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A Silicon Valley Lifer Talks Diversity In Tech

“It’s really hard, isn’t it?”

It had been a year since I first talked to Freada Kapor Klein, the founder of the Level Playing Institute, investor, and outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion in technology. Our first conversation was during the reporting for Fortune’s Leading While Black, a look at what was keeping black men out of executive ranks. It was also my first foray into diversity as a beat. When we spoke again two weeks ago, we talked about the year I’d spent reporting on the diversity efforts in the corporate world. She greeted me like a seasoned veteran. “Now you really know how tough this work actually is.”

Few can hold a candle to Kapor Klein when it comes to doing the work. “I go back to the Paleolithic era, when I was hired at Lotus,” she says with a laugh. It was 1984, and her first employee relations job. Already a longtime advocate for women, she’d made the call early on that a critical part of diversity and inclusion had to involve a safe complaint and communication channel that would allow employees to anonymously ask a question or air delicate grievances. “It was a hard thing to do, there were some legal risks to consider,” she said. But when the CEO pulled star engineers to build the internal tool, it sent a message. “It’s got to come from the top.”

Today, she says CEO engagement is essential, but only if they are consistent and persistent in pursuit of measurable milestones. More than just a checklist or a tweak to recruiting methods, the effort has got to be systemic. “When a leader makes a statement they are raising expectations. And the failure to deliver on that generates huge cynicism.”

Her message to CEOs, tech or otherwise: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. She is one of eight founding members of Project Include a community working to make tech companies more diverse. (The first founder is investor, entrepreneur, and former Reddit interim CEO, Ellen Pao.) She points to their 87 recommendations for CEOs, which have been organized into seven distinct categories of inclusive leadership, from defining and implementing culture to employee life cycles and measuring progress. “It’s all open-sourced and very practical,” she says. Her tl;dr version is simple: to succeed your efforts must be inclusive, comprehensive and measurable.

But what’s not practical is the courage it takes to sustain the effort. To that end, she points to a more competitive spirit for inspiration.

Through the social impact fund, Kapor Capital, Kapor Klein and team are investing in entrepreneurs who are entering significant markets that are often invisible to bigger players, precisely because the company founders have lived different lives than your straight-from-central casting engineer. She ticks through a list: Data-enabled platforms for English language learning for students and families, money-saving disruptions to payday lending, a private network for home cooked meals.

“You could lock up top-tier VCs in a room on Sand Hill Road and they wouldn’t come up with many of these businesses,” she says. “Having a lived experience and an entrepreneurial passion for a market is going to give you a competitive advantage that no meritocracy can replace.”

On Point

Starbucks diversifies its boardThe move, announced today, will give Starbucks one of the most diverse corporate boards in the country. The new picks (subject to shareholder approval) are Rosalind Brewer, an African-American woman who is president and chief executive of Sam’s Club; Satya Nadella, an Indian-American who is CEO of Microsoft Corporation; and Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the Denmark-born executive chairman of the Lego Brand Group. If approved, the move would make the board 29% female and 36% ethnic minority, with a range of ages from baby boomer to millennial.New York Times

Dreamers await an uncertain future under President Trump
Fortune’s Erika Fry has taken an in-depth look at the potential impact, economic and otherwise, of deporting the Dreamers, the 750,000 immigrants granted work permits and temporary residency since 2012 under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Although Trump campaigned on ending DACA, his current stance is unclear. But the ripple effects could be profound: Removing hundreds of thousands of Dreamers from jobs—could cost American employers at least $3.4 billion in terms of turnover and hiring expenses.

Mexico to the US: “There are clear red lines that must be drawn”
Mexico sent a warning to the U.S. yesterday, that they would exit upcoming negotiations with the Trump administration if discussions hit a wall, literally. One red line is President Trump’s campaign promise to make Mexico pay for a massive border wall by tapping into the $25 billion in remittances that Mexican migrants sent home in 2016. If the wall and remittances are an issue, they will “absolutely” walk away, says Mexico’s economy minister.
Business Insider

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe responds with a renewed request for public comment
In a brief statement on their Facebook page, tribal leadership reiterated their plan to fight the pipeline through the legal system. “Trump announced an executive order on DAPL; it not only violates the law, but it violates tribal treaties. Nothing will deter us from our fight for clean water.” They’re asking for public commentary on their Notice of Intent to require an Environmental Impact Statement, which allows interested parties to identify potential issues, concerns, and reasonable alternatives that should be considered to the pipeline as proposed.

The complicated math of gentrification and tourism in NYC
This long read from Skift, the travel and hospitality research company, does a remarkable job exploring the transformation that New York City has undergone to become a beacon of safety and homogenous upscale tourism. It’s a heady post-9/11 mix of real estate development schemes, Airbnb, and savvy marketing. “While millions of New York’s residents live in the outer boroughs, often working in middle-class jobs or service industries, Manhattan and the more expensive parts of Brooklyn have gradually become defined by the kinds of people they exclude and the types of upscale businesses they attract.”

The Woke Leader

When you’re unwelcome in your country and your church
Camille Dungy is an award-winning poet and essayist, but her magnificent prose does little to shield from the sting she felt when a pulpit prayer from her Presbyterian pastor indicated that he did not, in fact, see her as part of their community. “Let us pray for those who are on the outside of our society looking in,” he said referring to a long list of people who were now imperiled by a new administration—black, Latinx, LGBTQ, immigrants, disabled people. Dungy, who is black, has done a remarkable job providing context for a moment familiar to many: The wrenching realization that a community you love does not see you. Her Presbyterian roots run deep, and she struggled with what to do with her feelings. A must read.

Notes from a meaningful life: The Dr. Norman C. Francis story
“I grew up in a diabolical legal system that did not totally value me as a human being entitled to constitutional rights and privileges.” So begins a remarkable interview with 85-year-old Norman C. Francis, an educator, civil rights leader and the longest serving university president—of his alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana, from 1968 to 2015. His story reads like a documentary of life during and after Jim Crow; his current call is for a new alliance of courageous leaders who embrace the moral argument for equity in society. “[W]e need leadership at all levels that will distribute capital resources, to develop equitably, the human capital that we have.”

Ida B. Wells’s wedding announcement was on the front page of the New York Times
In 1895, Ida B. Wells, a journalist, activist and founding member of the NAACP, was a prominent enough figure in society to have earned front page coverage of her wedding. “That the nuptials of a black woman, born into slavery 33 years earlier, could make the front page of The Times, speaks to a woman who was, by definition, remarkable,” says Nikole Hannah-Jones. Wells, a journalist who was a vociferous detractor of lynching, kept her own name. (Jezebel has also done us all a service by publishing a longer biographical sketch of Wells, in all her badass glory, here.)
New York Times


The alleged menace of universal suffrage having been avoided by the absolute suppression of the negro vote, the spirit of mob murder should have been satisfied and the butchery of negroes should have ceased.
—Ida B. Wells