Benner on Tech: Salesforce, Kleiner Fuel Discrimination Debate

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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People are Talking About…

Headlines about Salesforce.com and Kleiner Perkins have pushed those companies from the backwaters of the technology section to the top of the homepage. Salesforce is saying "no" to homophobia in Indiana. Kleiner is embroiled in a high profile gender discrimination trial.

Each story in its own way is evidence that the tech industry is solving for some serious social problems these days. They’re not making apps that change the way we live. They’re acknowledging -- Salesforce voluntarily and Kleiner reluctantly -- that they have a special type of power and influence that only comes with being at the top of the economic heap. Because these companies have a lot of customers, employees, investors, dependent entrepreneurs and (most importantly) money, their decisions shape the values of a much bigger ecosystem.

I’m talking about clout, not Klout.

Like other important industries before it, tech is being forced to become a corporate citizen rather than just a sector of the economy.

Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff canceled company events in Indiana after the state governor signed into law a bill that gives corporations the legal cover they need to not do business with same-sex couples.

He told Re/code:

We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation.

Back in San Francisco, a jury is currently deciding whether Kleiner Perkins discriminated against a former junior partner, Ellen Pao, and retaliated against her when she complained. No matter the outcome, the case is a watershed moment in an industry that has recently begun to grapple with the fact that sexism exists unchecked in an industry that’s often seen as a sure path to wealth creation. The case won’t end workplace bias right away, but it forced the problem into the open.

In both cases, the tech industry is shaping larger, national conversations about equal rights. These issues are never really put to rest in the U.S., but the pace of change, the norms that are forged and the prevailing wisdom about what we think is right are all shaped by the powerful players who fight the battles.

** Related reads:

Bloomberg lists five lessons learned from the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins trial.

Fortune talked to young women in tech about what they make of Pao's case. One woman argued that the Pao trial is emboldening women.

* Former Yahoo president Sue Decker took her family to watch the Pao v. Kleiner closing arguments. She writes:

I am personally not surprised that Pao did not raise many of her current claims along the way as they happened ... To some, this is seen as changing her story for the legal case. But I can imagine that as the little injustices built up, she compartmentalized and moved on. That’s the easier path ... I know many women in high-powered positions who have not reported incidents or didn’t want to rock the boat. It can be the benefit of reflection on the totality of the situation that provides clarity.

USA Today says the tech gender gap is widening. 

Ventureland

LearnVest, the financial planning startup, was acquired by Northwestern Mutual, Bloomberg reports.

Shazam is using Nasdaq Private Market to manage shares internally and handle regulatory filings and records as it moves closer to an IPO, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Slack raised $160 million and is now valued at almost $2.8 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Tujia, China’s version of Airbnb, is trying to raise $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Bitcoin makes paying your taxes a total pain, and Fusion has a list of high-profile people who might need extra accounting help this year.

The live streaming wars have begun. The Wall Street Journal looks at the Meerkat v. Periscope battle for users. Business Insider has the inside scoop on Twitter’s Periscope acquisition.

People and Personnel Moves

Tim Cook has made Apple a more open, trusting company and openly championed gay rights, immigration reform and more consumer privacy, Fortune argues in its profile of Apple’s CEO. Cook also says he’s going to give away his fortune to charity.

Jonah Becker has stepped down as head of design at HTC, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Kelly Steckelberg is on a mission to save the dating site Zoosk, Fortune reports.

Tiffany Alvord tells the Wall Street Journal how to follow in her footsteps and become a YouTube star.

Companies

Amazon makes even temporary warehouse workers sign 18-month non-compete agreements, reports the Verge. The company is now offering incredibly cheap unlimited storage plans that could dent Dropbox, Wired reports.

Facebook is working on a solar-powered drone that will have the wingspan of a Boeing 737 as part of a plan to expand Internet access, reports the Wall Street JournalThe New York Times says that worries about Facebook's startup-based mobile ad revenue are overblown. The company told Bloomberg it will make money on ads startups buy, even if there’s a tech bust.

Google’s monopoly may not matter if online search becomes irrelevant. The Wall Street Journal confirms that the company has less of an edge in mobile search. Even so, a recent survey says that Google is still a top job destination. The company’s Niantic Labs is turning its mobile game Ingress into a TV show, reports the Information.

Hewlett-Packard is in talks to sell its data-networking business in China to Tsinghua Unigroup, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft is making its suppliers provide paid time off.

Tesla cars have hit a great wall of disinterest in China, reports Bloomberg. Fortune says the stock has been among the Nasdaq’s worst performers.

Zynga shareholders can pursue claims that the company concealed information about its declining health before and after its December IPO, reports Reuters.

Security Watch

U.S.-EU Safe Harbor rules for transatlantic data transfers don’t protect data from U.S. spying, reports Ars Technica.

Media Files

The Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger review will now last until the middle of this year, Ars Technica reports.

HBO will broadcast a half-hour Vice newscast five days a week, the New York Times reports. It’s also thinking about including more shows with HBO Now, Bloomberg reports.

News and Notes

Foxconn is fighting to preserve China’s tax breaks for businesses, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Car racing has become Silicon Valley’s “it” hobby, according to the New York Times.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Maria Lamagna at mlamagna@bloomberg.net