Diversity and Inclusion Efforts from All Directions
On March 29, in the heart of Manhattan, dozens of scholars on diversity and inclusion (D+I) met to discuss the current state of affairs and how to improve upon such. Organizers held the meeting at the City University of New York Graduate Center, an institution itself dedicated to D+I.
From scientists to photographers, the room was bustling with a network of those who intend to change the homogeneity in technology, the media, business, and more. Below is a in-no-way-comprehensive list of some of the takeaways from the event, divided into the different areas where people are fighting for D+I.
D&I as a field of research
Paolo Gaudiano, the Executive Director of Quantitative Studies of Diversity and Inclusion (QSDI) at the City College of New York (CCNY), opened up the forum by calling for “Affirmative action and not just equal opportunity.” Guadiano studies D+I in both qualitative and quantitative ways in his day to day life. Kicking off the discussions, he posed the question: “How can we link individual behavior to organizational success?” A question that was addressed from several angles throughout the afternoon.
Filling the pipeline: education
It seems you can’t talk about expanding D+I without delving into education. Who has access to what disciplines, and what avenues are available within those fields? The age-old argument that fields lack diversity due to the composition of colleges is no longer true. In fact, The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 57% of all college students will be women by 2026.
Technology is one of the least diverse areas of study across companies. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, most major companies are comprised of less than 30% women, with people of color also largely underrepresented. “Tech can be equitable and tech can be diverse,” noted Nakisha Evans, who oversees the implementation of several tech initiatives including the #CUNYCodes Portfolio Development Program, CUNY Tech Meetup, and the CUNY Tech Career Readiness Initiative. She continued, “If we really want to change the way we look at diversity, we have to be wholistic.”
Government as an example to follow?
The current president’s cabinet has the lowest amount of diversity that the White House has seen in over three decades. Victoria Bowens, a veteran who works for the Department of The Navy, spoke personally about her experience with inadequate amounts of diversity, “Our ecosystem requires us to think broadly about diversity,” she shared. Bowens further noted, “Diversity of thoughts, diversity of perspective, and diversity of experience is critical.”
Foundations dedicated to the fight
At the conference, several foundations came to discuss the work they are doing to provide resources to people of color, women, and individuals with disabilities. Among those represented were: Emma Bowen Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Watson Foundation. Smiling with pure glee while discussing her passions for D+I was Noorain Khan, Program Officer in the Office of the President at the Ford Foundation, was said, “Work on who’s excluded and why, and why that turns into inequality.” On a similar note, Watson Foundation’s Chris Kasabach expressed “My wish is that D+I would be DNA.”
Investing in D&I by investing diversely
“Women and people of color are underrepresented. Period,” Alicia Syrett, the Founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, said. In 2017, only 2.2% of all venture capital funds went to women, and even less to women of color. The question then becomes, how do we shift this framework towards equity? Syrett noted, “It’s not convincing people that the bias exists, we’re past that.” Now, she said, we’re on to “real transparency and real outreach.”
One organization that is fighting these eye-opening statistics is Women You Should Fund, a subset of Women You Should Know. As explained on their website, WYSF is a rewards-based crowdfunding platform that holds “Now is the time to fuel the innovation of women entrepreneurs, to ignite the most direct form of investment, and to harness the power of our established, engaged community, which thrives on women and their allies supporting each other.”
Corporate America is too often symbolized by a white male in a suit walking to a job in finance. Lola Banjo, Strategic Innovation Executive at Salesforce, knows this stereotype well. “What’s my role in D+I? I’m a black woman in technology to start,” she answered to the first prompt directed at the corporate panel. Banjo’s company is the world’s #1 customer relationship management platform, and they have decided to do things a little bit differently. They follow a 1-1-1 rule, representing 1% time, 1% equity, and 1% product. Meaning, each member donates 1% of their time, or around 56 hours a year, to volunteering for the organization of their choice; 1% equity is transformed into grants for different not-profit or non-governmental organizations; and 1% of their product, free software licensing, is also donated to NPOs or NGOs. This system, Banjo said, is how the company is not “just making money, but actually contributing to the state of the world.”
Media as storyteller
“The single greatest indicator of who gets published is who pitches,” Katie Orenstein, Founder and CEO of The OpEd Project, said forcefully. The OpEd Project, which started out as a passion project of sorts, has now transformed the lives of some 12,000 people, mostly women and underrepresented minorities.
Their platform is built upon the assertion that whoever tells the story writes history. Orenstein explained, “Our mission is to change who writes history.” They work with top universities, foundations, think tanks, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations, to both change who sits at the table and the table itself. In providing outreach in micro and macro ways- from individuals to organizations- The OpEd Project gives those whose voices have been silenced throughout history a stage to shout upon. For, as Orenstein shared, “The story we tell becomes the world we live in.”
Preparing students as entrepreneurs
Nearly all of the CUNY campuses are ripe with opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurship. With programs like CUNY Startups and The Zahn Center, CUNY is striving to create trampolines for students to jump into the world of ideation.
Lindsey Siegel of the Zahn Center noted that their graduates have raised upwards of $32 million dollars. She shared the story of Carry Fils-Aime, founder of the startup Le Sel Foundation. Le Sel has restructured iodized salt production and distribution in Haiti, a country struggling from iodine deficiency. Because of Fils-Aime’s hard work, iodized salt is now available in stores across the country in a way unthought of before her innovation. “And this was just a woman fully determined,” Siegel said.
“It was frustrating because I was always told who was beautiful,” shared photographer Rick Guidotti. Guidotti was used to photographing famous models, when, one day, he was stopped in his track by a woman walking down the street. This woman, he would later discover, had albinism, a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. Since that day, Guidotti has dedicated himself to photographing beauties who are frequently looked down upon. He advocates for humanity to, “See the person first and foremost.”
In order to do this, he focuses on a three tiered approach: Self Acceptance-Self Esteem- and Self Advocacy. Project Exposure, his twenty year old non-profit organization, proudly demonstrates their motto,“Change how you see, see how you change,” by working with organizations across the world to improve D+I in photography.
All of the testimonies above, and countless others, were told in the hope that moving forward, as Rajesh Anandan, CEO of ULTRA Testing, elucidated, “you don’t have to fill a mold to succeed.”