Early Days at Google Taught me the Power/Value of Diversity in Tech

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Developing a diverse workplace where all races, backgrounds, and genders feel supported seems a nearly impossible goal for many tech companies in 2018, and several, including Google have come under fire recently for not making it a priority.

But in its early days, Google’s dedication to promoting diverse teams helped shape my philosophy of good business and gave me the courage to “walk the talk” of investing venture capital in founders from all backgrounds.

In 2004 as we prepared to go public, more than a quarter of the original senior management were women or immigrants/children of immigrants. More surprising, two of the three “C-level” officers, e.g. the CFO and the General Counsel, were both under-represented minorities. The first three members of the Google Legal team, into which I was hired in 2001, was comprised of the child of a Tuskegee Airman, Indian immigrants, and Latino migrants. That was incredible for the time and something that I’d never seen before or since in tech.

Welcoming signs ca​n be small

Subtle things helped make it a welcoming community for many of us. When you went to get cream for coffee in the refrigerator, there was soy milk, rice milk, everything you can imagine. It wasn’t because it was trendy at the time and it indicated to me that they were aware that most non-European people lose their ability to digest milk. Already Google had a made an accommodation and it felt perfectly naturally for the culture.

Also I noticed they had sanitary supplies for women, there were nursing rooms, so there were a lot of indications the company was willing to welcome diverse people into the culture of the company.

Employees were always asked what languages we read, wrote and spoke, because we helped to localize websites around the world. All these signs, indicated diversity was necessary for the success of a company destined to become a truly global enterprise. Moreover, it demonstrated we could find such cultural and linguistic diversity right here in America and build a diverse and global mindset into our teams.

Internalizing those values

In the Google Legal team where I acted as the chief of operations, I wanted to embody the notion of diversity and being welcoming. Our early management team was multilingual, multicultural, and of different races. We were given the amazing opportunity to build a global business and legal team. My team became about a 50% female team, which was unusual in the law. At the time, women comprised a third of the California Bar, so we were “overweight” on women. We were also over-represented with respect to all under-represented minorities and Asians. In preparing for an American Bar Association speech on diversity, I also learned that 39% of our attorneys were in interracial marriages!

To fill out the team’s intellectual diversity, I looked for interdisciplinary people. At Stanford, we have this concept of “T” people — deep on one or two dimensions and broad across other dimensions. At Google, I recognized this capability would be essential for success. We were converging across technologies and geographies rapidly and didn’t know what skills we would need. But we were going to need a lot of different experiences. So we hired people that had JDs in addition to MBAs, CPAs or engineering degrees or people who had experience in business development, broadcasting, and music licensing. We hired lawyers who were native speakers of a variety of languages to facilitate doing business globally. We just hired people that had a lot of different backgrounds.

Once healthy cultures can mutate

The Google culture appears to have moved in a less positive direction per recent media coverage. In Silicon Valley, there’s a sense that women don’t have access to the same opportunities and there is a lot of inappropriate behavior happening in the workplace. The report “Elephant in the Valley” indicates 60% women in tech have experienced some form of sexual harassment or discrimination. As companies and management grow more successful and wealthy, the temptations of ego and systemic failures of accountability can have a detrimental effect on corporate culture.

Paying it Forward

While at Google, I reviewed over 5,000 resumes and interviewed 500 people to hire a team of about 160. That helped me hone my ability to identify talented and diverse people. I also assume that like in the law, there are talented and diverse people in elite, rarefied communities such as tech and venture-backed entrepreneurship. All are highly educated and skilled workforces. The thought that the venture industry can not find diverse people to fund among the entrepreneur ranks is ludicrous. Naysayers point to degrees granted in particular technical fields as indicators of why women aren’t funded in venture, but struggle to explain low funding rates among tech-educated immigrants. Women’s educational attainment is exceeding male achievement, including at the master’s degree level. Asian educational attainment exceeds that of whites by nearly 50%. Latinos are the fastest gaining ethnic group in pursuing higher education. So they’re out there, but you do have to find them; and that’s easier for diverse teams who are actively looking for each other. As a result, I can help create a cadre of talent in the entrepreneurial ranks among women and minorities that will support the creation of an ecosystem that recognizes the contributions of the these communities and invests in them.

Walking the talk

The notion that by investing in women and minorities, you’re investing in “lesser than” is a fallacy, a bias and completely untrue in my experience. In terms of ambition and dedication to their companies, they don’t have less of either. As a startup co-founder, I had to choose whether the team would get funding or I’d leave my company — even after working with a broken pelvis for weeks and returning to work on Monday after giving birth to my first child on Friday. The investors didn’t even meet with me.

At Ulu Ventures, we are financially driven first. Our criteria to make an investment are extremely high. We expect to get a 10x probability weighted multiple on invested capital, more difficult than what venture capitalists seek, which is a 10x simple multiple. Notwithstanding our higher hurdle rate, we are able to identify founders who are a 1/3 women. We are also able identify a similar level of minority, immigrant and underrepresented founders and co-founders in Ulu’s portfolio.

Diversity is profitable

Diversity is profitable for a variety of reasons. There is a constraint of capital that’s artificial to the talent that’s out there, so it gives Ulu an advantage as others overlook good opportunities. There are also characteristics that people acquire because of the extra effort they must put in to succeed. That additional grit, character and work ethic are what made America great and why our immigrant and entrepreneurial past have been foundational for the US and Silicon Valley.

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Miriam Rivera
Miriam Rivera is co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures
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