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Leaders in Diversity Adapt

Diversity, equity & inclusion: 11 leaders who are changing the tech scene

By Michelle Y. Bess / October 24, 2018

In order to solve a problem, you first have to recognize that it exists.

Lack of truly diverse and inclusive businesses and brands is no new concept, but in 2018, the topic has risen to the forefront of headlines, conversations and social feeds everywhere.

More than ever, we’re seeing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leaders across the tech industry step up to social to start an open dialogue about holding themselves and the companies they work for to higher standards, building better brands from diversity of perspective and ultimately creating workplaces in which every employee can personally and professionally thrive.

Here are 11 DEI leaders—and vocal advocates across the tech scene—who are leading and championing change in the industry while sharing their vision on social.

1. Jennifer Kim

“Diversity and inclusion is about holding ourselves to a higher standard, to do what’s right.”

As Lever’s first female employee (besides the CEO) in 2016, Kim spearheaded the company’s initial diversity and inclusion efforts. Developing an organic and deliberate strategy for diversity in the workplace, she was able to guide the organization to a 50:50 gender balance, considering significant representation of black, Latinx, LGBTQ, parents and others.

Realizing the opportunity to expand diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts was much bigger than a single company, Kim began working with multiple start-ups to make her efforts a reality on a larger, more impactful scale.

“It’s not only our moral obligation, but also the key to getting things done in an increasingly connected world,” says Kim.

Today she’s a startup advisor in San Francisco, collaborating with startup founders as well as investors who truly care about the future of tech. Some brands including: Y Combinator, First Round Capital, True Ventures, and Kapor Center.

On the side, she writes a weekly advice column, Inclusion at Work, where she focuses on D&I for startups “that care about diversity and inclusion.”

2. Candice Morgan

“In the world of diversity, things take time.”

Candice Morgan is like a cross-cultural business psychologist.

As Head Inclusion & Diversity Strategist at Pinterest, Morgan has spent over a decade helping companies diversify their ranks. Since Pinterest created the role in 2016, Morgan has been focused on tackling the company’s ratio in representation and access to people who might not have the network to kickstart a career in tech.

In the world of diversity, things tend to take time. This, Morgan says, is her reasoning behind implementing more “aggressive” hiring goals for Pinterest.

She uses social as a brand transparency tool, effectively offering a window into the inner workings of DEI at Pinterest and setting an example for more companies to invest in their own DEI initiatives.

3. Ciara Trinidad

“If you’re simply saying what you think you should with D&I, your initiatives are set up to fail.”

Ciara Trinidad, a Program Manager for Inclusion and Diversity at Netflix, says she’s learned to appreciate how all these different pieces come together. She believes good diversity and inclusion leaders have to make sure that whatever their message is, it permeates all levels of the organization they’re working for, beyond just the recruitment team or the executive team.

“Companies are like ‘we care so much about diversity and inclusion, but if you were to go and ask a lower-level manager, ‘Why do you care about diversity and inclusion?’ they would have no idea,” she told CNN. “That’s the problem.”

Outside of traditional tactics, Trinidad advocates that a culture of data is what underpins a culture of inclusion.

4. Arlan Hamilton

“The ‘It’s about damn time’ fund.”

Hamilton is the Founder and CEO of the much publicized venture firm, Backstage Capital. The LA-based company is tackling the near impossible task of disrupting the way that venture investors pick winners and create wealth. Hamilton’s fund is specifically dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are of color, women, and/or LGBT.

While homeless, she built her capital fund from the ground up. Backstage has now invested nearly $5 million into over 80 startup companies.

This summer, Hamilton announced that Backstage’s latest fund will invest $36 million in black female founders.

5. Tony Prophet

“Equality begins with each of us. We seek to create workplaces that reflect the communities we serve and a culture where everyone feels valued, heard and included.”

Tony Prophet is a CEO of a different kind—a Chief Equality Officer.

At Salesforce and throughout his career, Prophet has worked to champion human rights and social justice. This includes addressing the root causes of migratory worker flows, educating women workers in developing countries on reproductive health issues, empowering underrepresented groups in tech and even reducing the supply chain greenhouse gas footprint.

In his role, he focuses on building Salesforce to be a workplace that reflects the diverse communities it serves and further equality for all. He also leads the new Ethical & Humane Use of Technology initiative to ensure their technology not only drives the success of their customers, but also drives positive social change and improves the lives of people around the world. He reports directly to the Co-CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff.

6. Xavier Ramey

“Privilege is just having two good choices. In a world where you have to fight for justice, we have to indict the fact that we don’t have to fight for injustice.”

Xavier Ramey combines his background in economics, social strategy and direct action campaigning in the Black Lives Matter movement in his role as CEO of Justice Informed, a Chicago-based social impact consulting firm.

Ramey leads a company that brings a wealth of experience and network to clients seeking catalyzed strategies for inclusion, philanthropy, and community engagement. As a native Chicagoan, he’s a recognizable voice on the topics of community and economic development, policing and policy violence.

7. Maxine Williams

“Numbers Take Us Only So Far”

Facebook’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams knows full well the preconceived notions of those who question corporate diversity initiatives.

It’s Williams’ blend of straightforwardness and honed strategy that makes her a force in the diversity and inclusion space, as well as Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s go-to executive.

According to Facebook’s 2017 diversity update, the number of women working for Facebook globally has risen from 33% to 35% and the number of women in technical roles has increased from 17% to 19%. In the US, they have increased the representation of Hispanics from 4% to 5%, and Black people from 2% to 3%.

Williams acknowledges strides but isn’t satisfied. “If you ask me when would I be satisfied, I’d be satisfied when it’s 50% [women at Facebook],” she told Glassdoor. “More, I always want more.”

Williams’ mission is to not only to get those numbers up but to make sure the company reflects their over two billion users.

8. Alida Miranda-Wolff

“I want to make the world more beautiful by helping people be kinder, smarter and better in work and on teams.”

Alida Miranda-Wolff helps growing and growth-stage companies meet their full potential by investing in their people. Having spent her career managing startups, she eventually founded Ethos, a talent strategy firm for tech based in Chicago, devoted to strengthening every company’s biggest asset: its people.

Wolff partners with tech leaders to turn possibilities and aspirations into concrete realities. She’s managed to marry her love of information-sharing and supporting underrepresented communities by contributing to VentureBeat, being an instructor at General Assembly and Venture Board Member at mHub—she effectively spreads the word about diversity efforts, hiring practices, vision and values.

9. Ellen Pao

“If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.”

It was Ellen Pao’s case against gender discrimination in venture capital that sparked a national conversation.

Pao is a tech investor, former CEO of reddit and cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit, Project Include.

Despite not winning the highly publicized, three year battle against her employer, Kleiner Perkins, in 2015, sexism in Silicon Valley was suddenly sitting under a not-so-flattering spotlight.

Her work with Project Include in the last year has been convening two cohorts of CEOs to focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace for their startups, advising dozens of leaders on specific inclusion issues, providing a platform of 87 recommendations for leaders who want to pursue diversity in their own companies.

And they saw results.

On top of seeing tangible improvement in companies they’ve worked with this past year, they’ve had more CEOs, venture capitalists — and, recently, limited partners investing in VC firms — reach out than they could conceivably help. Leaders and employees are sharing more and more stories about their experiences, and the public is holding companies and investors accountable for harassment and discrimination.

10. Kimberly Bryant

“One of the biggest lessons that we hope to model for several folks, including some of the young women of color who come to me, is the value of understanding your worth, standing up and demanding the best for yourself and not taking less.”

Not everyone would turn down a $125,000 grant from Uber. But in 2017, Kimberly Bryant—the Founder and CEO of Black Girls Code—did just that. With good reason.

Uber pledged to donate $3 million in funds to support organizations working in diversifying tech. After several meetings with the ride-share giant, representatives told her via phone they’d provide BGC with a $125,000 grant from the $3 million pool—just a tenth of the amount offered to Girls Who Code ($1.2 million.)

Bryant politely declined.

Word of the decision hit Twitter and individual donors rallied around the nonprofit, including Kristy Tillman, Slack’s head of communication design. So in 24 hours, Black Girls Code had raised more than the $125,000 offered by Uber.

To Bryant, the familiar feeling of being culturally isolated while pursuing studies in STEM and in business made taking a stance all the more meaningful.

She hopes to change this trend. Her organization aims to provide opportunities in IT and computer programming to young and pre-teen girls of color.

11. Erin L. Thomas

“We need to work closely with non-minorities and institutions to expand their notions of that a STEM professional is.”

Erin L. Thomas works to ensure that the unique experiences of minority women do not go overlooked in diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Leading Chicago’s Paradigm office, Thomas’s diversity and inclusion work with Fortune 500’s and tech companies nationwide (including our team at Sprout Social and some represented on this list, like Pinterest) incorporates her distinct background in intersectionality and social invisibility. Her research and advocacy have even received recognition and funding from the National Foundation of Science and American Psychological Association.

Her leadership and her work in this area has resulted in employer recognition from Forbes to the The New York Times, the Human Rights Campaign, the Society of Women Engineers and beyond.

She also volunteers at several of Chicago’s nonprofit boards and committees, including the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network, an organization focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities, and Society for Human Resource Management-Chicago’s Diversity Committee.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t buzzwords, they’re values. These are some of the leaders that not only realize that, but push for their respective companies to realize that and leverage social to initiate more public understanding.

The companies and entrepreneurs investing in these values benefit from broader and more insightful perspectives on what they create, who they’re creating it for and who has access to being involved.

Change starts with a voice. These individuals are using theirs to pave the way toward a smarter, stronger industry. Don’t just follow them on social—see what it is they’re talking about and join the conversation.

Michelle Y. Bess

Michelle Y. Bess

is the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lead at Sprout Social, a premier connector of people, a personal shopper and champion for people of color. Bess serves as a Board Director of Degrees of Change, President at the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Associate Board, and Founder of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Professionals Meet-Up.
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