Does Silicon Valley have a diversity problem. That question is raging today on Twitter and Google Plus after the screening of the show Black in America 4 produced for CNN by Soledad O’Brien which will air in a couple of weeks. One of the participants in the show was Michel Arrington, who said “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur”. He then went on to say he thought that Silicon Valley was a meritocracy and that the best rise to the top no matter their race, sex or creed. This is when the fireworks started. Many called him out on the idea that Silicon valley is colored blind and a pure meritocracy. It is true that the customer doesn’t care who is behind a piece of technology as long as it works, however the business side of Silicon Valley is a different story.
Silicon Valley is no different then the rest of society. The problem is not out-and-out racism, the problem is one of familiarity. As Hank Williams an African-American entrepreneur pointed out people tend to gravitate toward those who are like them. Investors and most mentors in Silicon Valley are white and male and they tend to naturally gravitate toward young, white male entrepreneurs. In other words the investors finds those who fit a pattern that they are looking for. It often happens without any thought or intention behind it. Often groups like NewMe Accelerator which focus on helping black tech entrepreneurs, have trouble even getting mentors or investors to take a look at them. Hank Williams said Techcrunch barely looked at NewMe Accelerator at the last tech meet up. That when they finally did the Techcrunch report was mostly about the group itself and not about the individual tech companies that were working within it.
If this discussion highlights one thing it is that if you are white and male you need to tread lightly when the conversation about diversity comes up. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk about it, but expect a reaction especially if you make sweeping statements like Michael Arrington did.