This person responded that we must make a good team because I can talk to Fred about the investments before making them.  I said that I actually don’t.  The response was I guess he has seen you have some success so now he trusts you to make those investments.  Trusts me?  I wanted to respond with I now trust Fred to pick up the groceries on occasion but I didn’t.

Perhaps all of the above are not connected but in some ways they are all connected.  I just spent a day and a half at Launch in SF and not only saw but felt that overwhelming male universe.  I sometimes do wonder is that attitude generational or is it just an extension of the boys locker room.  Not sure but as women we need to be bolder than our male counterparts and not let those comments go unacknowledged.

Germany just passed a law that all corporate boards must have 30% of the seats held by women starting next year.  Fred said why not 50%.  Good question.  Let’s hope that in five years that the number changes to 50% because there impact and it is obvious that there are enough women in business to fill those seats.  That there also more women who have said enough is enough like Ellen Pao.  That more women get funded and that their companies go public, get purchased and become household names so that the next generation of boys don’t made stupid assumptions or behave inappropriately.  Truly the time is now.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    DunnoI don’t feel it. Generationally grounded that is.My mom ruled the house when I grew up. With five men including her father.We were taught respect by example.I consider myself lucky.

    1. Jon

      I agree with you. I was raised by my Mom. Two of my five key law firm mentors, including the person who got me promoted to partner, were women. My career exists the way it does because of high powered, rocket smart, professional women. I consider myself lucky as well.As a side note, I stopped using gender specific words to describe difficult people early in my career (someone can be a jerk or an a** but never a b***h). It is interesting how it changes the dialogue of those around you, for the better.

  2. Emily Merkle

    You’re right, that last part: we have to not let those comments go unacknowledged. To let them slide is to be party to perpetuating that kind of dialogue. I think it’s the boys’ locker room, not generational, in our industry at least. I see it cross-generational in our space, which is a little more disturbing than generational.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      Agree, and I think that’s where better models for ally-ship are really critical. I’ve always been bothered by some of the stuff that goes on in locker rooms or near locker rooms, but when I was younger I didn’t know how to deal with it b/c I felt threatened and wasn’t sure how to constructively deal with. Now I spend a lot of time asking questions (sometimes pointed) on all sorts of things that are a two-way street, incl. race, class, gender, religion. But the starting point is having a stake in it, and knowing what that stake is. For me it’s that I want to see a healthier, more thoughtful world in the long term (and in startups, contrary to what some people think that is not at odds with making money). So any conversations I have are based on that.

      1. Emily Merkle

        As well they should be; kudos. we each have to start with ourselves and our own reactions.

        1. Joe Cardillo

          Oh, yeah absolutely. Wasn’t fishing for a complement, your comment just made me think of how much work there is to do when it comes to speaking out.

          1. Emily Merkle

            No worries; I did not see it as “fishing” at all, but I do believe in reinforcing “good behavior”, basic Skinner, which I saw in your comment 🙂

          2. lisa hickey

            Hear, hear.

    2. pointsnfigures

      Women can be hard on each other too, and can potentially bring things upon themselves. Playing the victim card is not right-lots of other things I have seen.

      1. Emily Merkle

        I do not disagree.

  3. Mario Cantin

    I’ve personally observed that to some extent there is a generational / cultural gap. For example I’ve caught my own father talking about some lady and remarking she’s making good money for a woman. I’be tried to enlightened him but it’s not working.That generation will soon die anyway, And these problems will disappear away.On a lighter note, the Board of Directors of my own company has been 50% female since 2002, and I’m in the construction sector! I was way ahead of the curve on that one 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      bravo for you! #50/50

  4. pointsnfigures

    Where I worked on the trading floor, it was a male dominated environment. It was extremely physical. I was able to use my size. It was tougher for women-and of course many women brought it on themselves by making themselves “available”. I found that no matter who you were, in the heat of competition people would say anything to press buttons and get inside your head-the few women that were there might too if they had that kind of personality. I discounted any sexism I saw because it was a gigantic locker room. I was just fighting for my own survival, and if something was really egregious I might say something but in general everyone just let it go. Some of the most successful traders I knew were women. Ironically, the least sexist pit I ever traded in had 0 women in it! My gut says if there were trading floors today like the old days, they would be less sexist than they used to be simply because society has changed. They’d still be hyper physical and competitive though.In tech, it’s different because the game isn’t physical. Companies are being built-with corresponding corporate cultures. It’s not a trading floor. There are less women in engineering, and they often make different career choices. I assume that’s going to change(like law and medicine) but it doesn’t have to change unless women want it to change. Women have it tougher-and I think women should be free to choose how they want to construct their lives.By what I have read, it seems like Ms. Pao might have a case-but at the same time being a VC is highly subjective. I have benefitted in my own career from angel investing with women. They have made me a better investor and if others want to ignore women I figure I have a competitive advantage.With regard to your investing etc-what if the roles were reversed? You were the successful VC with responsibilities, and Fred was a “consultant” (for lack of a better term) that was angel investing? I wonder how the conversation would go then? My gut tells me they’d ask you how you juggle it all. Of course, like my wife, you juggled plenty not being a partner in a VC firm.My friend wrote this for my blog, you might like it.… She echoes you and says it’s not about training women-it’s about training men. I am sorry the people in the community that are emailing her don’t feel safe commenting. That’s got to change.From a male perspective, I think the first step is understanding that it’s tougher, and why it’s tougher. Has nothing to do with skill, but does have a lot to do about choice. (I have two daughters, age 24, 21, and I hope they have more choices than their Mom did.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It is absolutely about training men.

      1. Anne Libby

        And about men learning to step up when they see something crappy happening, and saying, “this is not okay” when they see inappropriate stuff — like some of the ridiculous (and completely out of context) comments over at Fred’s blog today.Like Curt Schilling did recently, albeit to defend his own daughter.

        1. Joe Cardillo

          True, and also worth noting that the solution requires a) men realizing there is a problem b) that they can be helpful (a la NCWIT resources) and c) that help looks different in different situations with different people.For example, unless someone’s physical safety is at risk, it can be unhelpful to drop in and “rescue” someone you don’t know. I found this New Inquiry piece thought provoking on that topic,….

          1. Joe Cardillo

            Can you add a bit of context? Not sure I’m understanding…

        2. pointsnfigures

          That was certainly a failure of mine when I was trading. Most certainly.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Thanks. will have to find time to read it.

  5. Sofia Papastamelos

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! Sometimes I feel the same way at tech industry events -especially when I attend with my boyfriend (who is an entrepreneur in the community). It can be frustrating when new people assume you to be there as a date or companion as opposed to having your own career and interests in tech/investing. It’s hard to explain but I feel like it is some sort of cross-generational bro club that I’m not “in” on.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i get it.

    2. meredithcollinz

      My partner in life is also my partner in my business. I am the CEO but people always assume he is. At first he didn’t see it, but it’s now become a joke between us.

    3. LE

      I think it’s a human survival skill and part of evolution to make assumptions about who you meet. (Been studies on this nothing that I can quickly point you to).Back when I was 20 and out of college I started a business. (This was a long time ago when kids out of college didn’t do that). Everyone assumed that it was my fathers business or that I worked for him. Or that he “set me up”. Wasn’t the case. (Thank God ..)Here is another one. Back in that day I hired a carpenter to build some cabinets. He called his business “Gillio and Sons Carpentry”. I said to him “oh so does your dad still work?” He said “my dad wasn’t a carpenter. I made up the name so people would think it was an old established business..”

  6. meredithcollinz

    I laughed out loud at the trust comment. Hard to believe someone could say that to you with a straight face,I agree with you that it’s generational – but 2 different generations. For sure, people in their late 50’s and older grew up in a different world where women were treated differently and had very different expectations than they do today, and often people of that generation don’t even recognize their own biases today. When I read that one of the older partners at KP told Vassallo that she should be flattered another partner showed up at her hotel room in only his bathrobe, I could relate. A doctor once told me that I would probably cure the debilitating vertigo I was experiencing by going on a “date”. Ridiculous and offensive for sure, but I feel less disturbed by folks of that generation than I do these guys in their 20’s and early 30’s who keep getting caught being so outrageously misogynistic. It’s shocking to me because I came up in the 90’s as one of the only women on a union film crew in the very closed NYC film community, and if ever there was a place you would expect discrimination, it would be there. But I never experienced it, and I really thought we had evolved into a society where people just looked at each other as people. I can’t understand what would influence these young guys to feel such rage towards women — or, more importantly, to feel so comfortable expressing it so openly. I’m not excusing the older generation in any way, just saying I understand how it evolved, as opposed to the younger ones who never lived in a world in which their behavior is even slightly ok.

  7. Silje Vallestad

    THANK YOU!!!!! I moved to Silicon Valley three years ago – from Norway – and felt I moved 20 years back in time. The gender gap and sexism here is crazy. Together with a group of other Young Global Leaders (a World Economic Forum initiative) I’m working on gender issues on a daily basis. There are so many incredible women out there – all of whom experienced sexism. It’s too sad.Before moving to SV I didn’t really think about gender (although thinking back to Norway there are definitely stories to tell from there as well), now this is one of the key issues on my agenda. Please connect if you are around in SV – I would love to chat over a coffee.

  8. Erin

    I work in an elementary school, and I think it says a lot who the kids ask for when they’re sick and want to call home- who do they assume will drop everything and come and get them? A lot of times it’s the dad, but overwhelmingly, it’s the mom- It’s about 70/30. If the kid doesn’t know who they want to call, I call the first contact in our system, which would have been the first contact person on the application form. A lot of women, maybe to their detriment, put themselves as the first contact without thinking about the implications- that they’ll be called first for the next 13 years until their child graduates. I have a lot of respect for moms who answer the phone, listening lovingly, determine that it’s not life-or-death, and then tell their kid to tough it out.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Great point. B

  9. Anne Libby


  10. Matt Kruza

    I think one big point is over time (hopefully soon) there will be a handful of the unicorn’s led by women. Its not fair that unicorn tech companies get the praise they do often, but the fact is if you listed out the top ten entrepreneurs of last 30 years you would get names like: bill gates, steve jobs, larry Ellison, mark zuckerburg, marc andreeson, peter theil, elon musk, jack Dorsey, reid Hoffman and I am sure I am missing some. The two billion plus female tech startups I know of are: Jessica jackley with spanx and Elizabeth holmes of theranos. Agree with your other points as well. Just wanted to add I think its important to realize how meaningful it will be when more of the “home runs” that if we admit it most entrepreneurs want to have are led by women.

  11. lisa hickey

    This is such an important discussion.I am CEO of Good Men Media, Inc., and publisher of an online content website called The Good Men Project, which talks about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. I have come to realize that women cannot make further progress in gender equality unless men are also allowed to talk about how their roles are changing, and what that means to them on both an individual level and a societal level. For example, men have enormous cultural pressures to be the financial providers for their families—which then leads to an emotional detachment from their own children and others, which actually causes, I believe, a lot of the sexism that is baked so deeply into into our culture and social systems. And that is just one small example. From what I have seen, it needs to be discussed from both a male POV and a female POV in order to continue making progress.When people first hear my name and title, never once has someone said, “How did you think of the idea for The Good Men Project?” or “How did you get started with your media company?” The most consistent thing that people say when they hear what I do is “What the hell is a woman doing as CEO of a company called The Good Men Project.” The fact that they almost always include the words “the hell” is what is most telling—it means they are not just curious, but angry. And I have learned to be very calm as I explain that I saw a good idea, realized the business potential and need in the market, put together a business plan, went out and got funding, started a business and made myself CEO. I remember one investor calling up another investor and saying that he was concerned because I “didn’t look like a CEO”. So it ends up being a very self-selecting group of people that end up working with me—those that truly believe that a conversation about men and masculinity is one of the most important conversations we can have today, and if a woman is running the company all that means is that there was a decision to turn the conversation into a business and someone needs to run that business.It’s almost as if sexism is so deeply entrenched in our culture that fighting against has become just a daily part of my routine, much the same way that solving the problem of revenue in a difficult environment that decreasingly devalues content is part of my daily routine. Both are hard. I sometimes joke that it’s like creating an algorithm that simply factors sexism into the equation.But I also believe that what we are doing by having this conversation is a route to real, sustainable social change for both men and women.

  12. Pranay Srinivasan

    I have a little knowledge of understanding people and I’ve learnt that If you stop looking at Women as women and just look at them as people, I guess thats half the battle.We chose the best people for our team. They just happened to be women whom we’re really proud to call equal team members. We didn’t do anyone any favours.Neither were we talking down to anyone.IMHO, Men are overpaid, overrated, and extremely morally and intellectually corrupt (for the most part).Its not the women who need to “rise up” but the men who need to sit down and re-assess what they *Really* bring to the table.Thanks,Pranay

  13. Therese Sullivan

    Generational?…Maybe, but which generation has the problem? Pretend that I have the British voice of news comedian John Oliver when I say…”Can we just agree that when Rupert Murdock date, Gweneth Paltrow Goop contributor, and KPBC HR gal, Juliet de Baubigny, is the one judging the appropriateness of your behavior vis-a-vis the unappreciated advances of creepy, rich old men…there is a problem.” I just hope Jane Krakowski plays Juliet in a SNL skit of the trial soon….

    1. Gotham Gal

      Fair enough

  14. Lisa Abeyta

    I was recently asked to head up an advisory committee to our city’s leadership, and I discovered that, after making a list of potential members, I needed to find some men to even out the list. Without being aware of it, my own personal reference points had caused me to stack the committee invites with those like me – women. I was glad I caught myself and made adjustments to keep a more balanced representation. So I think for myself, sometimes I speak up and ruffle feathers and know I’m going to have to be willing to live with the fallout because it is too important to sit quietly – and other times I realize that being a source of constant dissonance doesn’t move anyone forward. As the CEO of our company and the boss of my spouse, who is a successful serial entrepreneur, I completely relate to the “we know who really makes the decisions” attitudes. But I married well – and my spouse has, on more than one occasion, been the one to put the record straight.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Might even be better to have one or two men on the board that don’t agree with you. Walking a mile in other people’s shoes gives me empathy for the problem-I might not agree, but at least I am empathetic.

  15. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I kind of don’t think it is generational. I came to that conclusion recently.I’ve been saying for a while now that I have total faith in the future of humanity because my recent close experiences with the younger generations have been all positive (and all in tech).But then I started following female game developers and software developers on Twitter. Now, maybe Twitter just has a special knack for showcasing the worst in people, but it’s there that I learned about the unbelievably horrible things that have happened to Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, Randi Harper, and Zoe Quinn (just two name a few who’ve been brave enough to speak up) just because they’re women. No way is Gamergate a bunch of older or middle aged guys. They are contemporaries to the women I’ve just mentioned.Travis Kalanick ain’t no old geezer, either.On the other hand, I think that we’re just at a particular point on the arch, so to speak — the point where true progress and enlightenment is starting to bloom, but also where the most energetic resistance is flexing its muscles.I think all of us who want progress for women are still learning about the very subtle, layers-deep biases that we hold and haven’t until now recognized (for example, I’m just learning that I’ve been totally guilty of ‘whitesplaining’ – with the best intentions of course!). It’s not as simple as just saying, “treat women equally.”So I still have total faith in the future of humanity. It’s just going through some growing pains right now. But the death of my parents’ generation probably isn’t going to ‘solve’ everything.(BTW – I listened to the “Quiet Wadhwa” NPR interview with him, and he is a classic passive aggressive IMO. Immediately convinced me that the criticism of him is deserved.)

    1. Gotham Gal

      Kirsten…I think you might be right.

      1. Guest

        Agree on Wadhwa. I’ve only had one interaction with him, before he started trying to be a voice for “women’s issues.” From that experience the criticism is 100% well deserved. I think he saw an opportunity for himself and it was only a matter of time until he got called out.

  16. PhilipSugar

    I struggle with this.Saying we require a certain number of seats that exclude white males like me does not seem right.It also means that every person that is part of the group that was required is suspect. Was that on merit or because it was required?Now, on the other hand. I have a daughter (and we all have had a mother) and I am appalled sometimes at behaviors and attitudes.I was really reminded when I was sitting with three fellow executives all of who were women at a hotel bar, and somebody walked by and made a crude comment.I said WTF??? and they all said no worries that was tame. Each had a very specific story of REALLY shitty behavior by a male co-worker or boss. I mean really bad.So I am conflicted.

    1. Leigh Honeywell

      Here’s some research that might make you reconsider whether those quota-based seats are “suspect”:…When you are in an environment of entrenched sexist bias, not having quotas means you are compromising on quality.

    2. Gotham Gal

      were you conflicted about affirmative action? it obviously made a huge difference.

      1. Jeff

        I’m still not a fan of the forced aspects of affirmative action, but do see how it was kind of the only way to help. Has it changed the mindsets of the first people forced to make change? Probably not. But has it helped change the mindsets of their kids and the culture around them? Probably.I see a board requirement of being 50/50 M/F as the same. I hate the idea that I may have to include 5 women on my 10 person board if I believe I’ve already found the 10 best people, and 8 are men, 2 are women. Or the opposite, which would be more true in my case. I run a “fashion tech” business. My board is all women (other than myself), my company is 80% women, and that most likely won’t change purely because of our business and culture. If I am forced to split my board evenly between men and women I would have to cut out people I truly believe are the best for my company.

        1. Gotham Gal

          it not only changed the mindset of their kids it changed the ratio on the people who graduated from college and entered the workforce.

          1. Jeff

            I agree and can’t argue with that. My point is not that affirmative action was horrible, it did create progress. But I hate the fact that it had to be forced on our culture to promote any change in mindset. Maybe forcing a 50/50 split of board seats and employees in companies is the only way to bring gender diversity in to the work place, should we also add that each company is evenly split among race as well, to promote the fact that all people are equal?I hate that this discussion even has to come up, as I see it being an educational (and familial) problem with our society. I don’t have a good answer how to fix it – an upbringing by open and educated parents helps – and I wish forcing this on people were not the only suggestion/answer.

          2. Emily Merkle

            It’s not the only suggestion nor the answer.

          3. Gotham Gal

            it would be so great if we did not have to force a 50/50 gender split on everyone but unfortunately…

      2. PhilipSugar

        Yes.I am not conflicted about providing extra help, resources etc.Just placing quota’s in doesn’t address the root of the problem. It is the easy answer.Now you could say the quota’s are a pull in addition to the push.However you now have granted people a sense of entitlement, setup an everybody gets a trophy mentality, and papered over the root of the cause.

        1. Emily Merkle

          agree. I just wrote about this. I will only post it with approval.

          1. PhilipSugar


          2. Emily Merkle

            I was referring to GG. I don’t hijack people’s blogs with my posts without approval.

    3. pointsnfigures

      I was fundraising for my fund from a public institution, they told me, “We can’t invest in white males”. I was pissed.

      1. Emily Merkle

        I have a real problem with anything other than hiring blind on merit.

        1. Emily Merkle

          and that just means we need to learn to hire better. men or women. quotas are a bandaid; truly taking the time to vet your candidates is the cure.

    4. LE

      I was really reminded when I was sitting with three fellow executives all of who were women at a hotel bar, and somebody walked by and made a crude comment.I’ve totally never understood that type of thing. But it seems to be prevalent enough that you’d have to believe that the men actually get some intermittent reinforcement from saying those things. (Meaning they actually are able to “pick up” women by acting that way.)

  17. LE

    Well here’s another one for you.I can have a conversation or a business meeting with a man and my wife (and any girl that I ever dated) wouldn’t have any issues with that at all. “Nothing to see here, move along”.However if I told my wife that I was having dinner with a women and if I had repeated meetings with that women, and assuming the women wasn’t outwardly unattractive, there is no question that she would get jealous, no matter how much she trusts me. And if I needed to take a business trip with a women that would be an issue almost for sure. In fact, I wouldn’t even go there. One reason would be I wouldn’t want her doing that either! (I know this because if she did that it would get me jealous under certain circumstances..)So here is the thing. Right there because of the fact that a women is a women I can’t help her or offer the same mentorship or business dealings that I would with a man. Because of the appearance of impropriety.I don’t know how much any of this impacts the decisions that men make but it’s hard to believe that it has no impact at all.

  18. LE

    Yet I do want to believe (an eternal optimist) that these men are just stupid. For many of the older men I wonder how they treat their mother and I certainly hope that they have daughters who can put them in their place.It’s hard to unring a bell.If you think that this has to do with upbringing and who a man hangs around with in his formative years (and whether he has older brothers or older/younger sisters) then you are right according to my theories. (My theory says all sisters, less of a chance..all brothers, older brothers, more of a chance..)This is really no different than racism or whether people like or dislike jews or anybody they are not familiar with.You are very liberal and that’s not genetic. It’s something that was learned in whatever environment that you were raised in. It was, I will assume, dropped into your head by your parents or by others (maybe at college) who had influence over you in your formative years. At least typically. Always exceptions.I was raised in an environment where with two sisters and a mother that my dad respected and never ever disparaged. I did not even know differences between men and women and how they are viewed until I got to college and started a business. In my house I always felt the women got more privileges.Once I was in business (in my 20’s) I remember other men telling me things that were obviously disparaging toward women. I remember one man, a successful business man, who owned a chain of jewelry stores. His wife was an attorney. To me, at that age that made her “smart” since my mom didn’t go to college as most women in her generation didn’t. The businessman told me something that she did and I didn’t believe him. He then says (about his wife) “LE, they are all stupid”. (One story of many…)

  19. rebeccastees

    “Trust him to pick up the groceries” — 🙂

  20. LizScott

    I recently bought a new car. It’s a nice car. My (same generation – mid 30s) peers asked me what my husband did.Answer: he stays home with our daughter.The more we keep phrasing work life balance as a women’s issue, the longer we will have generations of people thinking men are the primary workers. My husband and I both had a choice to make after having kids – to go back to work or not. He chose to not, but I was the only one ever asked what my plans were. So is my working just a vanity project, and a man who continues to work after having kids just doing what he is supposed to? Great precedent, there.Older generations are more depressingly vocal about their sexism, but the behaviors that embed that bias haven’t really gone away, and, worse, because it’s less in-your-face, we have a whole new generation thinking “what’s the problem?” Well, the problem is I bought my own damn car and yet people still assume my husband is the one who makes the money. And the problem is my daughter will grow up thinking her mom likes work more than staying at home, which is not a thing that would seem weird if her dad worked full time – that would just be the way it is supposed to be.So maybe it is generational, in that it seems to persist through the generations, but the way it manifests changes. Shoot.

    1. Gotham Gal

      good for you and your husband.when ever we check into a hotel or travel, even though i might have booked the reservation they always have it under my husband’s name. it drives me insane.all of these things must change.

  21. JLM

    .I cannot take much more of Kentucky pounding Auburn, so I am catching up on my Internet surfing. I am not in a good mood — my problem, not yours.This is one of those subjects that makes me want to puke — everybody pontificating about something that is fairly easy to evaluate. Yes, Virginia, there is a problem with how men treat women on multiple planes in the world, America, business and VC.It is time to stop beating our gums about the problem and stop talking and start doing. These kind of campfire talks do nothing to really advance the cause and I think may, in fact, work against a good long term solution.First, let’s stop misleading ourselves. Take a picture of a Board or a venture firm and look at the faces. If there are no women in the picture at the top level, state the obvious and don’t just talk about it. Mythical formulas in Internet discussions are a waste of time. No amount of talking can overcome a thimble full of action. Stop letting men get by with being “sympathetic” and hold their feet to the fire.Take a picture of the USV team and if there are no women VCs, roll over and tell Fred to get a woman VC on board. That’s what John Doerr tried to do at Kleiner and the Ellen Pao story tells how hard it has been. Damn good intentions. Bit of patronizing behavior. He failed to make it work because he threw her into the deep end of the ocean without really teaching either the organization or her how to swim.[BTW, I am predicting she wins a huge award and she should. What jackasses but she comes in for a bit of scorn. WTF is she doing carrying on an affair with a married man where she works? Never shit where you eat sound familiar?]Here is a real world story.In the 1980s I had started a real estate development firm (arguably the 4th startup I had been involved with but that is another story) and built it up to a very large operation with millions of square feet of CBD high rise, suburban and showroom office space, tens of thousands of apartments and a meaningful number of warehouses. I had operations in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. I had approximately 500 employees and I was using institutional money.I needed talent. Desperately.For several years running, I hired the top female graduate of the University of Texas undergrad finance program. Let me stop right there — I was not “enlightened” or socially motivated. I was tapping into a vein or phenomenon of talent because all the men were going to Wall Street and the women were obviously being discriminated against. Maybe, there was a thin sliver of social awareness but not too damn much. It was all merit.I probably hired eight of these women which was the majority of the specialty of leasing/marketing/property management in my firm. Only working on Class A office properties of some significant size. I had 14 fairly big buildings at the time.[I hired tons of women in the apartment business and it was run by a woman who to this day is one of the top 5 business pros I have ever had the pleasure of working with. A different story but very similar. I hired ONLY divorced women with a kid and gave them the biggest apartment in each complex as part of their comp but really for free. I’ll tell you that story one day.]The entire real estate office leasing business was an “old boy’s” network with a lot of golf playing, a lot of beer drinking, bit of skeet shooting, some hunting and a lot guys scratching themselves.Here is the only really smart thing I may have ever done in my entire business career. I forced all the women to take golf lessons. Wasn’t hard. They always seemed to think anything I came up with was brilliant but then I was the President and CEO.I sent them for golf lessons at my country club which was the best in town. I paid for it and it was during business hours and after every lesson they played golf amongst themselves and the teaching pros. The assistant golf pros — good looking tan guys dreaming of getting on the PGA tour — loved them. Every time I was out there they would say something to me.These women understood exactly what I was doing. I wasn’t just forcing them to learn how to play golf, I was acclimating to the environment in which the deals really got done. I was sending them to a weird little charm school.They were all good looking (all women in Texas are good looking) and athletic. They were smart — top in their class remember? And they learned to play golf like assassins. It was the on course playing with the pros that taught them how to take the lessons from the practice tee to the course.Soon every industry golf outing (the Office Leasing Brokers Association, the Real Estate Council of Austin, broker tournaments, charity tournaments) was being attended by these women who were good and got to hit from the women’s tees meaning they were about a hundred yards closer to the green and they could smoke the ball. I paid for all the entry fees.These golf tourneys all were lunch before, golf, sunburn, beers afterward and they were “scrambles” meaning you go to play the best shot of anyone in your foursome. If the ladies were hitting from the closest tees often their drives were the best of the entire foursome.They not only were good golfers who now didn’t feel inadequate or awkward or uncertain on the golf course, they were also becoming golf assassins. They could really play.You would make some damn good friends in 6 hours of golfing, drinking and shmoozing. These women all became business assassins as well. They could network and make deals and make friends. On a personal basis, they were also attractive young women — you can run with that by yourself.Now, the reason I tell you this story is not to reflect any glory on me. I started out by telling you I was not “enlightened” but because you have to make people do stuff. A thimble full of doing beats the Hell out of a month of pontificating. This little experiment cost me almost nothing. I had to pay for the lessons and the entry fees but the deal flow that came from this investment was unbelievable.A few of these women are millionaires because of their efforts and how well they learned the business. To this day every time I see one of these women they laugh about the golf lessons. The few who aren’t millionaires are still business assassins. It is not a surprise they were successful. I just had to give them a nudge.It it not enough to talk about making progress, you have to pile on on progress. Stop the damn pity parties and talk up the successes. For me, it was a huge return on a small investment. It was all about success. These women did it on merit.This was almost 30 years ago.OK, I guess the bloodletting is done and UK has destroyed Auburn. I apologize if I have ruffled any feathers. Stop talking. Start doing. Pile on where the success shows up and tell stories of success not failure.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  22. Brandon Burns

    Sad I missed this article / conversation when originally posted!I think the lack of understanding in gender, race, class and other issues is rooted in a lack of real exposure to people not like one’s self. My grandmother always said, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and it’s true. People self-segregate.But people also, these days, in urban centers, largely have liberal ideals. Ones that say discrimination is bad. And they label themselves as supporters of fairness between all people.But most people forget that, while they’re self-segregated into their respective communities, be it brogrammer or academic or whatever, that while people like to think of themselves as understanding of others, they often are not in practice. Because, due to the self-segregation, they don’t know the other people, aside from anecdotes and what they see in the media. So they can’t empathize with them, and thus don’t immediately realize that, say, sputtering off a comment about Fred “trusting you” is offensive; it’s just a general, ignorant curiosity. They haven’t acquired the filters that tell them they should know better.But the real problem is that it’s culturally acceptable to not attempt to get to know better. As long as you say “I think we should all be equal,” you’re exempt from actually having to put something tangible into practice to make it a reality. And why would most people? That would involve actively incorporating their existence with those of others. The bros would have to sit across the table from the feminists and make a real effort to get to know each other. That would be uncomfortable and, worse, inconvenient.And, most of all, unnecessary. Its simply not required to make it. You can bro down with all your other bros, from your first pitch meeting to your IPO, without incorporating others if you don’t want to. It’s done over and over again. Winning doesn’t require cultural sensitivity, so cultural sensitivity doesn’t develop.That sounds a bit defeatist, but then I remember the quote below from Downton Abbey, and I think about how today, in the real world, that’s still the reaction most people have to the disenfranchised, as they say such things from their higher perches, and I struggle to find a more positive outlook.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Brandon…your Grandmother was one smart woman.The importance of learning cultural sensitivity earlier on would be key.