Lane Becker
Apr 4, 2015 · 2 min read

The lack of diversity in the Valley isn’t an individual problem, it’s a systemic one. No singular company, board, or VC firm is going to be able to tackle the problem on their own.

Nor are they going to want to, regardless of whatever platitudes they spout at conferences (or on Medium.) Lack of diversity is a feature, not a bug — one that serves a very specific purpose: speed and scale.

I would compare it to the way we grow corn in this country. There is a lot of money to be made in corn, thanks to a system of complex governmental and financial incentives built up over the decades. As a result we grow way too much corn. Waaay too much. Entire follow-on industries have been built to justify our investment — to find newer, ever more elaborate ways to use all that corn. Feed it to cows! Pour it into gas tanks! Extrude it into packaged goods! Whatever it takes to ensure we can grow as much corn as possible, as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Would it be more beneficial to grow a diverse variety of crops instead of relying on this brittle monoculture? Would it be more sustainable and ultimately have more cultural value? Sure. Would we get better crops and deliver a better quality of life to a wider variety of people on both sides of the market? Absolutely. Would the people at the top make anywhere near as much money off of it? Hell no.

In Silicon Valley, 22 year old white CS grads from Stanford are our corn. Throw enough of them together and eventually some of them will build something that gets big fast enough to trigger the money cascade. But these creations aren’t built to last — they’re built to last just long enough to move large amounts of cash around. Nor are they intended to solve real problems. They’re our monoculture: speed and scale at the expense of strength. Let a thousand photo- and video-sharing apps bloom.

Diversity works because different kinds of people bring different backgrounds and different solutions to bear at different times. If you and I are the same, we get stuck on the same problem in the same place. If you and I are different, we get stuck in different places, and when that happens we can help each other out. It’s a stronger, more stable, more genuinely creative process, but that stability comes at the cost of speed and scale. True diversity operates at a rate much slower than a VC fund’s eight to ten year expectation of return.

I’m not saying change won’t happen. It certainly will — all brittle systems break down, eventually, and many people who don’t benefit from the current model are working to make change. But looking to the people who profit from the problem to create or support a real solution is crazy talk.

Lane Becker

Written by

Currently at 18F. Previously, Code for America, Get Satisfaction, & Adaptive Path. Sunshine by day, moonshine by night.