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Week 3 Newsletter

February 15, 2019

This week: 

  • Fortune 500 tech companies are still surprisingly silent about neurodiversity.

  • Women in biomedicine are winning more prizes, but the most prestigious awards still go disproportionately to men. Does concern about not being recognized for their contributions affect women’s desire to persist in the field?

  • Did VC-funded startup Munchery stick local women-and minority-owned businesses with unpaid bills? The ethics of working with small local suppliers.

  • Many Silicon Valley companies are evading calls to release their diversity statistics by citing trade secret law. A Georgetown Law professor talk about why this is both legally dubious and a bad idea.

  • More white women are making it onto company boards, but the number of board members from racial and ethnic minority groups still lags. 

Find article summaries below, followed by a roundup of the most recent, relevant D&I news, research and opinion. Our goal is to provide you with the D&I information you need to speak efficiently and with confidence to your peers, employees and investors about this business-critical topic.

In our research this week, we came across a couple of events that might be of interest. Check out:

Gender Equality in the Workplace: The Latest From the Field (March 12, live event in London, free)

Gender Myth-Busting: Four common myths that thwart organisations’ attempts to reach gender balance (Feb 20 webinar from INSEAD, free)

WT2 Women Transforming Technology conference (April 23 live event in Palo Alto, $145 early bird pricing through February 22)

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News and Research

1. Fortune 500 Tech Companies Surprisingly Silent about Neurodiversity  (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Researchers tracked how many Fortune 500 high tech companies explicitly reference neurodiversity and support for employees who are neurodiverse on their websites and Twitter feeds. From the report: “While all of the companies mentioned supporting diversity on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., none of them explicitly mentioned neurodiversity. Similarly, only 12 of the 39 companies tweeted about or were associated with neurodiversity.”

With the numbers of people diagnosed with learning and communication differences on the rise across the world, perhaps it is time for more companies to pay explicit attention to this population.

For more:

What is neurodiversity?

How neurodiversity benefits companies, and why companies often don’t take full advantage of this resource.

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, by Steve Silberman, is a fascinating look into the history of autism research, the role people on the autism spectrum played in early Silicon Valley, and how society can better support people whose brains work differently.


2. Women In Biomedicine Win More Prizes, but for Service, Not Research  (Harvard Business Review)

In biomedicine, a field with gender parity at the entry level, women are now winning more prizes overall, roughly in proportion to their participation in the field. But the most prestigious prizes for research still go disproportionately to men. Women’s prizes are more likely to be for some kind of service.

Winning research-based prizes--and getting the prestige, job offers and research funding that go with them--materially affects career trajectories in the sciences. Being overlooked for their contributions might be part of the reason that women are less likely to persist in scientific research careers.


3. A Tech Start-up Goes Bust, Allegedly Leaving Women- and Minority-Owned Small Businesses in the Lurch (KQED)

When venture-backed startup Munchery shut down, it allegedly left many small businesses unpaid. Lenore Estrada, the co-founder of Three Babes Bakery, wrote a viral post on Medium questioning why Munchery’s VC investors, which include Menlo Ventures and Sherpa Capital, allowed the company to wind down in a way that disproportionately penalized small suppliers. According to the bakery’s Twitter feed as of February 8, it appears the bill remained outstanding.

One often-overlooked way companies can boost diversity is by hiring small, women- and minority-owned suppliers. Diverse vendors can help companies access new markets, expand their networks and might even improve performance. But hiring diverse vendors does no good if companies treat them as disposable. If companies want to be good citizens (and, incidentally, avoid backlash), they need to put more thought into how they treat their smallest, most vulnerable business partners. In the age of social media, questionable behavior just might go viral.


4. Why Diversity Statistics are Not Trade Secrets (Harvard Business Review)

Increasingly, Silicon Valley companies are bucking the trend of releasing statistics on the diversity of their employees, citing trade secrets as the reason. Jamillah Williams, Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University, lays out why this argument is both legally suspect and a bad idea.


5.  More White Women on Company Boards, Minorities Lagging (Reuters)

Driven by activist investors and the recent California law mandating women directors, Russell 3000 companies appointed more women directors in the past three years. Women constitute 27 percent of new board appointments, up from 21 percent in the prior three year period. But progress on minority directors is much slower. Some possible reasons for the discrepancy, according to the article:

  • Since women are half the population, there is a larger pool of potential talent to draw upon. 

  • Pressure from investors--including both activist investors like Arjuna Capital and third-party asset managers like BlackRock and State Street Capital--has focused on women.

  • The example of other countries, which either mandate board gender diversity (France, Germany) or strongly encourage it (UK, Australia).

To bring more minority directors onto boards, boards might need both to build more diverse networks and think more broadly about what qualifies someone for board service. From the Reuters article: Deb DeHaas (of Deloitte) said its data shows minority directors tend to serve on more boards than non-minorities, suggesting companies keep going back to the same people. “You need to widen the aperture of where you’re looking.”’

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