Skip to content

Ben Horowitz on hiring and diversity

This long extract is from a fantastic interview with Ben Horowitz – it’s great on a load of aspects of building strong organisational culture, and especially on diversity.

Highly recommend.

Brian Koppelman: How do you avoid [hiring people who look like you]? How do you train it out of people?

Ben Horowitz: Look, we all fall into it. Let me talk about the general, and then more on the diversity case. So, in general, it’s all about preparation. How do you prepare for the interview? Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, guess what you’re going to hire the person who “looks the part.” And so you have to get into it.

And it’s one of the most complex things that I work with CEOs on, is well how do you hire a CFO when you’ve never been a CFO? How do you hire a Japanese interpreter if you don’t know Japanese? This is a very difficult thing to prepare for. So what we have is is like, look, we’re going to have you meet like five CFOs we think are good. I want you to ask them very hard questions: “What’s the difference between a good CFO and a great CFO? Why do you think that? How do you test that at interview?” All that kind of thing. You’ve got to get deep with them about how to do that, and then of all those things they say – and they’re not all going to say the same things – which things are more important to your company? And like, hone in on how you test for that, and just that. And you just have to ignore the other things. And then your focus is off what they look like at that point, or what they sounds like.

Now on the diversity thing, I’ll tell you the story on it. So, if you look at diversity in hiring, here’s the problem: you walk into any organisation, if there’s a woman manager there’s going to be a lot of women working there. If you have an Asian manager there’s going to be a lot of Asians working there. An African American there’s going to be a lot of African Americans. People know how to hire themselves: “I know what I’m good at, I value it highly, and I can test for it in an interview.” And so that’s the crux of the mechanism that blows up diversity.

So we had that problem at Andreessen Horowitz early on. You know Margot, she ran marketing. She had all women working for her. Frank Chen had all Asians working for him. The whole thing. So I got to Margot and I’m like, “Margot, what’s in your criteria, what’s in your profile, where no man can get a job working in marketing. What do they all fail on?” And she looks at me and she says “Helpfulness.” And I’m like, “Oh, snap. I know very few helpful men. But – here was a really stupid thing for us as an organisation. We’re in venture capital, we’re a services organisation, that’s our business. Helping. Being helpful. And that’s a real skill. Can I anticipate what you need before you even say anything? How many people can do that? That’s a high bar. Nobody else had that in their profile.

So when you think about developing the preparation for the interview you have to think, “Do I have perspectives from people who are not me? And what do they know, what would they hire for for that position, do I understand it and can they teach me how to test for it?”

And then if I do that, then guess what? You get diversity automatically. We have automatic diversity at Andreessen Horowitz, and I don’t have any quotas, any program, any head of diversity, any anything. We just profile and prepare in a diverse way.

[Out of] 180 people we’re 52 percent women. I don’t even care. But I do care that everybody came in on the same criteria and had the same opportunity once they get there. And that’s very different than going “I need to have X percentage…” Because then when you come in, everybody looks at you and goes “Oh, you went in through the side door,” so they start treating you differently, and you have to re-prove yourself on things and all that dumb stuff.

I think the real solve is that you have to be committed to getting the best talent. This is a problem with big companies in general… you get to a certain size and the business is so good that you can get away with doing stupid stuff, and that includes hiring sub-par people, and you end up with no diversity because you don’t really have to get the best. … But if you have to get the best, it’s worth investing in a hiring process that can see all the best talent.

Ben Horowitz on Brian Koppelman’s The Moment.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...