Silicon Valley Cracks the Glass Ceiling

Ada Lovelace may finally have reason to smile.

Groundbreaking accelerator 500 Startups recently announced the 500 Women Fund, an AngelList syndicate dedicated to funding startups led by women in entrepreneurship. 500 founder Dave McClure commented to PandoDaily, “Smart women entrepreneurs are not getting the access to capital they could.”

An estimated 25 to 30 percent of teams currently funded by 500 Startups include at least one female founder, double the US average of 13%. (500 also invests substantially in international teams, bolstered by its Geeks on a Plane initiative.)

The 500 Women syndicate is a new program designed to further encourage women to become founders, and to support them with a deep network of investors, mentors, and peers.

Meanwhile, fellow incubator YCombinator prepares its first conference focused exclusively on female founders. The incubator turned an about-face in December 2013, after comments from an interview with YCom founder Paul Graham went viral. During the interview, Graham remarked:

I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups.

Even for an industry structurally dominated by male-biased investment patterns, YCombinator stands out from the crowd: over its eight-year history, 96% of YCombinator founders have been men. It appears, however, that the tides of patriarchy may be waning. Commented PG (as he’s often known) in a subsequent essay:

More thoughtful people were willing to concede YC wasn’t biased against women, but thought we should be actively working to increase the number of female founders. As one put it, instead of being a gatekeeper, we should be a gateway…

We fund more female founders than VCs do, and we help them to overcome the bias they’ll encounter among other investors. In the current YC batch, 16 out of 68 companies, or 24%, have female founders.

I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough.

Pivoting from a previously laissez-faires attitude towards the gender gap, YCombinator appears ready to assume a proactive role in catalyzing social change. Complimenting his two provocative essays on the subject, Paul Graham’s wife and partner, Jessica Livingston, will soon co-host the Female Founders Conference.

Taking place March 1 at the Computer History Museum, the conference will feature an impressive series of talks from accomplished women in technology, including industry leaders Diane Green (Founder, VMWare), Julia Hartz (Co-Founder, EventBrite) and Jessica Mah (Co-Founder, InDinero).

But is it enough?

All these efforts, while commendable, overlook the growing gender gap afflicting the tech field as a whole. In 1984, for instance, 37.1% of US computer science degrees went to women; today, the same figure is 12%, less than a third of the rate three decades ago.

Women face similar discrimination at all levels of organizational leadership — only 19% of American CEOs are women, for instance — leading to the widespread, if controversial, notion of a “pink ghetto.

Reasons for such a participatory decline may vary, but the scarcity of role models — women in technology with name recognition approaching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or, more contemporarily, Mark Zuckerberg — may likely play an inhibiting role in encouraging more women to enter the field.

Efforts by YCombinator and 500Startups may play only a minor role in reversing a long-standing sociotechnical trend, but even the longest journey begins with a single step — and in this case, it’s a step in the right direction.

Twitter CEO Wins Crunchies, Crappies

The power of Twitter lies within his chin.

In what might be a Silicon Valley first, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, won two startup awards on the same night, highlighting both the achievements of his role at the company’s helm, and the controversies created in the process.

Inside the Davies Symphony Hall, Costolo won “Best CEO,” the Best Actor equivalent of The Crunchies, Silicon Valley’s lavish annual award ceremony co-organized by TechCrunch, GigaOM, and VentureBeat. Costolo’s newest accolade emerged from fierce competition, in which he edged out Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, and runner-up-winning Travis Kalanick of Uber.

“This is really a team award,” said Costolo, in a gracious and brief acceptance speech. “It’s just such a delight to be able to get up in the morning and come to work with such enthusiastic, and creative, and courageous people. It makes it fun, it makes it exciting, and it never gets old, so thanks very much — I really appreciate it.”

Today marked the seventh year of The Crunchies, and the first of another event: The Crappies, organized in protest by the San Francisco chapter of Jobs With Justice. Playfully adorned with hand-written, paperboard signage, The Crappies organizers “awarded” individuals and companies for actions deemed problematic and harmful to the city and its myriad communities.

Dick Costolo was among the dubious cast of Crappies prizewinners, receiving the award for Best Tax Evader. The award references the company’s decision to relocate to the city’s Mid-Market neighborhood in the now-termed “Twitter building.”

In agreeing to the move, Twitter accepted a payroll tax credit pioneered by Mayor Ed Lee. The credit, misleadingly called the “Twitter tax break,” in fact extends to any company that relocates to the Mid-Market neighborhood, a trending district that incorporates areas of Civic Center and the Tenderloin, along with stretches of SoMa from 6th to 10th Street.

In guise of the real Costolo, local nonprofit worker and activist James Chionsini, playing a rather convincing Fake Dick Costolo, accepted the award. Chionsini’s last tweet, dated from almost a year ago, rings today with newfound prescience:

The Crappies have followed a wave anti-gentrification protests across the Bay Area, where private buses transport Google workers to and from the company’s Mountain View headquarters. The protests, widely covered in both tech and mainstream press, highlight the tensions rippled by the wave of a tech economy that fails to lift all boats.

“San Francisco is in a crisis,” decries Jobs With Justice. Median rental prices recently topped $3,000 for the first time in history, situating the City by the Bay as the country’s single most expensive place to live.

#sfbeta Endorses Boycott of Coca-Cola

#sfbeta endorses the the Boycott of Coca-Cola and calls on other startups to do the same.

Coca-Cola is a signature sponsor of the 2014 Olympic Games, which have come under intense scrutiny due the fierce anti-gay legislation recently enacted in host country Russia.

The anti-gay law has unleashed a series of violent actions against the country’s LGBT community, with police often joining homophobic aggressors in contributing to, rather than curtailing, hate-inspired violence.

“It’s a scary place for LGBT people in Russia right now.”

Despite the public outcry against the law, which Brian Burke, former Toronto Maple Leaves General Manager, has called “repugnant,” Coca-Cola refuses to withdraw their sponsorship of the games, and remains silent on the controversial law itself.

Reactions against Coca-Cola have been fierce and swift, driven largely by the LGBT and allied communities. A Facebook page called Boycott 2014 Olympic Games in Russia has attracted 55,000 likes, whose frequent posts attracted the attention of television pundit Keith Olbermann:

On August 29, demonstrators gathered in Times Square, crushing Coca-Cola cans and pouring the sugary drink conspicuously down city drains. Journalist Craig Takeuchi reports, via the slightly-ironically-titled Straight.com,

Queer Nation NY and RUSA LGBT staged a demonstration in Times Square on August 29 to protest Coca Cola’s sponsorship of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The activist organizations stated in a news release that they are demanding that the company withdraw its sponsorship.

“By sponsoring the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Coca-Cola is associating its brands with state-sanctioned gay-bashing,” Queer Nation cofounder Alan Klein stated. “Coca-Cola is sacrificing the safety and security of Russian LGBT people for profit—a position that opposes fundamental Olympic principles, runs counter to the International Olympic Committee charter, and that will tarnish its global image for decades to come.”

Klein also noted that Coca-Cola also sponsored the Olympics in Nazi Germany in 1936.

Crisp, clear, repressing.

Homophobia has no place in a just and civil society, and #sfbeta condemns the individuals who practice it, and corporations that condone it.

Besides, companies should know better: in the leadup to the 2012 United States Presidential Election, Aimee Castenell received over 115,000 signatures in a petition protesting Google’s sponsorship of ultra-conservative CPAC conference, and enjoined Google: “Don’t sponsor bigotry.” Aligning oneself with homophobia, whether in the form of a country, a conference, or a commentator, is never cool.

As an active voice in the startup and entrepreneurship community, #sfbeta calls for an end to Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.

To co-sign your support (or express a rebuttal), please share your perspective in the comments below.

San Francisco Announces Entrepreneurship-in-Residence Program

Ed Lee, San Francisco's Startup Mayor (Source: AP)

Ed Lee, San Francisco’s Startup Mayor (Source: AP)

Recognizing that the spirit and practice of entrepreneurship can enrich and benefit government and the public sector, Mayor Edwin M. Lee announced the San Francisco Entrepreneurship in Residence, a new initiative from the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.

Working in tandem with the Mayor’s office, talented entrepreneurial teams will build technology-enabled products to drive significant ends towards governmental goals: whether increased revenue, enhanced productivity, or decreased cost.

“We need the top entrepreneurs to work with us on opportunities that are actual pain points and needs of government,” says Mayor Lee. “San Francisco’s EIR program advances our role and vision as the Innovation Capital of the World.”

The program will last for 16 weeks, beginning mid-October of this year and continuing through February. Teams, of which three to five will be selected, will have unprecedented access to the $142 billion public sector market, tackling areas such as data, mobile and cloud services, healthcare, education, transportation, energy and infrastructure.

The moves comes as another inspiring moment for Mayor Lee, whose alliance with Twitter, Spotify, and other leading startups is revitalizing the long-depressed Mid-Market area, bringing jobs and prosperity to an area accustomed to empty storefronts and deserted sidewalks — a long-beleagured neighborhood that the mayor himself is set for a “total resurgence.

FTM Model Banned from Facebook over Unicorn Gangbang Controversy

The New Locus of Facebook Censorship

Sex-positive activist, filmmaker, FTM model and porn star James Darling woke up yesterday to a 30-day Facebook ban for not showing, but simply linking, to a wonderfully self-explanatory video called Unicorn Gangbang, posted to the FTMfucker website.

The banning comes as the newest controversy caused by the social network’s anti-nudity and anti-sex censorship policies, which activists, feminists, and free speech advocates have widely condemned — particularly when it comes to breasts, which are fine to show if you’re male, but not fine to show if you’re female — and unclear where the rules stand if you’re FTM. According to Fred Wollens, a company spokesman,

Unfortunately, exposed breasts are against our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. At the moment, we have absolutely no way of rationally delimitating “non-sexual images posted by women” from other potentially pornographic nude images. It’s incredibly difficult to come up with any sort of workable standards around non-sexualized vs sexualized nudity particularly for reviewers faced with hundreds of thousands of reports every week.

On November 17, 2012, Facebook admins threatened another group with suspension, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, a movement where Arab women posted self-portait photographs wearing limited to no clothing, in protest of their religion’s strict sartorial standards.

Feminist individuals and groups regularly report harassment from Facebook officials, while their own complaints directed at the site’s more misogynist content are rarely taken seriously. Huffington Post columnist Soraya Chemaly discusses how Facebook content is rife with slut-shaming, fat-shaming, and glorification of rape culture, which rarely trigger the forms of censorship and threatening language to which female activists themselves have become accustomed:

According to Facebook’s interpretation and adherence to its own policies, they will not take down Boobs, Breasts and Boys who love them, unless the boys are babies since they do take down photos of breastfeeding mothers. They will not take down [Controversial Humor] rape pages, but they will remove a photograph of a woman crossing the street in New York City because she is topless (legal in New York, but not the sovereign state of Facebook). Obscene being defined by Facebook as a breast not in service to a man. Maybe it’s not a breast problem at all, but a nipple issue. Maybe Facebook lawyers are scared or put off by nipples. This isn’t offensive. At best it is sloppy and stupid and incoherent and, at worst, overtly sexist and misogynistic.

Considering these actions are taken by the same company culture that popularized brogramming, shall we truly be surprised?