Microsoft Ventures calls Startup Weekend Women “pointless”

Posted: September 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Startups | 14 Comments »

I was shocked to hear this from the head of Microsoft Ventures, Rahul Sood:

He went on to apologize, sort of but not really, complain about being taken out of context, and brag:

The context thing is weird,  because I went looking for context in his previous tweets and could only find complaints about bad entrepreneurs, complaints about how busy he is, and billion dollar startup ideas. I went looking for some “context” to put this in, and could only find  this tweet. No idea if Rahul shares the sentiment,  but he did follow the guy immediately after he tweeted it.

I have seen this perspective before: “If we ignore the problem, it will go away”. I think it would work for sexism as well as it does for Ebola.

[[Updated]]

Yes, this is exactly what he thinks. If we ignore our problems they will go away. From Geekwire:

“WRT to my tweet – as long as we draw *extra* or even *exclusive* attention to race and gender separation it will continue to exist.” – Rahul Sood

I think Wikipedia best explains the flaw in Rahul’s argument:

Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed (seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way). This is a fundamental concept studied in the field of developmental psychology, the subfield of psychology that addresses the development of infants‘ and children’s social and mental capacities.

There are a lot of wonderful people who have worked very hard to make Startup Weekend a source of inspiration and creation for entrepreneurs of all stripes, men and women.

Adriana Moscatelli: As I said several times now, I wouldn’t have started a company, had I not attended Startup Weekend Women’s Edition. There is good research out there supporting that same-sex role models are helpful in motivating women in STEM. 

A friend who’s participated in Startup Weekend for years (but asked me not to use her name) said it better than I could:

Startup Weekend had a partnership with women 2.0 for years and held joint events that always sold out. They weren’t exclusive to women but were around 60% women. The company Foodspotting came out of one of those events.

It was incredibly positive and drew women to experience it that might not have before since they knew there would be other women there. We got great role models of women who were CEOs and CTO’s of startups who were passionate about being role models for women. Women who attend women specific events will often attend non-women specific events later which improves diversity for all events.

If Startup Weekend helps people get towards the first step of entrepreneurship then that is exactly the place we should spend our efforts in increasing diversity. The funnel isn’t big enough. Ask the women who became entrepreneurs because of the many women specific events if they were “pointless”. I doubt it. And it is their opinion that matters here.

There are many spectacular entrepreneurs, men and women alike, who give generously of their time to make entrepreneurship more accessable to everyone. Rahul’s comments on behalf of Microsoft Ventures dishonor them all. As someone who worked at Microsoft for years, has many friends there, and still carry a lot of affection for the place, I’m deeply disappointed.

(You might want to subscribe or follow me on Twitter so you don’t miss new articles)


  • Scott Berkun

    Thanks for writing this. I don’t know him, but the more he talks about this the more he reveals that he hasn’t learned anything from how many other visible male tech leaders have made the same exact mistakes he’s making.

    Also the thread here has a growing comment thread:

    http://www.geekwire.com/2014/microsoft-ventures-head-startup-weekends-women-pointless/

  • I really want to apologize for the insensitive tweet. It is in no way a reflection of who I am or my belief system. I’m not even going to try to explain myself, I made a terrible mistake. I’ve dedicated a good part of my life helping entrepreneurs around the world, entrepreneurs from all different backgrounds…

    I’m really sorry.

    I will be attending the startup weekend next week in Kirkland, looking forward to it.

  • Nic

    The rule is : never talk positively or negatively about anything “x for y” related.
    In a world which thinks only in term of “victim” and moral, the content of what you say does not matter. The context even less. And the meaning you intend, forget about it.

    This limited world might not exist for you, be cause you, but it does for some crowd.
    Don’t meet them.

  • I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Can you clarify?

  • Seangfuller

    I want to echo Rahul’s apology in this matter. Call it back-peddling or whatever you like, but my intent was not to offend. I do believe a awareness of these issues is important but I believe it’s sad that we haven’t gotten to a point where we can celebrate everyone under one roof yet.

    140 characters is limited and re-reading the tweet in a different context absolutely makes it sound insensitive, and for that I apologize for any stir I’ve caused.

  • katie thompson

    Dan – As you know this is a subject for which I have a strong opinion and much studied thinking. As we have discussed – this isn’t simply about being a minority group in tech and “just needing to cater to a minority” – that just doesn’t make sense. It is about the reality of the dynamic that women face – one of epidemic disproportionate negative judgment compared to their male counterparts – your earlier post regarding kieran snyder’s findings around job reviews are just one more example of this. It exists almost everywhere. Women raising money being told “you know, I don’t have a problem backing a woman, but some people do” and the list goes on. Heck, besides the tan suit, when was the last time men’s clothing was part of political discussion? Now go back and look at when Clinton and Palin were in the race. No woman on the receiving end likes to admit to it happening to them – it feels lousy, and yet in the quiet safe corners of cocktail parties and coffee meetings there are countless stories shared back and forth. The disproportionate judgment (and broader societal objectification and judgment) of women has a chilling effect on women feeling comfortable to step forward with their voice, their ideas, and their energy. By the way, to be clear, because of the breadth of this dynamic, women can sometimes be lulled into this this line of judgment of other women too – a topic for another day.

    It already takes courage and conviction to launch a start up – compound that with the relatively disproportionate weight of negative judgment and it becomes that much harder. Here’s a test for all those doubting male readers out there – take a look at any tech blog – anywhere – how many women do you see commenting? How many men? Do you think women don’t read the posts? Do you think they don’t have opinions on what they read? Do you think they don’t care? It is the job of both genders to address this dynamic. Women’s startup weekend as I see it is creating an environment ripe for women to feel comfortable stepping forward to think as boldly and creatively as they can – without the added burden of disproportionate negative judgment – at least for that weekend.

  • Rahul and Sean: In case it’s useful, Iast year, I wrote about why I think these types of events are valuable: http://www.vanessafox.com/wheres-the-man-whos-paying-for-all-of-this-three-reasons-im-a-mentor-at-seattle-startup-weekend-womens-edition/

  • Thanks for replying, Katie. As you can see, our conversation meant a lot to me.

  • anon123

    I have seen first hand, Rahul is an arrogant little prick.

  • Rachelle

    Imagine the outrage if there was a “Startup Weekend Men Edition”.

    I see Rahul’s Tweet in the polar opposite context.

    Not saying that an event for women is pointless but that a gender focused event is not about diversity. That an event that is exclusively for women, where women work with each other, creating a community of women does the opposite of fostering diversity.

    This view is valid but incomplete. While the event itself might not be about diversity, in macro view an event that focuses on women in an industry that has an unarguable higher male participation does achieve the ultimate goal of creating more diversity.

    I don’t think the problem doesn’t exist, or that we should ignore it.But the ultimate goal is not an environment where women work with each other, but where men and women feel comfortable working with each other, The next step should be an event that focuses on Women-Men collaboration.

    On another note I noticed a pattern of people being very quick to pick up a tweet, or anything someone says and extend the intended meaning in a way that is polarizing, controversial or embarrassing for the individual. It creates a toxic environment where people have to watch every word they utter, censor, edit, filter, police their own thoughts before talking in order to not be taken out of context.

    Look at the headline of this article “Microsoft Ventures call Startup Weekend Pointless”. @danieljshapiro:disqus Is this really what happened here? This looks like a National Enquirer Headline. It sure grabs attention but is it really what happened?
    I am sure there is a law suit here somewhere.

    In case of doubt about what someone meant? Talk, ask for clarification, give people the opportunity to explain themselves without instantly trying to portray them in the worst light. Things like that escalate quickly and next thing people lose their jobs, reputations and their lives are ruined because of 140 characters.
    Who knows maybe @voodooftw:disqus Just had FOMO ( fear of missing out).

  • myBestHelper

    I love this sentence: “I have seen this perspective before: “If we ignore the problem, it will go away”. I think it would work for sexism as well as it does for Ebola.”

  • Bob Crimmins

    Dan, thanks for writing this. I missed the original tweets and just heard about this from a colleague. I searched for the original tweets and was furious at what I found. For better than a decade, Microsoft has been a huge unfulfilled opportunity for the Seattle startup ecosystem. Compare what Google has done to support entrepreneurship. I believe I’ve seen signs of a changing tide and some meaningful progress over the past few years. So to hear the head of MS Ventures make a statement like this is as disappointing as it is infuriating.

    For the record, I was a coach at the first Startup Weekend Women event and I brought my then 9-year-old daughters. It was a humbling experience to have them there to see so many women engaging in the activities of entrepreneurship. We still talk about that weekend.

    As a father of daughters, I am on a mission to release two powerful women on the world. That just means that I want them to understand that they can do anything they choose to do and that there is nothing they can’t choose. SW Women was an amazing opportunity to expose them to positive role models wrt entrepreneurship.

    I’m serving as a judge at the Startup Weekend Women event this weekend and I look forward to hearing Rahul’s thoughts post event.

  • As the founder of tekAura (http://about.me/tekAura), I have been struggling with the idea to focus our efforts on women in STEM. On one hand, I feel very strongly about supporting minorities in STEM. However, I worry that my business will become too focused and I will lose business opportunities or access to talent. I have to admit that this article is helping to sway me towards the idea of doing so as a means of being inclusive instead of exclusive, in the strictest definition. What do you all think?

  • Lily

    The problem with gender diversity in Tech is not about getting the academic qualification. Women are able to earn Phd degrees. The problem lies in the work environment/cultures. The tech work environment are dominated by white & Indian male. In India, women are second class citizen. They support caste system in their society. So, when high percentage of workforce come from a culture where caste system & gender bias exist, they bring the culture into the workforce. Getting Phd is the easy part, to survive hostile working environment that’s a big ask. Many of smart women chose to find alternatives. To increase innovation and economic benefits, it must come from a better working culture for the 50% population.