Yesterday’s Technology Summit: What Do Women In Silicon Valley Think?

I write about shocking stories and advice from Silicon Valley.

  • The general consensus remains that yesterday was merely kabuki theater and it is way too early to tell how well Silicon Valley interests —beyond Peter Thiel’s—will be respected

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 14: Oracle CEO Safra Catz attends President-Elect Trump’s Roundtable Tech Industry Summit on December 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Oracle)

Yesterday’s tech summit was a rare gathering of top-level executives from some of the most vaunted names in American business. There was much to dissect: who sat where, who was missing, and whether Silicon Valley’s leaders should have sent a strong message by not participating.

Speaking with Lynn Perkins, CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter, “I find it interesting that so many tech leaders who were publicly critical of Trump during the campaign decided to attend the Summit. While I can appreciate the effort to strike a conciliatory tone in the interest of advocating for issues that are important to Silicon Valley, I personally identify more with the notably absent tech leaders who continued to voice opposition to Trump by choosing not to attend like Mark Benioff.”

It’s all so fraught. Not to mention that there are many weighing in on the major conflicts of interest in that Trump’s three adult children — Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. — were also present. I would personally like to count as one. It bears repeating that 25 people were present. Four of them — four — are the President-elect’s children. Twenty percent in that room were in fact family members.

Summit attendees included:

  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX
  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
  • Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet
  • Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet
  • Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco
  • Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM
  • Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel
  • Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

What We Know Was Said:

Trump opened the summit emphasizing his gratitude for Peter Thiel, a U.S. entrepreneur who has served as the president-elect’s bridge to Silicon Valley, calling him a “very special guy.”

Addressing attendees, Trump said, things like, “I’m here to help you folks do well. You’re doing well right now.” “There’s nobody like you in the world, in the world. There’s nobody like the people in this room.” and “Anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you and you’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.”

Though the full agenda was not shared publicly, the readout was. Trump seemed hopeful that his administration could cooperate with Silicon Valley, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The meeting focused on areas where the two sides could agree, rather than differences. And so the deep dive and hard issues were left off the table for a speculative postmortem.

Still, I spent some time speaking with many Silicon Valley women insiders and investors to take the temperature. The general consensus remains that yesterday was merely kabuki theater and it is way too early to tell how well Silicon Valley interests —beyond Peter Thiel’s—will be respected apart from fuzzy gestures and photo opportunities. As such here are just some of the highlights:

Ann Greenberg, Founder: ION, Gracenote, Sceneplay & Hugging Company was dubious about the signals being sent by the two groups that have been part of an assembled round table. “All sides need to read between the lines. The only two industry groups which Trump has met with are the press and technology, two groups which are largely inseparable at this point.”

With regard to several notable VC’s, the concern centered around the optics of the new administration given the Valley’s consistent diversity problem. Speaking to Scott Sorochak, Partner at Blarney Ventures, “Trump has repeatedly been on record as saying ‘Women are in my highest executive positions.’ But if you look at his actual track record, say between 1995 and and 2009, at say all four of of his casinos under THCR and TER, based on SEC fillings, only six of nearly 60 executives were women, or about 10%, and none of those were on the board of directors at any of those companies. It will be interesting to see if those statistics change under his Presidency because if so, that would truly put actions in front of just words.”

Joan Wrabez CTO, Quali, has big fears that the next four years might be hurtful to women in technology. “One of the biggest challenges in technology and in the Valley is getting diversity and getting skills and yet we are landing in a spin cycle talking about manufacturing jobs and immigration. These jobs are not coming back. I worry about how we focus attention on the areas of STEM education.”

Net Neutrality was not left from discussion. Jacquelyn Morie, Owner and CEO at All These Worlds weighed in saying, “I’m praying that the titans have some allegiance to net neutrality roots at least those present yesterday.”

While the concerns were ultimately voiced, there was still room for notorious Silicon Valley optimism. In speaking with Diana Moldavsky, Former 500 Startups Partner and Investor, she was both happy to see the dialogue taking place and felt optimistic. In her opinion, “It’s a meeting that any new President-elect would do. I think it’s great that Sheryl Sandberg was in the room. While it’s too early to tell I’m being pragmatic that it’s a good indication that there is much room for continued discussions.”

There is much left unsaid by yesterday’s summit and much to continue to dissect.  What has been notable is what was truly not mentioned in depth at all.