LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman: On Entrepreneurship & Women in Tech

LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman: On Entrepreneurship & Women in Tech

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

LinkedIn Cofounder and tech investor extraordinaire, Reid Hoffman delivered some compelling entrepreneurial insights to an intimate group in Silicon Valley last week. It earned him a few more stars for his “visionary” reputation; however his insights on the drive to get more women in tech fell far short of expectations. See below…

The gathering was an elegant SVForum affair, led by CEO Adiba Barney.

Here’s some of Hoffman’s valuable wisdom for entrepreneurs:

1. Don’t keep your big idea a secret

According to Hoffman, if you don’t share your startup idea with people who can help you, it’s “a massive recipe for failure.”

SVForum CEO Adiba Barney, Fresh Dialogues Report2. Mine your network

As Hoffman emphasizes in his latest book The Alliance, “An externally networked workforce is critical to an innovative company.” What he means by this is:

a. nurture your wider network (give and take advice) and be active on social media

b. encourage your employees to do likewise

c. seek wisdom from the smartest people you know outside your company

Hoffman illustrated this with an anecdote about his “odd couple” alliance with PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, whom he initially considered “to the right of Attila the Hun” and who considered Hoffman a communist.

3. Don’t rush the IPO

Hoffman underlined that IPOs aren’t the holy grail they once were, thanks to late stage investors with large cash infusions. IPOs must make sense strategically for your startup.

“The key question for any company is how an IPO can help you build your company into something that may be around for decades or hundreds of years and help to transform the industry they are in,” says Hoffman.

This fits with what Elon Musk told me when I asked him about a SpaceX IPO. He pointed out that there are major disadvantages to going public, especially if your business has very long term goals (like going to Mars!)

Alison van Diggelen asks Reid Hoffman Q SVForumAnd now on to the subject of the dismally low number of women in Silicon Valley’s tech companies. Latest figures show only 25% of LinkedIn’s leadership is female, the number is even lower for women holding tech positions (17%).

Since Hoffman prides himself as a public intellectual, I asked him what LinkedIn is doing to increase the number of women in tech; and what the academic case is for doing so. Frankly, I thought he’d cite one of the many studies which show the positive correlation between the number of women executives and company success.

Here’s his response:

“Women on average are much more diligent than men and much more capable of learning a set of different things, so having them deeply engaged in technology, creating the future is important. And then there’s obviously the full ramp of sensibilities for how products should work…how those human ecosystems should work. So I think it behooves…the world is much better off… with having an industry that isn’t – as it’s historically been – very balanced on the male side, but to be trending toward a more evenly balanced industry. There are various initiatives – the Lean In one is just the most recent.” Reid Hoffman


That’s it.

He’s referring to the announcement on February 8th that, Facebook, LinkedIn and the Anita Borg Institute have created a partnership to expand Lean In Circles on college campuses. Reid Hoffman and the LinkedIn team deserve some praise for their involvement, but that’s it? I didn’t get the feeling that this topic is high on Hoffman’s agenda, or that he cares that much about it.

Here’s my vision: I’d like to see Mr Hoffman use his profound intellect and growing visionary platform to inspire more action and help get more women into the tech field.



BBC Dialogues: Hillary Clinton & Women In Tech

BBC Dialogues: Hillary Clinton & Women In Tech

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Hillary Clinton came to Silicon Valley last week and the women-in-tech community gave her a warm welcome. Her message of inclusivity, diversity and wage equality in Silicon Valley earned a standing ovation from the gathering of over 5,000 women from the worlds of tech, media and fashion. On Friday, I reported on Hillary’s speech and the drive to increase the number of women in tech for the BBC World Service programme, Business Matters. It starts at 37:10 on the BBC podcast and below.


Here is a transcript of my conversation with BBC host, Dominic Laurie. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Laurie:  Alison…you’ve been at a conference…the Lead On Watermark Conference in Silicon Valley, part of the drive to achieve more diversity in the tech industry. The thing is, when I think of some of the big tech companies that have really made global success, there is quite a lot of diversity in those companies, so what’s the problem?

van Diggelen: Well, the problem is: the stats are not echoing what you just said. 11% of executives in Silicon Valley are women, 20% of software developers overall are women. You’re in the minority if you’re a woman in tech.

Laurie: Are you talking about gender diversity, rather than ethnic diversity?

Kimberly Bryant Black Girls Code Fresh Dialogues interview Feb 2015van Diggelen: Ethnic diversity is even worse. The stats for Google are: 1% of their employee workforce is black…17% is female, 83% male. So yes, it’s pretty dire.

At this conference, the energy was high. It was electrifying actually. 5000 female executives gathered in Silicon Valley, from the worlds of tech, media and fashion. We had keynotes including Hillary Clinton, Diane von Furstenberg, Jill Abramson, Brene Brown, as well as tech luminaries like Renee James of Intel…I have a clip from Hillary’s speech where she outlined the challenges women face in the tech industry and why this is important for the wider economy, to get more women in tech.

Clinton: Inclusivity is more than a buzz word or a box to check. It is a recipe for success in the 21st Century. Bringing different perspectives and life experiences into corporate offices, engineering labs and venture funds is likely to bring fresh ideas and higher revenues. And in our increasingly multicultural country, in our increasingly interdependent world, building a more diverse talent pool can’t be just a nice to do for business, it has to be a must do.

It is still shocking: the numbers are sobering…just 11% of executives in Silicon Valley and only about 20% of software developers overall are women. One recent report on the gender pay gap in the valley found that a woman with a bachelor’s degree here tends to make 60% less than a man with the same degree. We’re going backwards in a field that is supposed to be all about moving forward.

Laurie: She’s quite a talker isn’t she? Very eloquent woman, Hillary Clinton. Alison I guess the problem is…you listed some very eminent women who were talking, and I guess inspiring people in the conference, but do some people feel that those women are so high achieving that perhaps they’re out of reach? Did you manage to speak to more “normal” people who’ve made it in tech?


Marlene Williamson CEO Watermark Fresh Dialogues interview Feb 2015

van Diggelen: Yes, I spoke to a number of women in tech.* I spoke to the CEO of Watermark, Marlene Williamson and she emphasized the need for women to do it (Lead On) for themselves, do it for other women. That’s how we get economies of scale, that’s how you build your power base. I also spoke with Kimberly Bryant who feels so strongly about this that she wants to help create a pipeline of young tech entrepreneurs and in particular, young black girls. Her nonprofit is called Black Girls Code and her whole mission is to get more black girls from (age) 7-17 exposed to computer science, get them into classes, get them into summer camps and feed the pipeline for young entrepreneurs going into tech. Ones who’re female and ready to change the world…like Zuckerberg.

Bryant: We think there’s a huge need for creating this pipeline of young tech entrepreneurs that are women. But one of my personal goals is: I really want to see a girl or woman leading a major tech company like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Apple….I think that having a women at the head of a tech company, a founder of a tech company of that level would do so much to really change the whole image of the whole industry being male dominated. This movement for diversity and inclusion is not just a good thing to do, I think it’s the right thing to do, (from a social equity and as a business imperative…to remain competitive.)

Laurie: I took a look at Kimberly’s website. It’s quite a cool website: Black Girls Code. Lots of interesting information…

van Diggelen: She’s doing a lot of good work and she’s actually bringing it to London…they’re hoping to seed a chapter in London this summer.

Laurie: Maybe we could have a chat to her…

Thank you so much Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues.


*Check back soon for my next report from the Watermark Lead On Conference, including interviews with Vicky Pynchon of SheNegotiates, Millennial Kate Brunkhorst of DCR Workforce and Laura Chicurel of Nextinit.


Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

A frisson of excitement swept through the crowd as ABC’s Cheryl Jennings introduced Silicon Valley’s most famous woman. It was definitely a “rock star” moment for many of the four thousand women attending San Francisco’s Moscone Center May 23.
Jaws dropped, eyes shone, and the applause was deafening. Cheers and whoops rang out as Sheryl Sandberg strolled across the stage and did her thing. With a remarkable nonchalance, she managed to engage every person in the room by asking them to do something for her. “Put your hands up if you’ve ever said, I’m going to be CEO of this company.”
Her experiment was powerful. I think I saw about five hands go up in the packed hall of the Professional Business Women in California Conference.
“We’re here to change that today,” she said.
In her best selling book “Lean In” and in dozens of interviews, Sandberg has been coy about using certain terms. She calls her book “a sort of feminist manifesto” and in her interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt, she talked about “unleashing a movement,” but on Thursday, she was feeling the women power. Referring to the handful of men present, she said, “You’ll get a pass when the inevitable revolution happens.”
Here are highlights of her speech. Check back soon for video highlights with Sheryl Sandberg and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
The Problem
“The rate of change for women in getting top jobs in corporate America has stalled out in the last 10 years. It’s been flat at 14%. Women are held back by sexism, discrimination, bad corporate policy, bad public policy and a leadership ambition gap.” Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg in San Francisco, Photo by Fresh Dialogues
The Vision
“I believe that a world where more women were running organizations, where women ran half of companies and countries and men ran half of our homes, would be a better world.” Sheryl Sandberg
On Warren Buffett
“Warren Buffett said he was successful because he was only competing with half the population.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Economic Argument
“The laws of economics tell us that if more people compete, if you are sourcing talent from the full population you will get better outcomes.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Growth Opportunity
“In every industry, sector, government, we’re picking from roughly half the pople. If we source from the whole population our performance as companies, as countries will improve. This is not just about equality…this is about creating growth and opportunity.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Solution
“In order to change…it’s going to change person by person, woman by woman.”
Find out more about the Lean In movement and Lean In circles for inspiring women.
LinkedIn: April Kelly’s tips on building your brand

LinkedIn: April Kelly’s tips on building your brand

by Alison van Diggelen, Host of Fresh Dialogues

I interviewed LinkedIn director, April Kelly, at the Women In Technology International (WITI) conference in Silicon Valley.  She’s a former PayPal executive who describes herself as an effervescent leader and energetic coach. I asked her:

– why is it worth joining a (biz) social networking site like LinkedIn?

– tips on building our brand and optimizing our online profile?

– how can you rebrand yourself and build a new career using LinkedIn tools? (April has some great ideas for you if you’ve lost your job, or are looking for a new opportunities)

She outlines how to use “recommendations” and “answer” forums to build your reputation and establish your expertise online. Checkout her online profile if you need inspiration.

Listen to this seven minute Fresh Dialogue:

Download or listen to this lively Fresh Dialogues interview


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