Thank You Freada Kapor Klein for Making Me Feel Uncomfortable

Kapor Center

Earlier this year I reached out to Freada Kapor Klein, co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and an advocate for diversity and inclusion, to meet up and explore ways we might collaborate. Here at Techbridge we inspire girls to change the world through science, technology, and engineering. We do this with after-school and summer programs in Oakland, San Jose, and Seattle. The programs create a network of peers and adults that engages girls in science, technology, and engineering through critical transition points when identities are shaped and academic and career goals are refined.

At Techbridge we feel strongly that every girl should have the opportunity to aspire to be a computer programmer or chemical engineer. When our girls share their dreams of following in the footsteps of a role model they meet in Techbridge, we are mindful of what it will take to get them there. For girls with weak math skills or limited understanding of academic prerequisites for a technical career, we know that additional support will be needed for those dreams to become a reality. We can’t do it all and look for partners who can support our girls. Programs supported by the Level Playing Field Institute that Freada created can provide the resources that can help our girls get from here to their futures.

While I expected that the conversation with Freada would follow the typical agenda for meetings, the encounter took an expected detour. After brief introductions, Freada jumped online and onto the Techbridge website. She went to our staff page and scrolled down through our staff biographies and photos. Freada was direct and got straight to the point, noting that our staff didn’t reflect the diversity of the girls we serve. Freada made me uncomfortable and that’s what I needed to feel. I moved diversity from a backburner issue to a priority for Techbridge.

Shortly after the meeting, I had the chance to take action on Freada’s challenge. With the expansion of our after-school programs to new cities, we were hiring new staff. This was the opportunity to do things differently. First, we looked on the websites of other groups to see how they messaged their commitment to diversity in hiring. We reviewed and reset our priorities for recruitment. We recognized the importance for new hires to reflect the diversity of our girls and to bring experience working with diverse communities. Their diversity improves all that we do at Techbridge from developing new curriculum, to supporting role models, to training partners. We have made progress since the challenge from Freada. And, we have room to grow.

We are now looking with an eye to diversity as we build out our national board and advisory councils. As we recruit for these positions, we are mindful of going beyond our usual channels and networks of colleagues and friends. The fields of science, technology, and engineering are mostly white and mostly male, but we don’t want to reflect those demographics in our staff and leadership.

Techbridge is a work in progress in its diversity. Pressing tasks like working with the board or fundraising often take immediate attention. As CEO and Executive Director, I need to keep diversity a priority as well. With a diverse team, Techbridge will be better able to achieve our mission. One program coordinator leading tech activities can influence a roomful of girls to persist in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). One role model of color can inspire our girls to know that a future in a technical field is within reach. This is particularly so for girls of color who perceive greater racial barriers than gender barriers in their pathways in STEM.

Freada made me confront my shortcomings as a leader in promoting diversity within Techbridge. I challenge you to look within your organization and consider your recruiting, hiring, and retention practices. Recently, tech companies including Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn have taken a first step to think about diversity by sharing their numbers. We at nonprofits can do the same. How are you doing? Does your staff reflect the demographics of your community and the groups you serve? I invite you to share on your successes, challenges, and goals for promoting diversity in your organization.

Techbridge is a nonprofit based in Oakland, California that inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science, and engineering. Through, girl-tested science, technology, and engineering activities and leadership development we empower the next generation of innovators and leaders. With 15 years of experience, Techbridge provides training and resources for role models, teachers, families, school districts, and corporate partners to encourage and support girls and youth from underserved populations in science, technology, and engineering. This summer, Techbridge opened an office in the Greater Seattle area and is expanding to Washington, DC in 2015.