I recently spoke with Dr. Laura Mather, an extraordinary scientist who has turned herself into a brilliant entrepreneur. She’s the founder of Unitive, an enterprise platform that helps companies eliminate bias in recruiting by matching them with candidates based on skills and values, rather than what school they went to, or, as she says with a laugh, “whether or not they played water polo.”
Mather has an extraordinary business pedigree. She started at the NSA, then migrated to Silicon Valley where she was an early cyber security expert, one of a handful of people who were able to make eBay and PayPal secure. She co-founded the anti-fraud start-up Silver Tail Systems, which used pattern recognition algorithms to identify online fraud in real time. The company was acquired by EMC in 2012.
Despite all that crime fighting in her resume, she’s a person of unusual warmth and optimism. And she gave raceAhead readers a New Year prediction worth sharing: According to her, 2017 is going to be our year. And if my reporting is any indication, she’s absolutely right. (More on this in an upcoming print issue.)
Mather acknowledges that we live in difficult times. “I know that we’re seeing some fatigue around diversity training, and some of the less structured approaches that people have been taking to address inclusion,” she says. “But I know that in 2017, that the Fortune 500 is going to take concrete steps to address diversity in a real way.”
First, she says, all the market conditions are there.
“There’s the political climate, and the fact that the country feels divided.” Business leaders know that their employees feel divided too. Conversations around shared values, like inclusion, are increasingly top of mind for senior leaders. “The commitment is there because the business case is there,” she says.
She cites the work that the tech sector has done, like releasing their diversity stats, as important to the cause. “But the real leaders are going to come from the incumbents,” she says, those Fortune stalwarts who are rapidly becoming digital brands in their own rights. They’re seeing the value that diverse teams bring to global markets and customers. “It’s those companies that know that they need to adjust their practices, to hire a whole new type of person,” she says. “The challenge then is to keep their employees feeling included over the long term.” There’s no silver bullet, but, she says, “there’s real commitment in the marketplace.”
But you knew that, didn't you?
Have an inclusive weekend! Back at you Monday, with a special raceAhead dispatch.
Justice Department report: Chicago police systematically violated civil rights of residents
The report, released today, is scathing: Chicago's police department routinely used excessive force against residents, including children, and disproportionately targeted black and Latinx people. Training and accountability systems are also badly wanting, the report finds. The situation is demoralizing for the police as well. “The systems and policies that fail ordinary citizens also fail the vast majority of Chicago Police Department officers who risk their lives every day,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
A new player is taking on diversity in tech venture capital
Technology writer Jessica Guynn has an excellent profile of trail-blazing investor Charles Hudson, managing partner with Precursor Ventures. Hudson’s goal is to find and identify the type of entrepreneurial talent that has been long overlooked by the clubby white men who dominate venture capital. Since striking out on his own two years ago, he’s made more than 50 investments—31% have had a female founder, and 16% and 7% have had an African American and Latinx founder, respectively. "The fastest, simplest way to change the composition of the tech industry is to change who gets to make funding and hiring decisions," he says.
A student painting has triggered a Congressional fight in the U.S. Capitol
Each year, Congressional leaders hold an art contest in their respective districts; the winner gets to exhibit their work in the U.S. Capitol for a year. The winning painting from Missouri's first district was by David Pulphus, and it portrayed his community as he experienced it: A tumultuous street scene awash with symbols of protest and despair; marchers holding signs; a disgruntled white driver; and police depicted with boar heads and drawn guns. For six months, nobody cared. Then, a representative from California removed it. Four days later, the Congressional Black Caucus re-installed it, then another Congressman removed it again. “Their actions challenge democracy’s essence and highlight the privilege that white people in positions of power wield: immunity,” writes Pulphus’s friend, in this strong essay.
Day laborers fall prey to anti-immigration vigilantes
They’re a familiar sight in many Los Angeles neighborhoods, undocumented workers queued up on city corners, looking for a day's work in construction or on other projects. But they’re increasingly being surveilled and threatened by self-appointed monitors, who have been photographing the men, sometimes hurling threats, even a drive-by spitball. "They're out there in public, which makes them easy targets for anti-immigrant sentiment. They're really at the front line of the immigration debate in this country," says one expert.
The Woke Leader
A look at what black Americans are losing now
The Nation has a special issue on Barack Obama’s presidency, all of which is worth your time. But I’d draw your attention to this one piece by Kai Wright. It does an unusually powerful job speaking to the literal pain that black folks feel with the end of his term, as defined by their physical bodies. First, the end of the conversation about the public deaths at the hands of the police; then, the loss of the health insurance that kept the working poor alive. “Neither President Obama nor his detractors saw political advantage in discussing the Affordable Care Act as an antipoverty or racial-justice program, but it is both of these things,” he writes.
I loved this short profile of Enrique Ferrari, whose most lucrative gig requires mopping the platforms of the Buenos Aires subways. The 44-year-old father of three is also a prize-winning crime novelist; he cannot survive on writing, so his cleaning job keeps the family afloat. He’s semi-famous now, romantically known as the “subway writer.” He sniffs at the moniker. "It is a peculiarity of capitalists and the bourgeoisie to think that we workers have no culture," he says. Pffft.
Some boys are more gifted than others
Ozy has a great review of new research out of NYU that reveals the bias—in either teachers, society, or both—that may be affecting which kids get shunted to either special ed or gifted programs. The research, which involves asking 70 third grade teachers to assess fictional case studies of male students, found that white boys were more likely to get special ed help for their academic challenges, while black and brown boys were referred mostly for behavioral ones. And across the board, more white boys than black ones were referred to gifted programs. Are the teachers biased? “It’s speculative,” says the researcher. The study simply captures the bias that exists throughout society, she asserts.