Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why Tech Companies Can't Keep Good Women Employees

Nathalie Miller pitches Doxa to a Venture Capitalist
My son recently got a job in development at a Tech firm, and one of the many praises he has for the company, SmartSheet, is that half of its staff are men and half women.

"That's not the usual composition in a tech company," he adds, and indeed, a story on the cover of the New York Times Business section by Claire Cain Miller bears him out, noting that "30 percent of employees at big tech companies including Google, Facebook and Apple are women..."

The question is, "Why?" The NY Times story implies why, but you'll never find the answer stated explicitly, because it's completely politically incorrect--though hardly a secret.

The reason is that women choose to divert attention to their families.

Nathalie Miller, now 34, went on the fast track to career success. Raised in Berkeley, California, she got a degree from Harvard, then moved to VietNam (she's of Vietnamese and European descent), starting a micro-finance nonprofit.

Returning to the US in 2013, she signed on as employee number 20 with Instacart, a grocery-delivery start-up, and watched it expand to 120 employees and 4,000 contractors within a year.

Then "a new employee told her that he had ranked the hottest women at the company, and she was No. 1. She reported the comment to managers, and the employee was fired the next day," reports the NY Times piece.

This brought interest in matching female candidates with pro-women high-tech openings, leading her to leave Instacart, partner with an engineer, and create Doxa, a site that would collect data on companies, give job seekers online personality tests, and facilitate hiring. She hoped to increase awareness of issues important to women by including info on companies' policies.

She built the company to "820 active users and 300 companies on a waiting list to be included," and so sought money to expand. About then she discovered that she and her husband were expecting their first child. She "plotted strategy," and planned to mention her impending parenthood only on a second meeting with potential investors, and then say "...I'm married to a man who will be a primary caregiver, and this is no different from investing in a man whose wife is pregnant."

Nathalie Miller worked diligently to hone her pitch, refining her content and look with a mentor. She met with more than 40 venture capitalists, one a Ms. Yuan of Cowboy Ventures, who said of the software, "It enables companies to be responsive: 'Let's get a maternity policy because we don't want to be up on your platform without that.'" Still, none she approached chose to fund Doxa, and when her engineer partner got greater responsibility at this day job, Ms. Miller was faced with finding a new technical expert. 

The article details issues facing women in Silicon Valley, including differences in men's and women's presentation styles, and the way women are received by male execs and co-workers. It relates the difficulties of a start-up in the competitive tech world to the problems encountered by Doxa.

 Ultimately, however, Nathalie Miller chose another worthwhile path: motherhood.

"Ms. Miller's plan was to take a month off and get back to work," explains the NY Times story. "Then...she gave birth to a girl, Zadie Mai, and changed her mind. 'I feel a mixture of intense love and protectiveness,' she said. 'I want to hang out with the baby forever. There are my real physical needs and the physical dependence of the baby, all this stuff I didn't expect to be so consuming.'

...She decided to take at least six months off, doing some work from home after three or four months," the article notes. "Her husband, meanwhile, had found a full-time job in advertising."

Yep. The setting might now be Silicon Valley, but the same switch of ambition happened to a generation before the millennials. Feminist baby boomers (like me), took advantage of new openings in a raft of fields, and yet found themselves pairing up, responding to biology and, when their babies came on the scene, falling in love. Whether it's hormones, or simply gaining the perspective that raising your own child is valuable and rewarding, women often opt out of promising careers at a certain stage. Is this really a surprise? Or a problem?

Companies may find that they can populate their tech staffs with competent, sharp women right out of college, who serve them eagerly and well for several years and then realize they've "been there, done that." These women know they've got a window of time to have children and raise families, and prefer to fully participate in that (just as they fully embraced their tech jobs) rather than take a month or even a few and then leave their babies in day care or with a nanny.

It's ironic that Nathalie Miller, whose start-up aimed to place women in responsible roles in companies sensitive to women's needs, stepped away from her own such position, lured by the sweet coos of her baby--but it's also laudable and not unusual. Silicon Valley and Seattle, where I live, are filled with growing tech companies snapping up capable college grads, but most of their hires aren't women in the mothering phase (who often carve out part-time or work-from-home alternatives), or older males or females.

I'll be interested to see the proportion of tech companies who keep their women employees throughout long careers. But I expect that many women launched in upward trajectories in these demanding enterprises will be attracted to a pause, the kind that brings a payoff far exceeding dollars and cents.

Photo credits: Top, Jason Henry for the New York Times; below, Laura Menenberg.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why A Vote for Trump is a Vote for Hillary

Results from the Nevada GOP caucuses show Donald Trump with more than 45%, nearly twice the percentage vote of each of his runner-up rivals, Marco Rubio (24%) and Ted Cruz (21%).

I do not understand how anyone could entrust our nation's future to one whose vocabulary consists of superlatives and digs.

My husband is wrapping up writing a book on Providence in American history with a chapter on Abraham Lincoln. Trump and Lincoln--polar opposites in their characters and their perspectives of the presidency. I only wish we could produce a Lincoln-esque candidate with the humility to deferentially serve God and the United States people, driven and able to absorb the intricacies of history, international relations and domestic policy.

Instead,GOP front-runner Donald Trump has demonstrated expertise in braggadocio. He exclaims in speeches that he did very well in school, is rich, very rich, and plans to use The Art of the Deal as his presidential guidebook. He emblazons his name in two-story letters on skyscrapers. He blithely insults women, Mexicans and his fellow candidates.

 Jimmy Kimmel capsulized the Trump approach in a Dr. Seuss book parody that he read on-air to the approving real Donald.

Most voters share my incredulity with this Trump phenomenon. A January Gallup poll found 60% of Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably. (The same poll found 52% viewed Hillary unfavorably.) Who are these people supporting Trump? How come I've never met any?

But it's numbers that explain why a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary: Even with her 52% unfavorable rating, Mrs. Clinton is amassing enough delegate votes to win the Democratic nomination. People who like Bernie just haven't come through in the primaries and caucuses--at the moment Hillary's sewn up 503 delegates, while Bernie earned a paltry 70. Apparently promising free stuff--like free college tuition, free preschool, and free medical care--isn't bringing in the delegates.

So, as Hillary's totals rise, Bernie's support weakens, and we can assume she'll be the Democratic nominee, just as everyone always said.

If Republicans divide on the other candidates and propel The Donald to nomination, his negatives "trump" Hillary's. More people are offended by Donald's racist-sounding anti-immigrant rants and his rudeness to Meghan Kelly than love his unplanned bursts of feeling and optimism. So, if he's the Republican nominee, the party shrivels as members defect and Independents cast their votes for the more predictable, and therefore least dangerous of the two offerings.

It's great fun to watch debates where the frowning Comb-over King lets loose his assurances we'll be the best country and fix everything. But when it comes down to our safety and the delicate diplomacy needed in this fragile world, it's clear Americans just don't want an apprentice.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Inequality" has nothing to do with divorce. But personal behavior does.

Sen. Rubio: Marriage is a route out of poverty
So, I'm writing a book on divorce. Actually, it's on why you should NOT divorce. Therefore I collect articles on the subject, and one I was just filing was from last week's New York Times, titled "Marriage, Poverty and the Political Divide."

The piece suggests that economic inequality works against marriage. It discounts Sen. Marco Rubio's assertion that marriage can lift parents and children from poverty.

But it doesn't get to the point--that the values of marriage shrink poverty rates, and it takes personal behavioral choices, not scrapping "inequality" with legal and policy change, to both support marriage and curb poverty. 

Sen. Rubio bases this pro-marriage remark on a Heritage Foundation report showing that 71% of families in poverty are headed by unmarried individuals. Of those who are not poor, 73% are headed by married couples. Married people are better off financially.

Makes sense. Certainly a couple pulling together can bring in more income than a single parent, and make what they have go further. Stay-at-home parents contribute by saving on day care and providing other services that make the family function.

One would hope that an absent parent would contribute to his child's support. The trouble is, among the poor, this is infrequently the case. In 2011, only half of all custodial parents had a child support agreement. Those with child support agreements actually received only 62% of what they were due. Of all custodial parents receiving child support, 24% were in poverty. Thirty percent of custodial mothers live below the poverty line.

So how does inequality shape a couple's future together?  How does the fact someone else earns a lot more than you do harm your marriage? Not clear. 

Writer Andrew L. Yarrow's article claims "Poorer Americans already aspire to marriage at similar or higher rates than their higher-income counterparts, according to a 2012 UCLA study. But when they do marry, their marriages are much more likely to end in divorce."

The piece neglects to mention that divorce not only correlates with poverty but also with education of the partners. The more education partners have, the more likely a couple will stay together, finds the Heritage Foundation.

And of course education is highly correlated with income. In other words, those with the tenacity and ability to make it through college or advanced degrees more often have the tenacity and ability to both earn more money and form an enduring marriage. 

This isn't sinister "inequality,"a societal ill to be corrected by policy-makers. This is simple variation among individuals. Certain personal abilities, values and behaviors promote certain outcomes. It's less a governmental problem than a personal problem, a values and behavioral problem. Individuals who exhibit characteristics that promote happy marriage can much more often sustain happy marriages.

The term "inequality" implies that something's askew, that everyone would have the same positive outcomes were it not for unfairness. Look at how the poor scramble to survive, while the rich buy $5,000 designer purses! If you believe that all individuals begin with the same potential, it follows that only factors imposed by luck or malice stand in anyone's way. And therefore laws and policies should remove those barriers. But if you look around, you notice that humans were not created with the same potentials, though we rightly offer everyone the same opportunities to maximize the potentials they have.

"Marriage is far from the magic bullet to end poverty that some conservatives claim," says Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress in the Times piece.

Nobody says it's magic, but being in a marriage is one of those opportunities that allows us to maximize our best selves. Says W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project,"Americans are more likely to realize the American dream if they get and stay married, and grow up in communities where marriage is stronger. Marriage fosters saving, facilitates economies of scale and encourages stability and family life, all things that are good for the average American's pocketbook."

In other words, the same values that support marriage support financial success. So it seems Sen. Rubio is right--a shortcut out of poverty could be living the commitment and values marriage requires.