VC veteran Ben Horowitz reveals how Silicon Valley really thinks about diversity in hiring

Last week at the Milken Institute conference, Ben Horowitz, co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, sat down with Re/Code’s Kara Swisher.

Swisher asked Horowitz about the Kleiner Perkins gender discrimination trial. Much of what Horowitz had to say was brutally honest. Basically, Silicon Valley won’t be hiring a more diverse workforce until they see hard evidence that it will improve their bottom line.

“When you’re building a startup, you’re fighting for your life. You aren’t going to do anything for corporate responsibility,” he said.

Horowitz differentiated between two different kinds of decisions: the public ones, which get touted in press releases, and the private ones, which are much more important in dictating what actually goes on in the day-to-day operations of a company. Those private decisions, he said, aren’t going to be influenced by outsider complaints that there isn’t enough diversity in tech:

The decisions that get made in the dark, who gets hired, how they’re treated, those do not change from social pressure. I think in some ways there’s backlash [against public pressure]. You’ve got to have a mechanism that works in the dark. That mechanism has got to be really specifically, “How does it help your self interest?”, or it just doesn’t work.

Research suggests that having a more diverse workforce is better for innovation. From the December 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review:

Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of colour are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets. We’ve found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.

Horowitz also had something interesting to say about women at the top of his firm:

The firm would get a lot more credit — a 1000% more credit — if we had one general partner who is a woman, than if we have got 53% women in the firm … there’s no question in my mind that that’s the least impactful thing because nobody in the firm reports to a general partner. And those jobs are not opportunities, because the requirement is that you have to be a founder or a successful CEO of a company in order to get those jobs. Those people don’t need jobs… why should that be a goal?

To that, Swisher responded, “I do think you can do both. Why don’t you do both?”

Disclosure: Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, is an investor in Business Insider.

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