"Our companies are almost entirely run by white guys and our boards are white guys," said Chris Sacca, the male head of Lowercase Capital and an early and sizable investor in male-founded and male-run Uber and Twitter, in conversation with two other men in front of the largely male crowd at the New York Times DealBook conference in Manhattan on Tuesday.
He was asked about Silicon Valley's lack of gender diversity by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the male head of DealBook, the finance section of the New York Times, which is edited by a man, whose business is run by a man and whose publisher is a man who will likely appoint one of his three male relatives to be his successor.
The problem, Sacca told the audience, is the users of many tech products look nothing at all like the upper management and boards that run them. "Look at the user base of Twitter: You have black users over-indexed on Twitter, but you don't have any representation of that audience in the upper management of the company. That's weird," he said. "We're guiding things we can't address."
Twitter said earlier this year that 87% of its tech employees were male, along with 78% of its leadership. Two percent are black. Leslie Miley, one of Twitter's few black engineers, recently left the company, publishing a blog post lamenting "how and why a company whose product has been used as an agent of revolutionary social change did not reflect the diversity of thought, conversation, and people in its ranks."
"Twitter’s issues with growth and engagement and the issues with internal diversity are somewhat related," Miley wrote. "There was very little diversity in thought and almost no diversity in action."
Sitting beside Sacca at the conference was Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who, along with several other men, co-founded PayPal and made a ton of money investing in a startup run by a man named Mark Zuckerberg. Thiel has also written an essay arguing that giving voting rights to women "rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron."
This divergence between the people using internet services and the people who own and manage them has been a problem in Sacca's own business — investing in startups. When he first met the founder of StyleSeat, which does online booking for hairstylists and beauticians, he was unsure how lucrative the market was.
"I had no idea what someone would pay for her hair; I didn't know black women would pay for extensions and weaves," he said. After Sacca said this, two black women working at the conference registration desk laughed out loud while everyone else in the mainly white audience awkwardly tittered.
Sacca pays $19 to get his dark auburn mane shorn at Supercuts, although he presumably spends much more on his extensive collection of cowboy shirts.
But Sacca said he enjoys working with women-led companies more these days. "Companies run by women are nicer to visit and the board meetings are better to go to — discussions are more patient; there’s less drama," he said. "I’m starting to over-index that way — it’s not affirmative action, it’s a good life." The crowd applauded.
Thiel said he "didn't have all the answers" to how to make Silicon Valley friendlier to women, but he said the "level on which the problem has to be solved is on the level of the founders, because that sets the tone."
Sacca, who has three daughters, said, "We don’t have a culture that teaches girls business literacy, we have a princess industrial complex." He is trying to change that, turning his household into a business school for tots. Before he reads to his daughters, he makes them negotiate how many books he'll read that night.
"Guys are taught from an early age to bluff, pitch, and sell," Sacca said — three behaviors his own career has been heavy on. According to Forbes, when Sacca worked at Google he "crashed every meeting he could and then wouldn't shut up."
Later on, his constant presence at Twitter drove the company "to pass a rule ... barring non-employees from showing up at all-staff meetings." He built up his large stake in Twitter by purchasing stock owned by current and former employees, using money he raised from wealthy outside investors.
"When the positions became known, other investors were ticked off to see Sacca’s camp had accumulated the largest outside position in Twitter right under their noses," Forbes reported.
But he doesn't see many women encouraged to behave this way. "It's part of courtship and dating and sports and women are not raised that way," he said.
The deck is stacked so heavily against women in tech that even pitch meetings come with a heavy bias, he said. Men who raise their inflection at the end of a sentence sound like professors — they have a "Silicon Valley accent," Sacca said. "When a woman does that, you laugh her out of the room and don't give her the time of day."
"It's going to take decades to unravel this."