Job Title: Co-Founder and COO of DivInc
Company website: https://divinc.org
Years working in the tech industry: 4
On the DivInc mission:
Our mission is to diversify the tech ecosystem. We were tired of people only talking about diversity and inclusion so we took action. We launched an accelerator for women and people of color in 2016. We equip these tech founders with the critical strategies they need to grow their companies through education, mentorship and community. Our three main pillars are 1) to create a transparent path to entrepreneurship for underrepresented founders 2) serve as a bridge for those founders into the tech ecosystem, and 3) create a mind-set shift among the founders we work with and also among the tech majority.
On beginnings — the value of a work ethic:
I grew up as the oldest child in two blue collar families — my parents divorced when I was two. They worked hard to feed us, keep a roof over our heads and put us through school. Their work ethics have absolutely been a key driver in where I am today. I learned a lot from my parents about hard work and perseverance. I started working at 14 to pay for my first car (at 12 if you count babysitting), cell phone, insurance and had to put myself through college. I was actually the first in my family to go to college.
Growing up, I never really thought about gender inequality and my parents never discussed it with us. My parents always encouraged us to do well in school and be whatever we wanted to be. We had to work for it, though.
As the oldest child, I had to create my own path, so I guess I always has some belief in my own potential, even with our limited resources. I didn’t let those limited resources stand in my way of achieving everything that I wanted to.
On early work — on whether gender bias is worse in other industries (and what they don’t tell you about working in PR):
Gender bias is the same or maybe even worse in PR [than it is in tech]. Granted, before I started my own agency I worked for one that was led by a women so I don’t have first hand experience. The statistics and facts still stand that the PR industry is dominated by women at every level, except for the very top. You see this mostly in the large, global agencies. Women in this industry hold about 85% of all PR jobs and only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women.
Have you ever worked for a company that was woman owned, or where a woman was company President or CEO?
Yes, I worked for Ball State University (where I received a BS and MA) as a graduate assistant for the journalism department and the London study abroad program. The president of our university at the time was Jo Ann Gora, and she was very inspiring! I also worked for a PR agency in Austin where the founder and president was a woman.
As a female, my experience is that working for a female boss almost always eliminates any sexual harassment instances in the workplace. With that barrier removed, employees can really flourish. Female bosses tend to be more encouraging, engaging and provide opportunities to develop your skill set.
Have you ever had to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace:
No, I’ve been fortunate enough not to. I would credit this to working for women or for myself in my career.
Yes, there have been so many women and men. Some have been long-term mentors, others have encouraged me along the way and others I’ve leaned on to guide me in making tough decisions. Their advice, guidance and feedback have helped shape the path I’m on today.
I’d like to give a few shout outs: to my mom for exemplifying hard work and continuous joy/positivity; Ms. Quance, my high school counselor, who helped me with applying for scholarships and with FAFSA; Peggy Fisher, who is a college professor, and was the lead for my immersive learning experience at Habitat for Humanity through Ball State; Stephen Callender, husband and constant sounding board; Chelsea Collier, Sarah Hernholm, Monique Maley, for providing guidance over the last few years; Ben Cantey for being a great friend and encouraging me to become an entrepreneur; and Preston James II for being a great co-founder and someone who cares deeply for others. There are so many more that I can’t name them all here.
On a passion for creating opportunity — diversity, inclusion and beyond:
Faced with my own unique challenges, I became very resourceful in identifying and pursuing ways to advance my career. Through this, I found that knowledge and positioning myself for opportunity were extremely important and should not only be reserved for those who have the resources or network to access them.
Access to opportunity doesn’t only fall in the bucket of diversity and inclusion in tech for me. I’m passionate about helping people realize their dreams, whatever that may be. For example, I found a way to pay for college (at one point working three jobs while in grad school), mentored at-risk students through Big Brothers Big Sisters, donated my eggs to someone who couldn’t have a baby, and eventually created DivInc with Preston to help provide access to opportunity for underrepresented founders.
On the origins of DivInc:
Preston James, my co-founder, is a 20 year Dell veteran. When he retired from Dell in 2014, he began mentoring in Austin and noticed a severe lack of diversity in the tech ecosystem. He originally tried to address the problem by founding an angel network that focused on funding underrepresented founders. During that time, Preston also noticed that the pitches from women and people of color lacked the structure and content that investors expected to see. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the content, it was just that no one taught them the “pitch formula” that investors were accustomed to. It was at that point he realized there was a knowledge gap that needed to be addressed.
Preston talked about this idea with a friend, Ben Cantey, and Ben introduced us in March 2016, knowing that I was looking for an opportunity to make a greater impact on our community. From there, we assembled a team, legally formed in June 2016, launched our first program in September 2016 and have successfully completed four programs (working with 47 underrepresented founders) in two years.
On new venture challenges:
There are always challenges when launching a new company - though we were fortunate enough to have the support of the Austin community. That said, we faced and continue to face, fundraising challenges.
On lessons learned through the first four cohorts of DivInc:
The most valuable thing is that we have helped to build a strong, supportive and diverse community. Many people have said that they no longer feel alone in the entrepreneurial journey and that they’ve learned more in 12 weeks than they would in 18 months on their own. Alumni across all cohorts continue to lean on each other for advice, connections, etc to grow their businesses. The other most notable part is the excitement and support we have received from our Austin community.
On Silicon Valley’s reputation for gender/inclusivity failings, and whether Austin is meeting the challenge to do better:
I do feel Austin is faring better than Silicon Valley. Our community here tends to be more collaborative than competitive, which already sets us apart. In the two years since launching DivInc, we’ve seen a significant increase in requirements for having diverse speakers and panels at events, a focus by other accelerators to accept more women and people of color into their programs, more people speaking up about their experiences in the workplace, and even more women and people of color being hired.
But while we as a city are moving the needle, there is still so much work to do!
On people in Austin who are making that difference:
Heather Brunner at WP Engine, Marcus Carey at Threatcare, Sara Brand and Kerry Rupp at True Wealth Ventures, Sara Ines Calderon at Women Who Code, Charlie Jackson at Diversity Fund, Naji Kelley at BLNDED Media, Mando Rayo at The New Philanthropists, Cameron LaHaise at DSACT, Sabrina Wojtewicz at Bunker Labs, Christine McCarey, BWise, Girls Empowerment Network, just to name a few.
On the shift in male attitudes in the face of the #metoo movement:
Absolutely. Some men are scared of the reckoning that’s happening today. They seem to be waiting for their time to come.
Other men seem genuinely surprised by all the women speaking out. They seem shocked that so many men act in this way. I was surprised that these men were so oblivious to what has been happening to women around them for so many years. Almost every woman and girl has experienced some sort of unwanted advances by men and boys — at work, school, on the streets, at parties, etc. (All my #metoo experiences have happened outside of the workplace.) I’m pretty sure that no woman was surprised by the number of women coming forward. I do applaud these men for asking questions and pledging to call our their male counterparts when they are acting inappropriately.
I’ve seen an increase in men wanting to be better equipped to recognize when a woman is being harassed or discriminated against so that they can be better allies. A male calling out another male for saying something inappropriate or standing up for a woman in a meeting is profoundly impactful.
On whether sufficient pressure is being exerted in public life to change work culture and opportunities for women:
There is more pressure than ever, but not enough to create the change needed to properly lift up women and people of color. There is still SO MUCH work to be done. This is just the beginning.
On why change is happening now, and hope for the future:
Significant change is happening now and it’s because of the brave women who spoke up despite being told they’d face backlash and lose everything. They still spoke up and guess what, they came out on the other side and the accused are being punished. They’ve paved the way for so many women and men to speak up without the fear of losing their jobs or worse.
Women like Niniane Wang who led the charge to bring down Justin Caldbeck at Binary Capital, Susan Fowler who called out Uber, all the women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Mario Batali, Matt Lauer, Al Franken and so many more.
On the flip side, I meet so many male allies, especially from the millennial generation and younger, who do not condon sexist behavior and see women as equals. It gives me hope for the future generations!
On how women (and men) can contribute towards lasting change in gender equality and inclusion:
We must all support each other and speak up when we someone being harassed or discriminated against. Leaders must create clear and safe channels for women and people of color to report things and not be punished for them. Leaders must also recognize their unconscious biases (we all have them) and work to limit their impact on decision-making when it comes to hiring, promoting, mentoring, etc.
It’s not just on women to create lasting change in the industry. We need more male allies to do the same.
One more thing (or two, actually):
I’d like to encourage everyone to keep pushing forward on their diversity, inclusion and equity efforts across all industries. Two quotes that I love right now are “Lift as you climb” and “When in doubt, choose love.”