By Ellen McGirt
January 13, 2017

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.

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