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Thursday, May 08, 2014

#WarOnWymyn

Based on output, it seems Claire Cain Miller has been stuck with the #WarOnWymyn beat. Her latest offering is Yes, Silicon Valley, Sometimes You Need More Bureaucracy

Viewed as a target, IT moves so quickly the reptilian minds that make up state and federal politicians and operatives simply haven't been able to keep up. Consequently, IT has become something akin to a crash test dummy for regulatory opportunity-cost tradeoffs.

So far, very little regulation has yielded lots of opportunity. Still, it isn't beyond the realm of reason that government imposed regulation, on balance, be better. There are, after all, good cases to be made for regulations preventing the free-rider problems that plague libertarianism, tout court.

Apparently, the norm for IT startups is to do IT, and put HR on disregard:

The Stanford Project on Emerging Companies, a longitudinal study of 200 Silicon Valley start-ups during the first dot-com boom, found that tech entrepreneurs gave little thought to human resources. Nearly half of the companies left it up to employees to shape the culture and perform traditional human resource tasks. Only 6.6 percent had the type of formal personnel management seen at typical companies.

Bureaucratic H.R. is “loathed” by engineers because it adds costs and slows decision-making, the leaders of the study, James N. Baron and Michael T. Hannan, wrote in a paper in California Management Review.

In a seeming contradiction to that freewheeling attitude, Ms. Miller notes that "Yet a human resource department is essential. The two found that companies with bureaucratic personnel departments were nearly 40 percent less likely to fail than the norm, and nearly 40 percent more likely to go public — data that would strike many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as heresy."

Perhaps. Other results muddy the picture somewhere between a bit and a lot, and certainly don't substantiate Ms. Miller's assertion that HR departments are "essential". And she should note that quoting a professor at the Yale School of Management about how essential management is probably doesn't qualify as the top story of the day.

Where this turns into another battle in the #WarOnWymyn is with GitHub:

The web service, for sharing and collaborating on software code, has been under fire after a female engineer named Julie Ann Horvath quit and described a culture toward women of bullying and disrespect.

Hovarth's side of the story, very briefly summarized, is that she had a hard time getting used to the culture, its aggressive communication, and "… how little the men she worked with respected and valued her opinion." Accordingly, she decided she was being ostracized solely on account of her gender. Other issues — comprising about 75% of the whole story — came from the wife of one of GitHubs co-founders bullying her, living with a male co-worker, and boorish behavior from another co-worker she had spurned. Oh, and men ogling female employees who were hula-hooping at the office.

To the extent that male co-workers demeaned her simply because of her gender,* then that is indeed reprehensible. If that is what happened, then Ms. Miller has a point — maybe IT startups do need HR departments to step on rank sexism.

But wars have more than one side. Some environments are both competitive and largely, if not exclusively, male. Men are pack animals. One of the consequences is hostility to those who don't, for reasons of personality or competence, fit in with the pack. In previous lives where the environment was both competitive and male, I saw, and was part of, packs that quickly, and with no regard for anyone's feelings, shunned those who didn't fit. At the time they were all white males, so the pack was hardly cutting any slack with regard to "privilege".**

So it could well be that her GitHub coworkers, being in a competitive environment, and largely male, did what packs do, and turned on someone who couldn't hack the program.

If so, then Ms. Miller's thesis that IT startups need HR departments really amounts to a #WaronMen. Men in a male environment must conform to women's tender sensibilities, because maleness is de facto wrong. Yet that is a conclusion devoid of an argument. If that is the way men congenitally react to those who don't fit in, or lack merit, regardless of gender, then that is no more or less "right" than demanding concessions to female sensibilities.

Oh, and perhaps the hula-hooping women were getting exactly the reaction they wanted.


*An intra-GitHub anonymous messaging system included this comment "Internally, 'Queen' [Hovarth] has a history of RAGING against any professional criticism. Leadership has stood idly by while she lied about contributions, threw hardworking coworkers under the bus (again and again) and spread vicious rumors about women at work and in the community."

Hovarth's degree is a BA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. That doesn't mean she wasn't qualified to be a programmer; if there is any realm that rewards autodidacts, programming is it. However, and probably because I'm a woman h8r, I think the odds are she wasn't any good at her job.

** In subsequent lives, where the environment remained the same, but included a few women, shunning women who weren't hacking the program was far more circumspect than for men.

21 comments:

Bret said...

"... companies with bureaucratic personnel departments were nearly 40 percent less likely to fail than the norm, and nearly 40 percent more likely to go public... "

I don't have time to read the paper and I have to assume they've accounted for it, but, just in case, I'll put forth an explanation that I've observed.

That is, basically no start-up, starts with an HR department. For example, if you have three people in a garage, what would possibly be the point? Especially given the cost? And at that point (wildly underfunded in a garage), the odds of success for a given start-up are pretty low.

Once the company makes some headway, part of the process of going public is to add the corporate institutions required by a public company. One of those institutions is an HR department. So, by definition, a start-up that is already on track to go public is much, much more likely to have an HR department.

So, only 40 percent more likely to go public? I'm surprised it's anywhere near that low, but that may be because the authors have already taken my explanation into account.

erp said...

Most of my life, I was either the only woman or one of maybe two women in an all male environment. Never had any problems, but that was before the feminist movement when being in that position wasn't politically desirable.

I don't envy you guys dealing with women who expect to be given slack because of their x chromosomes. It's not far different from Victorian ladies getting the vapors.

Peter said...

Note the sub-text here: HR departments are like idealized government regulators--disinterested, knowledgeable, fair-minded and forever on guard against those wild and crazy misogynist engineers. Not a careerist bone in their bodies. They bring law 'n order to the Wild West and mature, grown-up companies simply can't do without them.

Watching each of my three children make the transition from school to career, I am gobsmacked by the hoops they are put through to land the most basic entry positions--even summer jobs. Endless interviews with bizarre questions, psychological and other tests, numerous "stages" of the hiring process that take months and ressemble the NFL playoffs as the pool is narrowed. Human resources has become a faux-science, but it's a great gig because everybody thinks they can't do without it or they will be stuck with people who are either closet racists and sexists or who are guilty of that ultimate 21st century organizational sin--not being a good team player.

Down with sexism and men who harass women! Let's brand them or put them in stocks. But I must say that if I had a female employee whose complaint was that the corporate culture was obviously toxic because nobody seemed to be respecting and valuing her opinions, I'm not sure I would conclude the problem was sexism.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Peter;

Let's not forget much of that is caused by regulation as well. If it's very difficult and risky to fire someone, then you naturally raise the barrier to entry. No more "hire somebody, if he doesn't work out, fire him". So the regulators create a problem and then create more (internal) regulation to deal with it.

Bret said...

My experience with HR departments is that their main benefit is that they reduce the likelihood of the company being sued. And for a company with significant value, that's very important.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG says: "No more "hire somebody, if he doesn't work out, fire him"."

My picture of the US keeps getting contradicted here.

I thought it was still pretty easy to hire and fire people in US. At least this is what I am told everytime by someone complaining on how it is hard to fire people down here, and the comparison always ends with the US as the place where that works fine.

Is my information outdated or is AOG doing one of his exagerations here?

Bret said...

It's pretty easy to hire anyone. It's easy to fire non-disabled white males, but others, less so in practice, if not in theory.

But it's also pretty easy to get sued, anyone can do it (including white males), for any reason, and there're a lot of hungry lawyers who are willing to work on contingency. Non-disabled white males are the least likely to win.

Hey Skipper said...

[Bret:] So, only 40 percent more likely to go public? I'm surprised it's anywhere near that low, but that may be because the authors have already taken my explanation into account.

They say they did, but I'm skeptical. There has to be some residual selection effect to get their sample population in the first place. Startups had to get big enough to be noticed at all.

But even if that is true, Ms. Miller picked one particular factor that flattered her thesis, while ignoring others that either failed to confirm it, or even contradicted it.

[erp:] I don't envy you guys dealing with women who expect to be given slack because of their x chromosomes. It's not far different from Victorian ladies getting the vapors.

The real problem is distinguishing bad behavior from a different way of behaving. It could well be that Ms. Horvath's coworkers behaved badly, in the sense that they subjected her to treatment she would not have otherwise received had she been an otherwise equally situated guy. That, for the conceptually challenged, is sexism. (Just as treating someone differently solely because of their skin color is actual racism, no matter progressives' Orwellian abuse of language.)

I'm skeptical. I think there is plenty of reason to suspect she didn't fit in with the pack, for both professional and personal reasons.

Presuming that is the case, then the pack treated her without regard to her gender. There is absolutely no reason for men in a predominantly male and competitive environment to become something they aren't.

If women don't like that kind of environment, then, in a free market, they are entitled to set up their own companies.

[Peter:] Human resources has become a faux-science, but it's a great gig because everybody thinks they can't do without it or they will be stuck with people who are either closet racists and sexists or who are guilty of that ultimate 21st century organizational sin--not being a good team player.

HR has become a legalistic makeweight, a self licking ice-cream cone that leads inevitably to the crazy train. (That link really is a step into bizarro world.)

[Clovis:] I thought it was still pretty easy to hire and fire people in US.

More so than in other, particularly European, countries. Unions almost always make it nearly impossible to fire people. Fortunately, in the private sector, unions are under 10% of the workforce. Much higher in the public sector, with predictable consequences.

Bret said...

More for Clovis:

http://www.laweekly.com/2012-02-16/news/mark-berndt-miramonte-40000-payoff/

It's about "former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, including spoon-feeding children his semen, was quietly paid $40,000 to resign last year.

[...]

"Teachers are made well aware by their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, that the district rarely risks the huge legal costs and ongoing teacher-salary costs associated with firing a single teacher. As the Weekly has reported, it costs an average of $500,000 and takes several years to fire a teacher who decides to fight back. In each case, LAUSD must convince a special state panel that is biased toward teachers, and sometimes spends years skirmishing in a courtroom.

"Because he fought back, Berndt got to resign rather than be fired. In either case, he retains lifetime health coverage and his pension, totaling $3,891.17 monthly in pretax benefits. If he lives to the average age of a man in California, he'll reap about $1 million."

And he's a white male! And it still cost a cool million bucks to get rid of him (and he wasn't even fired)!

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret & Skipper,

Thanks for the answers.

My question was more directed to the private sector than the public one, although examples like the teacher above are well beyond what I thought possible in the US.

The only fault in your link, Bret, is that it keeps describing how hard it was to get rid of the guy, but they barely cover to what extent the judicial case was solid. So I went to look for an update, and I am kind of shocked with this link here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/14/mark-berndt-plea_n_4274028.html

But not with the news on Berndt, but with the list of "Teachers behaving badly" in the end of the page.

They are mostly very beautiful women having cases with youngsters.

There is even a case where the boy, after turning 18 and having made 2 babies with the teacher, went on to sue the City "seeking $1 million from the city claiming police and school officials should have kept Fualaau from having sex with his teacher". Amazing.

Bret said...

Clovis noted: "They are mostly very beautiful women having cases with youngsters."

Well, I clearly have a differing view of sex than most people, as I would've loved to have been "sexually abused" by some of those women and probably wouldn't have minded much dealing with most of the rest and I certainly wouldn't've complained. Though I suppose, below some minimum age (13 or something like that) it might've been traumatic for me too.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Well, I clearly have a differing view of sex than most people, as I would've loved to have been "sexually abused" by some of those women [...]
---
A differing view? Are you kidding me? That's the dream of almost every teenager out there.

Actually, it looks quite puritanical that those womem ended up in jail for having affairs with 17 years old guys. Sure they deserved to be fired, but jail time? No judge could use a little bit of discretion and realize the difference from a 17ish "boy" to 18ish "adult" is a little bit arbitrary?

Furthermore, any sentence involving free civil service would be more in society's interests than to pay for the idle time those "criminals" will spend in jail.

erp said...

Bret, I wonder if you would have had the same reaction had the boy been your teenage son and you got two grandsons in the bargain.

Bret said...

Clovis asked: "No judge could use a little bit of discretion and realize the difference from a 17ish "boy" to 18ish "adult" is a little bit arbitrary?"

No, because if the gender roles were reversed, and it was a 17ish year old girl, many would go ballistic if the judge showed "discretion" since, apparently, girls are just fainting flowers of femininity and must be protected until at least 18 and after as well. Since we still have the pretense of equality before the law and have to pretend that boys are girls are exactly equal when it comes to sex, no, a judge could not show discretion.

Bret said...

erp,

I'm looking forward to grandchildren, I don't worry too much about the circumstances that cause their arrival. I'll help my children deal as best I can when and if grandchildren appear on the scene.

erp said...

Of course, so would we all, but it's best to wait until the parent is out of high school.

Bret said...

Best, yes. Necessary and disastrous? Not in my opinion.

erp said...

Let's hope the babies come when it's the best time for them.

Bret said...

Amen.

Hey Skipper said...

Best, yes. Necessary and disastrous? Not in my opinion.

Depends, doesn't it? We who are comfortably ensconced in, or north of, the middle class typically have the resources to spend away the problems that come from single teen parenthood.

The less fortunate, the more necessary and disastrous.

Ironically, perhaps, those who can most afford being single mothers are also those who do it least.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper,

I agree. I was specifically and only talking about my family's particular circumstances.