With #metoo #kalanik and #jamesdemore increasingly becoming issues of the past, well digested if not forgotten (Travis Kalanik is now CEO of #tenonehundred), there is general concern,
- That white male arrogance, misconduct and scant regard for women is emblematic of the global tech start-up culture, and
- the abovementioned debates will have produced no lasting effect on how this global tech space will be constituted in future.
Being free of any major legal, monetary or compliance related restrictions I hope my personal experience as European founder, investor and previously also employee might at least to some extent pass by as being representative for the European domain.
This is my position with regard to the topics above and I do apologize should I offend anybody. I am just allergic towards men who describe themselves as “feminists” or the like, because I consider this presumptuous, slimy and prima facie false and hypocritical.
- White? – Male arrogance in the work place is certainly not a particularly “white” phenomenon. From my experience so far I can safely state, that it is not in any way a skin related issue. Rather, due to mere pressure to behave “politically correct” it becomes, at least statistically, an increasingly “non-white” issue in the western political sphere.
- Generic or start-up specific? – At least the German start-up environment is by no means more or less positively disposed towards women as compared to “old economy” environments. What is different is public and employee expectation. It is generally assumed that a young, diverse and well educated social habitat such as the start-up habitat will behave significantly “better” towards women than other environments. This is unfortunately not – yet – the case.
- Gender or power? – Wherever you encounter a shift from male to female leadership in a start-up environment you do notice a shift towards more respect towards women. From this you may conclude the evident, namely that the respect issue is not a gender issue but a power issue. I did not experience such a shift in other work environments, so I can only guess that this is similar elsewhere.
- Public interference? – Among business leaders (start-up and non-start-up) public or state interference is generally met by very strong behavioural opposition. For instance, corporate governance rules reserving a certain number of seats on management boards for women are considered to be a potential challenge for good “corporate governance”, where “good” means beneficial to earnings and EBITs. I consider this opposition to be justified, because, if a pool to choose from is comparatively small then the chance to have chosen the best is also comparatively small. Sad as it is, in the end managers always need to justify their earnings and hardly ever their style or behaviour. It is simple: Owners are stronger stakeholders than the public, because their stake is larger. (However, start-up managers do ask for positive state intervention when it comes to fiscal benefits, state funding and the like 😉.)
- Testosterone? – There is this cliché that start-up managers and founders are driven by strong male hormones. It would be impossible to survive all the stress with investors, employees, boards and clients otherwise. This is romantic nonsense. Resilience, intelligence and leadership are by no means exclusively or particularly male properties.
- Sexual misconduct? – When hearing about Uber bosses allegedly celebrating orgies with “escorts” Germans felt reminded of VOLKSWAGEN’s scandal in the years 1996 – 2005 when the company payed its Global Works Counsel countless orgies, journeys and VIP- escorts in order to attain decisions in line with its management. So, clearly this is not an issue particular of start-ups. Today, due to public and social media such outlier behaviour becomes public at once. One should not conclude from there, that such behaviour is in anyway typical for certain environments.
- Pay? – Start-ups are comparatively small entities. Although employment contracts generally prohibit talk about one’s pay this rule is never ever observed. Founders and startup-managers who give women a lesser pay as compared to equally competent men therefore act foolishly. Pay gaps between genders are presumably smaller in start-up environments even though such injustices are still prevalent even there.
To sum it up: Start-ups are by any western standard significantly less white, less male and more minority oriented than other, more traditional western work environments. Because they are also more educated the general expectation within and outside of start-up habitats unfortunately exceeds actual reality as far as political correctness is concerned. Legislators should be cautious not to overreact in the attempt to improve the situation. Rather it would make sense to make use of the general public bias towards start-ups to introduce quota, giving female managers everywhere a bigger say. This should be done with care. It would be foolish to aim at a revolution because this would produce unwanted resistance by those who still have more power but are, at least as a matter of principle, quite willing to share it.