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McKinsey’s diversity lead: Too many companies focus on hiring women, but not on keeping them

"There are many jobs available in the technology market right now. Are you a culture and place to work that's attractive enough that women want to stay?"

McKinsey’s diversity lead: Too many companies focus on hiring women, but not on keeping them

"Underneath the four or five big names in tech, there's a whole sector of medium-sized software and enterprise and consumer companies, and companies that are pre-IPO that are continuing to do well. And that's super important," says McKinsey's Lareina Yee.

Photo: McKinsey and Protocol

There's no one better suited to talk about the importance of diversity and the fight to advance women inside tech companies than McKinsey's Lareina Yee. As the chief diversity officer and leader of the company's global technology hardware and services work, it's almost all she thinks about.

Yee also leads a research project called Women in the Workplace, which releases an annual report, in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and The Wall Street Journal, about the progress of female representation in corporate leadership and corporate careers. This year's report, released last month, revealed an astonishing statistic: that one in four women were considering downshifting their careers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Protocol spoke with Yee about the effects of the pandemic on women's careers, what she looks for when consulting with tech companies on their potential for growth and what she's most looking forward to in 2021.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Women in the Workplace report called diverse and historically underrepresented women in corporate leadership "onlys." In some rooms, I imagine you are also one of those women. Does it feel as unfriendly as it looks sometimes? That doesn't seem to be changing a whole lot, at least according to the data about these women and their experiences in the report.

For women of color, 45% of the time they experience being an "only." It is the simultaneous experience of visually being the only person who looks like you, maybe because of the intersection of your gender and race, and feeling extreme isolation in a snap moment, as well as an intense pressure to positively show the stereotypes of your small group. That is the inner dialogue. The other thing is that "onlys" are more likely to face very common microaggressions, like being perceived as more junior than you really are and your credibility questioned.

On a more personal level, I think that when we first started writing about being an "only," one of the things that I felt was personally helpful, and what I noticed when I talk to women of color in particular, particularly Black women and Latinx women, is the ability to put some data and real research behind something you've experienced all your life.

And for me, I would think back to many experiences of being an only, and knowing that there is a reason that's happening, and that you're not the only one experiencing it. There's cold comfort in knowing that you're part of a trend. I see myself in this really depressing data. And there's something empowering about that.

On the other side of the pipeline, how do we keep women — and women of color especially — advancing from entry-level positions at tech companies?

For tech companies, I often ask them whether they have a pipe or a funnel. There are some companies that are more pipes, and then there are the vast majority, which look more like funnels. So a funnel starts wide and gets really narrow.

And most tech companies are hand wringing, "Well, we only have 30% women entry. It's so hard, only 18% of college graduate women are stem degrees and engineers." Which I completely agree is a real problem to solve. But if you start with 30% women engineers, my question is, are you a funnel? Meaning that you end up with very few women over time. Or are you a pipe? If you're a pipe, that would mean that you have 25% women in senior roles.

With the women you do have, are you investing in them, not only to stay, but get promoted in your company? There are many jobs available in the technology market right now. Are you a culture and place to work that's attractive enough that women want to stay? And if you have a funnel, it's very clear that's not the case. And then you can explore why and what to do. If you're a pipe, part of what I like to say is, that's a point of celebration. You are doing something right.

The report also showed that the pandemic has been especially bad for women's careers, especially work from home mothers. So many are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace. What should companies be doing for them especially?

Even though 77% of men in dual-career households said that they are sharing the workload, only 40% of women in those situations believe it. So what could we do about it? People look for a silver bullet answer. Disappointingly so for everyone, there isn't one. It's a systems answer.

So what is the system around working women, and how would you start to change three or four of those factors? One of the things you'll see is that if companies really want to support working moms, they would actually think about four or five things, turn them all on at once, and actually make it more sustainable. So how would you reevaluate your policies and programs that support working parents? How do we pull in different types of support for child care? Some companies had child care on campus, but now they don't. And most importantly, I would say, is to take bias out of the review process.

One of the key challenges that we saw before COVID that's been amplified is that a lot of companies have quite a number of part-time and flexible job opportunities and paths. But the vast majority of women and men don't take them. And when asked why, 87% of women and men said that they see professional risk, so there's a stigma attached to taking a flexible program because perhaps people will perceive you as less serious, less driven and less motivated. I think that is one thing that we have to very quickly turn around. So one thing that leaders can do very concretely is to de-risk this perception that their career will be hurt if they actually say they need to use something that a company already offers.

Over the summer, corporate America, including many tech companies, promised new diversity and inclusion initiatives, changes to their hiring practices, pledges in support of movements like Black Lives Matter, etc. In your assessment, did this feel like the beginning of actual change, or did some of this ring hollow for you?

I am an optimistic person. So I do think it is the beginning of a very different ability to have discussions about how race and the corporate workplace come together. So if a company is headquartered in a city with large Black populations, are they standing by? Or are they getting involved in opportunity creation and work opportunities and education opportunities? Are they part of the solution, or are they quiet?

A lot of companies had discussions that you could not have imagined they could have had internally even a couple of years ago. So those are the good things. What will be really important is that if you made a pledge, are you executing on it? It's really important that people, outside of companies and employees within, hold our leaders accountable for those commitments, and also spend the time helping implement them.

Moving on to what you're thinking about in tech right now. Tech companies have been the standout success story since the beginning of the pandemic. Do you share this optimism, and do you see the same story continuing into next year?

Over COVID, many of the high-tech companies have continued to post growth, which is a really important and true evergreen metric. Behind that, what I look at is innovation. It will be critically important over the next two years, especially with rockier economic times, that those innovation engines continue to go. There's also a lot to be figured out so that the unit price for the average consumer is more accessible. And so for me, what has been really important for the tech sector is their ability to show resilience.

It's also been really good that the tech sector hasn't over-rotated, which is something you saw across industries in 2008 and 2002. Over-rotation is mass layoffs, for example. People are so much of the asset of the company, especially if you think about software engineers, and so the fact that companies are actually still hiring engineering talent is a really important indicator. Underneath the four or five big names in tech, there's a whole sector of medium-sized software and enterprise and consumer companies, and companies that are pre-IPO that are continuing to do well. And that's super important.

What's the company in your sector that you're most intrigued by? Perhaps you think it has the most potential, it's where everyone wants to work, maybe they're doing something different — what's raising really exciting questions for you right now?

The ones that catch my attention are ones where there's a lot of innovation in terms of creating new product categories or new ways to relate, but are also very visibly values-driven. Those are sort of markers that I look for. In a time of stress and pressure economically, leadership counts, and you hear some leaders above and beyond others. One that wouldn't surprise you that seems to be very much in the public eye right now is Airbnb, and they're very open about publishing things on Medium and their internal materials are shared externally.

There are many companies that are being incredibly thoughtful right now, both about diversity and inclusion, but also more broadly about the need for humanity at a moment where a lot of people feel a range of things from isolation to stress and pressure to bring about frontline safety. If you just think of the way a lot of these fast-growth tech companies, especially software-oriented ones, worked, it was all of us together in a room, coding until late in the evening. And that's not possible. So you have to be able to keep that up and actually rewire how you collaborate and how you work as a team.

Who are those values-driven leaders impressing you at smaller companies, and what in particular are you looking for there?

Some of the indicators I look for are things that are maybe more operational, above and beyond the big, obvious pieces. It depends what stage company you're looking at, but a lot of the companies that are growing 20% to 40% and are less than 1,000 people, they're growing super fast. And when you're doing that, you maybe don't have an experienced chief human resources officer, for example. And so I look for companies with people who have experience in building a people function alongside the software, and embedding it into how you work in a more substantive way.

The companies that are growing really fast and also investing in internal infrastructure and privacy and data security give me more confidence, because it means that the whole foundation of the company is a lot stronger. It's not just about the brilliance of a particular feature or product or offer.

I want to end on a hopeful question. 2020 has been a really tough year — is there something you're looking forward to in 2021, personally or otherwise?

I look forward to being in person with my teams again. I do miss being able to actually be in a room with a whiteboard and really be creative. As much as I am a huge fan of acceleration of digital teamwork, I would love to see a bit more of a balance there.

And the second thing for me is, with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I just feel enormously grateful. On a personal level, I feel really grateful for the people that I get to work with, and I feel incredibly focused on family. I think leaders saying that and sharing what they feel grateful for is really important, because we do not know how long this will persist into 2021. That's not something we can control.

Protocol | China

Everything you need to know about the Zhihu IPO

The Beijing-based question-and-answer site just filed for an IPO.

The Zhihu homepage.

David Wertime/Protocol

Investors eager to buy a slice of China's urban elite internet will soon have the chance. Zhihu, a Beijing-based question-and-answer site similar to the U.S.-based Quora, has just filed for an IPO to sell American Depositary Shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

What does Zhihu do?

Zhihu is China's largest online Q&A platform — the name comes from the expression "Do you know?" in classical Chinese. It was founded 10 years ago by Yuan Zhou (周源), a former journalist, and spent two years as an invite-only online platform. It quickly built a reputation as a source for quality answers and has drawn a community of elite professionals, including ZhenFund managing partner Bob Xu and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, also an early investor.

Over time, the Chinese-language Zhihu has become more mainstream, and now says it hosts 315.3 million questions and answers contributed by 43.1 million "creators." (Quora, about one year older than Zhihu, had almost 61 million questions and 108 million answers by the end of 2019). The website has grown into a content platform where people also keep diaries, write fiction and blog as social media influencers.

Zhihu users do not look like China as a whole. Most than half are men, most live in "Tier 1" cities and more than three-quarters are under 30 years old.

Zhihu continues to emphasize the quality of its content. "Zhihu is also recognized as the most trustworthy online content community and widely regarded as offering the highest-quality content in China," its prospectus says.

Zhihu's financials

Zhihu registered for its IPO via the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, a.k.a. the JOBS Act, which has reduced disclosure requirements for companies with less than $1.07 billion in annual revenue. Zhihu's revenue doubled from 2019 to 2020, but still only reached $207.2 million, and the company is short of profitability with a 2020 net loss of $79.3 million. The company says it's "still in an early stage of monetization" with "significant runway for growth across multiple new monetization channels."

Trend lines are good. Zhihu has managed to double revenue while keeping expenses largely constant, with selling and marketing aimed at growing Zhihu's user base as the biggest single expense.

The company is trying to diversify its revenue streams. In 2019, 86.1% came from advertising. 2020 saw advertising account for 62.4% while "content-commerce" — meaning native advertising — took in 10%. The rest was mostly paid memberships.

What's next for Zhihu

After years of evincing a relaxed attitude toward monetization, Zhihu is putting itself in the hot seat to do just that. Zhihu is betting that monetizing Chinese web users will get easier over time. The prospectus describes "significant growth potential" in China's "online content community market" and says average revenue per user in China is expected to more than triple from about $55 in 2019 to about $199 in 2025, with revenue in the overall market reaching a projected $200 billion in 2025.

The company looks like it will basically try everything to monetize, and see what sticks. It plans to "ramp up our online education service" and to "continue to explore other innovative monetization channels, such as content e-commerce and IP-based monetization."

The prospectus also mentions AI frequently, touting Zhihu's AI content moderation tool wali as well as a "question routing system" and "feed recommendation and search systems." However, the depth and quality of content remains far more important to Zhihu's success. Users have joked on Zhihu about the poor quality of its wali filter.

What could go wrong?

Zhihu could fail to turn a profit. Like most content platforms, Zhihu has found it hard to monetize its traffic and the vast amount of free content at its core. The platform was built on the premise that anyone can acquire professional knowledge easily, which means users are not inclined to pay.

Since 2016, Zhihu has tried many monetization models: paid physical/virtual events, online courses taught by its top creators, premium memberships and paid consulting services. None have been a hit. Zhihu Live, the paid virtual event product, attracted a lot of public attention in 2016 and 2017, but since then its popularity has waned. According to the prospectus, Zhihu currently has 2.4 million paying members, or only 3.4% of its monthly active users.

Zhihu also faces intense competition. Defined narrowly, it has no rivals, with would-be contenders like Baidu Zhidao and Wukong, owned by ByteDance, falling by the wayside. But Zhihu has positioned itself as something more: a community for diverse content. In this regard, it's competing with big public-facing social media platforms such as the Twitter-like Weibo and Bilibili. While Zhihu's 68.5 million monthly active user base is growing fast, Weibo has over 500 million and Bilibili over 200 million. Zhihu differentiates itself with the quality and depth of its content, but maintaining that creates inevitable tension with the business imperative to expand.

Like every content platform in China, Zhihu is subject to rigid state censorship and faces harsh penalties for failing to police speech itself. Politically-sensitive questions are nowhere to be found on the platform, while other topics including transgender rights have been censored in the past. Even so, in March 2018, Zhihu was taken off every mobile app store for seven days at the request of Beijing's municipal Cyberspace Administration. Authorities did not specify why, but the suspension probably related to subtle criticisms of Xi Jinping on the platform; Zhihu promised to "make adjustments."

Zhihu's prospectus is largely mum on the censorship question, perhaps because the company feels it's gotten good enough at doing it. Zhihu says it has a "comprehensive community governance system" that combines "AI-powered content assessment algorithms" with the ability of users to report each other as well as "proprietary know-how." These resemble the same tools most big Chinese social media platforms use to censor content and keep in Beijing's good graces.

Who gets rich?

Here's what we know:

  • Founder, CEO and Chairman Yuan Zhou currently owns 8.2% of Zhihu, with another 8% worth of options, which he can exercise within 60 days of the IPO, held in a separate holding company controlled by a trust of which he is the beneficiary. Following exercise, Zhou will have the vast majority of aggregate voting power.
  • Innovation Works, beneficially owned by Peter Liu and Kai-Fu Lee, owns 13.1% of Zhihu. According to corporate database Qichacha, Innovation Works invested about $153,000 in an angel round in January 2011, then made follow-on investments in the C and D rounds.
  • Tencent owns 12.3%.
  • Qiming Entities owns 11.3%. According to corporate database Qichacha, Qiming invested $1 million in Zhihu's series A, then made follow-on investments in the B, C and D rounds.

Kuaishou, Baidu and Sogou also own stakes, as does SAIF IV Mobile Apps Limited.

Innovation Works' Kai-Fu Lee and Peter Liu, and Qiming Ventures, both of which invested early and often, look like the biggest winners besides founder Zhou.

What people are saying

"Zhihu, if it ever wants to be a truly massive platform, will need to go out of the hardcore knowledge-sharing space, and become more mainstream, more entertaining, and yes, even less intellectual. But to capture that market, who better to partner with than Kuaishou, who built its business on exactly those characteristics?" —Ying-Ying Lu, co-host of Tech Buzz China.

"After separating video content into its own feed, Zhihu is now in competition with Bilibili and [ByteDance-owned] Xigua Video. Education-themed videos used to be one of the important growth drivers for the latter two apps. Now [Zhihu], the app that specialized in educational content, has joined the game." —Lan Xi (pen name), independent tech writer.

David Wertime

David Wertime is Protocol's executive director. David is a widely cited China expert with twenty years' experience who has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, founded and sold a media company, and worked in senior positions within multiple newsrooms. He also hosts POLITICO's China Watcher newsletter. After four years working on international deals for top law firms in New York and Hong Kong, David co-founded Tea Leaf Nation, a website that tracked Chinese social media, later selling it to the Washington Post Company. David then served as Senior Editor for China at Foreign Policy magazine, where he launched the first Chinese-language articles in the publication's history. Thereafter, he was Entrepreneur in Residence at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer. In 2019, David joined Protocol's parent company and in 2020, launched POLITICO's widely-read China Watcher. David is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Research Associate at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Study of Contemporary China, a Member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and a Truman National Security fellow. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Diane and his puppy, Luna.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
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Image: Google

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This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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Transforming 2021

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Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

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Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

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