Apr 082015

I’m putting together a story on what the Australian tech community can learn from the Ellen Pao story where an upcoming female associate at iconic Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers sued the firm for sexual discrimination.

Although Pao lost the case it rightly caused much debate within the US tech community about the lack of gender diversity, particularly given the number of women in the American venture capital industry has collapsed from 10% in 1999 to 6% in 2014

The reason for this seems to be simple, as Lauren Helper pointed out in the Silicon Valley Business Journal back in 2013 the industry is intensely tribal quoting one industry participant, Mark Taguchi, ‘“people operate in tribes,” he said. “They have groups of people that they learn to trust, that they work with, that they like.”’

In some respects this is a strength for the Silicon Valley industry as it means new entrants have to be vouched for by trusted figures but it also risks the sector being insular and dominated by narrow groups based on background, ethnicity or gender.

Once an industry defines its leaders and innovators by their friendships, schools or workplaces it risks becoming irrelevant to the outside world and it’s inevitable an inward focus will blind the group to new trends and developing technologies.

The warning from Pao’s case is Silicon Valley may be becoming too insular, it’s a handy wakeup to remind participants there is a big, diverse world outside the Bay Area.

However the US tech sector might survive without diversifying given its size and access to capital. Forother countries’ developing industries – like Australia’s – it’s a hindering factor few can afford.

In most ecosystems diversity is strength, it’s hard to see how that’s any different for the tech sector. Boys Clubs are relic of last century and have little place in this one; for regions looking at copying Silicon Valley, this is one trait not to pick up.

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