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Diversity dust-up: startups networker canned over 'whitesplaining'

Director of Philly Startups Leaders is out after defending self against 'whitesplaining' and crying during a panel discussion.
Tayyib Smith, center, and Yuval Yarden, right, at a panel discussion hosted by the Black & Brown Founders that led to Yarden losing her job. (Courtesy of Philly Startup Leaders).

A woman who led a network for Philly entrepreneurs has lost her job after being accused of "whitesplaining" and crying during a panel discussion on minorities in tech.

Yuval Yarden, the former executive director of the Philly Startup Leaders (PSL) group, a networking organization, has stepped down from her post after her discussion with Tayyib Smith, leader at Little Giant Creative Marketing and the Pipeline coworking space, grew briefly heated last Tuesday.

Members of Yarden's former group announced her firing Saturday and called her comments during the panel "disappointing, inappropriate and unacceptable."

Yarden and Smith were at a discussion organized by the Black & Brown Founders, a networking group dedicated to helping entrepreneurs of color get funding outside the traditional venture capital system.

The two first awkwardly clashed over a 'Diversity Dinner' the PSL hosts, the mere mention of which provoked loud groans from Smith, video of the event shows.

"Don't invite me again," he muttered impishly, as Yarden asked aside from the microphone for him to let her discuss it "before you trash it."

Later in the conversation (around 2:18:30 in video of the event), when asked by the panel's moderator to share what programs and strategies can boost minority representation in tech, Yarden begins an awkward free-wheeling self-defense: noting that she is not a racial minority, but is a woman and immigrant, before adding, "That doesn't matter because right now in this conversation I feel really uncomfortable."

When Smith interrupts her, saying "'I feel uncomfortable about leaving my house in Rittenhouse Square every day," Yarden responds by asking him to "Please just let me speak, it's really not fair," at which point Smith declares, "You're whitesplaining me right now."

Yarden, growing emotional, replied, "See that's what's making me uncomfortable. You're actually moving me to tears because of what you're saying."

Smith later on elaborated, "See, I'm talking about issues, but you're taking this personally. ... I'm not trying to be your enemy. I see you as an ally."

The panel discussion dragged on for another 30 minutes with Yarden and Smith sitting peacefully beside each other before its conclusion. But the reverberations of that talk are still felt days later, with Yarden losing her position.

Yarden and Smith did not respond to requests for comment. But Smith seemed to tweet flippantly about the incident later, joking " Everyone texting me about yesterday with that wretched child," with a gif of Kanye West nonchalantly shrugging after snatching the mike from Taylor Swift in 2009.

PSL posted a message about Yarden's termination, signed by president Bob Moore, which stated the incident with Yarden was "a reflection of our poor efforts around diversity and inclusion." 

The group said they hope to change that by adding diverse members to their Board of Directors, firing Yarden, and by continuing the "conversation" at their upcoming Diversity Dinner.