Why Mark Zuckerberg’s Diversity Defense of Peter Thiel Rings False

October 20, 2016, 5:15 PM UTC

It’s for diversity’s sake, he said.

Mark Zuckerberg created a small dust-up this week when he issued a statement explaining why he was allowing Peter Thiel, the controversial billionaire investor and co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, to stay on Facebook’s board despite Thiel’s high-profile support of Donald Trump.

In a post that was leaked to Hacker News, Zuckerberg said, “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and that excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.” In a backhanded defense that is almost comical, he went on to say, “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”

What could those be? One guess is “disruption.” Thiel, like lots of people, likes to blow stuff up in the name of progress, and blowing up the status quo has been, among other things, Trump’s persistent drumbeat. But this is where Zuckerberg’s diversity argument falls apart.

Zuckerberg is in a tough spot. Thiel was Facebook’s first outside investor. He handed over $500,000 in seed money to the college sophomore after a fifteen-minute pitch arranged by the similarly controversial Napster co-founder, Sean Parker. (Read Fortune’s Clifton Leaf’s terrific story of Parker’s attempt to hack cancer here.) Zuckerberg was still in Harvard and Facebook had barely thirty schools on board. Thiel has been an ally from the beginning.

A brilliant and deeply contrarian figure, Thiel has poured his wealth into interesting areas, like paying kids to drop out of college and anti-aging schemes. He even wanted to build an independent, libertarian nation at sea. He’s also expressed alarming views about how welfare and women’s suffrage are ruining democracy, and co-authored a book about how identity politics have destroyed academia. And, of course, he funded the lawsuit that ultimately bankrupted the publishing company Gawker Media Group.

If a Facebook janitor spouted some of Thiel’s harsher stuff at work, she’d get a talking-to from human resources. But that’s the point: These types of idiosyncrasies are typically reserved for the very powerful.

That Zuckerberg uses diversity as the argument to keep Thiel around hits a nerve. The company has struggled to diversify their employee base—even blaming “the pipeline” for their troubles—and has made no visible attempt to change their all-white, mostly male management team or board.

But Zuckerberg has always surrounded himself with philosopher-investors, like Thiel, Parker, Marc Andreessen, and Reid Hoffman, to name a few—brilliant people who hold wildly different world views and love to debate. This diversity of thought should yield better outcomes in tech. But it almost always falls short. Because as different as their individual philosophies are, their collective way of operating—exploit inefficiencies, scale fast, etc.—is largely identical.

President Obama addressed this phenomenon last week at The White House Frontiers Conference, a confab on science and tech, held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh:

“Government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

“Sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences … then I think those suggestions are terrific.

“Sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked.”

That’s Thiel in a nutshell. It’s part of what makes him interesting to have around, whether it’s at a conference or on a board. But “blowing stuff up” doesn’t scale well when it comes to people’s lives. And that makes the Thiel and Trump alliance a luxury I’m not sure most of us can afford.

On Point

What does it means that “whiteness” in the norm in AI?If the design default in entertainment, standards of beauty, and policy-making is that white people and the white experience is the ideal, then what does that mean for the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence? All the biases that exist in this world will be baked into that one, argues writer Kara Melton. From conception to content, her studies “reveal important assumptions about the end user which continue to privilege whiteness in our growing virtual communities.”Model View Culture

Why technologists must be better
Olivier Blanchard, an author and senior analyst at Futurum Research, has a thoughtful post on why the quest for disruption in technology comes with a price that few technologists seem willing to pay. “When you build something, you have a responsibility to make sure that it doesn't hurt anyone (as much as possible, anyway), or doesn't chip at the mortar that keeps society and fragile local economies together,” he says. He cites Airbnb, Twitter and Uber is recent examples of lauded companies who have failed this test.
Blanchard blog via Facebook

Marvel’s lastest super hero is a Syrian mother trying to keep her family alive
Madaya Mom is based on a real mother who is trapped in a rebel-held city in Syria with her family, facing daily horrors among the ruins: At one point, she stops eating to save food for her kids. Rym Montaz, a journalist at ABC began messaging with Madaya Mom last January. The new graphic novel is a collaboration between ABC and Marvel, redefining what both storytelling and a superhero might be.

It’s the organization’s job to make sure diverse executives succeed
Cristina Jimenez, a partner at consultant firm RHR International, says that diverse executives—“people who are significantly different from the company in which they operate”—encounter very predictable difficulties gaining key assignments, finding sponsors, and understanding how the organization is structured. It's often enough to derail their careers, and is deeply painful for all involved. This is the company’s failure to establish conditions for success, she argues, not a failure of the executive.

An HBR slackbot that gives workplace advice
If it works, it could be great: A lightweight bot that delivers timely best practice coaching in the form of HBR research, studies and articles about leadership and other human quests, delivered at the time a manager needs it most. Right now, the bot only delivers content to individuals, not teams, and there’s no data on what insights people are asking for most. The managing director of digital strategy at HBR says it’s an experiment in helping people be better at work. “Try a little and learn a lot,’” he says they always say.

Report: Anti-Semitic posts from Trump supporters surge on Twitter
While anti-Semitic sentiment has been slowly rising across Europe, experts have seen nothing like the recent onslaught of ugly online threats, attacks, and messages in the U.S., amplified in large part by the tacit permission the Republican candidate has given to his supporters to fight political correctness and let loose. A new report from the Anti-Defamation League finds 2.6 million anti-Semitic messages were posted on Twitter from August 2015 to July 2016. Of those, 19,253 were directed at journalists.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

How incarceration affects black women
Rap star Remy Ma was imprisoned for six years after being convicted of aggravated assault in a fight over $3,000. Two years after her release from state prison—and after her triumphant return with two BET Hip-Hop Awards—she’s now speaking out on the unique difficulties black women face in the criminal justice system, including the isolation from friends and family and the nearly impossible task of finding a place to live or work. “You’re constantly paying for it over and over," she says. "The system is designed for you to fail.”
Huffington Post

The Obama Foundation establishes a new inclusion council
The nonprofit foundation behind the upcoming Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has tapped 17 local civic and corporate leaders to help promote diversity and inclusion within the Center, and to regularly assess potential external partnerships. The council has senior executives from a variety of industries and includes representatives from groups that fight poverty and serve the disabled. The Center is still being planned and is scheduled to open in 2021. Click through for the entire list.
Chicago Tribune

The “We Love You” Project Celebrates Black Men
Photographer Bryon Summers has taken to the streets of DC, Brooklyn and Philadelphia to find and photograph 1,000 black men in a portraiture project designed to counteract the message sent to and about black men in the media. “I wanted to flood the internet with positive images of black men to counteract the negative imagery that we’ve seen for years,” he told The Root. The mostly digital project has occasionally hit the real world: DC’s Union Market installed an exhibit of 30 portraits of black men in black t-shirts. The portraits are diverse and beautiful.
The Root


I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.
—Peter Thiel

Read More

Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board