Beginnings + Goodbyes

I grew-up listening to Ernie Harwell's inimitable voice on the radio as the chutzpah-soundtrack for every Detroit Tiger's game, win or lose. For EqualTogether's auf wiedersehen webpage though, I'd initially picked a quote from Angela Ruggiero (pictured above). The symbolism of her as the source of my parting sentiment meant much more to me than quoting Mr. Harwell—but Harwell's sentiment best captured how I felt. 

I began EqualTogether from a fire in my belly to create tangible change-making solutions, after a lifetime of pattern-matching my own (usually dumbfounding) otherness when participating in activities my most natural instincts brought me into (such as ice hockey!). As Kimberly Bryant eloquently explained on-stage at a panel on Diversity in Design back in November: whether or not she had seen people in her own likeness working-in or studying software engineering, she would have still followed-through on that passion of hers as a career path... but dang, it woulda been nice along the way to have seen more Black folks and women. 

Otherness doesn't deter those of us truly passionate about a practice-domain, from pursuing those passions with sincere excitement & commitment on a day to day basis—but it absolutely does make our time on the floor in the factories that much more exhausting. Exhausting in a way that eats at every passion within us, like a slow progressive itch that eventually mutates into a near complete emotional shutdown. That matters. 

In a time when it was first being widely published that women and PoC were/are leaving Tech mid-career at a higher rate than ever before, my own subsequent itch snowballing into a tub of boiling tar in my gut mattered that much more to me—because it was clearly not just me, this friend, or that colleague. At age 40, and being of the strong conviction that we each need to actively contribute to dialog or work towards solving for the challenges most persistently nagging at us, I took a deep breath and chose to take a career pause to redirect this itch toward solving for this most stubborn of cultural problems. I'd also frame that choice as one resulting from an intensely encouraging-push into the founder-zone by an investor friend, and for the record would also just like to note that without his assurance of modest financial support and generous everything-support with garnering more funding, I would have never felt "safe" enough making that leap. 

~18mos later I could not be prouder of what I learned, accomplished, failed-at, built, broke, and in-total created, with my time creating, mutating, pitching, selling, and shaping EqualTogether. Design tasks took a very necessary back-seat as a priority in my work (for literally the first time, ever!), and that alone was a shape-shifting experience. The mentors I worked with from across a handful of Tech companies, investment firms, diversity & policy consultancies, and the accelerator that sponsored me, I built relationships with that I will forever value—and those folks each pushed my learning on business, sales, survival, and building meaningful products, so far. The other founders with similarly-purposed startups, also bootstrapping to build businesses to alleviate Tech's diversity woes, were far greater in numbers than I'd anticipated—and my goodness, a more dedicated motley crew of a support community of founders rooting for other "competing" founders, I don't think I will ever again see. 

Product strategy + design will always remain what I am the most obsessively fixated on shaping in my day-to-day, but doing EqualTogether blew open my entrepreneurial spirit for building business systems as nothing else would. For that, and for the people who helped me with professional, monetary, and mentorship support, I will always be grateful. Also: the "founders community" can at times, sure, be a social cesspit of privilege and machismo... but overall, wow. I have not left more gatherings with a more sore face from smiling, the everpresent hoarse voice from hours of spirited/excited dialog & introductions, and... yeah. Spending all the time selling myself to VCs did leave me feeling a bit "spent" viscerally, but the energized zeal of possibility that radiates from a room full of founders, is intoxicating. It is my favorite drug, yet—and one I hope to continue dabbling in. 

Anyhow, so in 2016 I'm truly moving on—but wanted to write this to thank those who helped or inspired me along the way, those who remain committed to shaping cultural transformation in all realms (cuz it's HARD!), and—yeah. Proud to be that change I want to see in the world. And yes, as of this writing I am also available for hire. ninavizz at gmail dot com. 

Diversity: The Elusive HOW, A Practical Guide For Businesses

I've learned so much thus far in my journey with EqualTogether, so wanted to spend some time this past week to document those learnings, to spread the knowledge. Blown away by how well the article was received, and with the excitement around exactly what I'd intended it to be (and no more): one gal's $.02 from the trenches, on some 101 Basics to share with the rest of the world.

Thanks to all for the support, and dive on in!

Anything is possible — and everything worthwhile, mandates both access and commitment. 

Diversity is an admittedly daunting task — where to frickin’ start, how to execute successfully, and all without sanitizing your company’s unique culture to something primed for South Park lampoons. So I wrote this article as an entry-point for folks to get past that initial thud-stop freeze of not quite knowing where or how to begin, how to adapt when things don’t seem to be working, and why sticking with it will deliver. And, yes — with science! :)

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Impressions Happen. Impacts Matter.

Sexism in Tech. That's today's sexy-topic. Coming in as a close second would be either transgender issues or the exclusion of America's disenfranchised Black community, in today's explosion of affluence. 

Hot on the SCOTUS docket today is the case of a Muslim woman who in 2008 sought employment at Abercrombie & Fitch, and today claims discrimination because after not being hired, a friend tipped her off that senior management had cited her headscarf as conflicting with the establishment's Look Policy. Unfortunately this also isn't the first time Abercrombie's been hit with such a suit: in 2008 a woman working for a Milpitas, CA Hollister store filed suit, as did a San Francisco employee fired in 2010. 

In retail, looks matter. At desk jobs, they don't—but religion can (and often does) play a significant role in "cultural fit" musings. In one group I worked with at Yahoo!, two colleagues were LDS. Why they were fav topics of conversation, is mostly because one was the most loathed tyrant in our group, and the other the quietest wallflower... and the irony that both claimed the same on-paper values, was funny (in a fashion that disfavored the tyrant fellow). My quieter colleague however, others felt uncomfortable with—which really bummed me out a lot. Jeff was different, but so what? I had purple hair in high school and throughout my 20s and that made me different, but why do we cheer some differences yet jeer others?

Reading the re/code articles this week about the Ellen Pao v Kleiner Perkins case, I'm reminded that often times the most dangerous harassment in workplaces is the indirect harassment; the whispers and inappropriate behavior that happens out of view, and subsequently stirs division when a team is all together. What mattered to me more in a prior job than our culture of heavy drinking, was knowing that some of our key executives told some extraordinarily off-color jokes in client meetings when no women were present. Men who'd look me straight in the eye and treat me with outward respect one minute, maintained a whole other persona when I and other women weren't in a room, the next minute. It creeped me out, and it made my skin crawl—that we'd later be in client meetings, knowing there was this other persona in the room hiding because of me. Wondering if as a woman, I qualified as a player in his sexualized generalizations of women. So: my colleague has this creepy bias towards me, too?

In San Francisco, atheism feels to be about as popular (and to be evangelized as much) as Baptist Christianity is in Oklahoma, and I often times wonder if in the hipster-dense startup community, bias presents itself in job interviews against cross-wearing conservative folks, Muslims, Sikhs... or, anyone of any God worshipping faith. Even once hired, how do work cultures in Tech foster or discourage folks of different faith values than the majority of their colleagues? How does our professional community as a whole, feel to folks across the faith spectrum?

Beyond what we hear in the media about Sikhs, Muslims, and Hassidic Jews, little is known about how folks are discriminated against for religious ideals. I'm excited to start conducting user research for EqualTogether in the near future, to learn about how job applicants might feel about being asked for their religious identity in an EqualTogether module on a job application. The devil will certainly be in the details, but in pipeline analysis I do want to know: is there a difference between how applicants perform whom are expressively (not evangelically) of a unique religious persuasion(s), and if so—why?

As with everything in EqualTogether, though: I just want to know. I want all of us to know. Today, with no reporting done, none of us conclusively know much. 

I'm wishing Samantha Elauf luck as her case against Abercrombie & Fitch continues. Nobody deserves to be discriminated against for any reason, and somehow businesses need to all develop guidelines for themselves about what does and doesn't constitute "cultural fit," beyond the default 'are they like me?'

Honoring Dr. King in Tech

2016 UPDATE: Last night, Stewart Butterfield took the first step of any major business leader in Tech. He wrote this (which is currently trending on Medium as its #2 most read piece!), and Slack's offices are today closed in observance of the holiday. Parents are home with their kids, non-parents are out to spend the day in our communities. This is how today is best spent. Thank you Stewart, for leading the way. <3

This past week, the Rev Jesse Jackson published an article asking Tech companies to observe MLK Day

As a child, my Detroit area school district observed MLK Day unlike any in California (or possibly anywhere) do. That day our schoolteachers and administrators emerged from those roles we'd known them in, and stood before us as veterans of the Civil Rights Movement (which because that was the 1980s, was more natural than phenomenal). We sang songs, watched films, heard stories. It was powerful. So powerful. How that could really be done today, w/o all of those Civil Rights veterans present to tell their unique stories; to inspire the audience to live each day out in the world as people of duty to community service & justice in the face of injustice; I don't know. But I do know, that schools today must somehow keep up that tradition.

As programming for children, that was perfect. How about adults? Unlike children, adults have matured to become voters and supporters of things that represent a breadth of viewpoints; views that may object to war or unions, but could support war or unions. Views that on all social issues, are often not aligned. Views that as adults in our workplaces, we're entitled by law (and just common sense) to not force upon one another or have challenged by our employers. 

Well: in response to that, there's LOTS of ways our workplaces can honor the legacy of Dr. King, this upcoming Monday. The most obvious way, is to simply close the doors and to honor the national holiday. No work. Be with your families. Honor the sacrifice made by Dr King, on this day.

Conversely, businesses can also look to this day as an opportunity for team-building, in service to our local communities. Everyone show-up. Have there be a morning all-hands where business leaders present materials to educate employees about areas of socio-economoic need in our communities. Especially in Tech companies that have more than 1,000 employees in one location, as Tech's demographics are a radical departure from the demographics in our communities—show and tell on that. Show and tell on opportunities to change that. Frankly, many employees who’ve relocated here from other states or countries, may not realize we’re surrounded by poverty and disenfranchisement — and would want to know ways to help.

Use the afternoon to split-out and work together as teams. Some teams may leave to go off-campus and to community service as team-building. Others may go back to their work areas, and take-on a community service project for Code for America (or some similar such org). Spend a handful of afternoons or days over the next month, working on that project as a team. Something different to give-back, and something that may cost employers a few days in "lost" hours working on the products we sell—but something that only our community can give, and something that could make a tremendous impact on the world around us.

Teams could go to schools the day after MLK day, and do "Hour of Code" exercises with all the students. Students could conversely visit our campuses on MLK day, and either shadow us in our day to day work, or do Hour of Code exercises with us in the auditoriums & cafeterias on the larger tech campuses. How's that sound for revolution?! That sounds exciting as hell, to me! So little time away from our own day to day, but wow—what an experience, for the kids! Especially the kids from disenfranchised areas, whom are unlikely to know even one person who codes or works with cognitive science issues, for a living.

Dr. King was most well known as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, but education and rectifying systemic economic inequalities, were also passions of his. There is so much—SO MUCH—that our smartypants community in Tech, can give, in these realms. Dignity. Dignity for one and all, was Dr. King's greatest cause. Let's take this one day each year to spend outside our offices and with our communities, or in team-building efforts take a few more than that, each January (cough, when senior management is typically balancing budgets and locking-down roadmaps for the year ahead, anyway). We have SO MUCH POWER among us. Let us, in the honor of this man who gave his life at age 39 with a whole movement and wife and four children left behind. Let us stand together in our unwavering power, and give back.

Deaf Drivers <3 Lyft!

A wonderful article for ringing-in the New Year right: a feature in the SF Gate about Lyft opening doors of opportunity for deaf drivers with accessible tech and an open, adaptive approach to hiring that's helped them get a leg-up in a very competitive hiring environment. 

As I've personally learned in recent years through friends, the deaf community is an incredibly tight-knit group of folks. They're also a group that's very easy to either include or exclude, in the hiring & recruiting process. Within the deaf community, news travels fast when companies commit to embracing best-practices in making workplace cultures inclusive to the deaf and hard of hearing. Below is an excerpt from the article that makes a strong case for why accommodations for deaf employees & interviewees is a no-brainer investment:

"Deaf people historically have been early adopters of technology, said Greg Livadas, a spokesman for the Rochester Institute of Technology. They were among the first, for instance, to use fax machines, which helped them communicate via phone. More recently FaceTime and Skype let them converse in sign language on mobile phones.

But technologies also presents barriers for disabled people, who have had to fight for accessibility. That adds extra significance to the fact that app-based ride service technology supports deaf communications.

“It’s awesome; it does break down the barriers for deaf drivers,” said John Macko, director of the Center on Employment at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. “Traditional taxis would be much more challenging.”

Read Up, and have a happy New Year!

Data Driven Diversity + ROI

A superb case-study I just discovered that was published earlier this summer, outlines many of the strategies EqualTogether is working on enabling employers to seize—and, huzzah, make measurable strides from! Private-facing functionality for employers to see how their employees performance reviews fare by age, race, and gender, are among the powerful Employer Dashboard tools slated for development in the year ahead. 

A great snippet from the article on how employers can act on diversity analytics to see a quick returns, is below:

One of our customers shared a story with me recently. Their VP of Culture and Diversity was puzzled that despite hiring  a more diverse workforce, their minority ratio hadn’t improved. By digging into their full range of data and quickly analysing results for different locations, teams, roles, tenures, pay grades and more, they were able to uncover and pinpoint the exact cause of their challenge. They found that  three groups of specific minority employees were walking away faster than they were hiring. Diverse employees in a certain department and role, with a certain age and tenure, were more likely to resign. They were then able to cost and implement programs to address these very specific groups, and get quick results. More importantly they were able to use evidence to explain this to their executive leadership team.

By having a clear picture of the overall health of your organization’s diversity levels, you can identify areas for improvement, then implement diversity programs with laser-guided precision. By tracking progress over time, you can demonstrate the ROI of your efforts.

My sole "nit" with the article, is that they reference gender equity as "the female ratio." This just feels abrasive. Why? Because first and foremost, it demonstrates a poor understanding and subsequently, a superficial plan-of-attack around rectifying gender imbalance across roles and throughout a workforce. 

Gender inequity isn't just about getting more women on staff, or more women in specific roles. It's about balance. It's about ensuring that fathers on staff receive the same opportunities in schedule flexibility to tend to parenting matters, as mothers. It's about ensuring that men who get promoted, aren't just coming from the office cliques that watch sports & chug beer together, or participate in other, innocently gendered, unofficial team gatherings. It's also about ensuring that the pool of admin assistants and other assistive roles, is well balanced between men and women—and that (as is often the case) it's not mostly a group of attractive young women.

Targeting superficial and poorly understood KPIs, rarely works. Hacking ecosystems is what gets results. Not simply establishing a problem, with a follow-up targeted metric identified as "problem solved!"

Yes, when the oil tank in a car runs dry, that's a problem—but it's a problem because the piston-rings need lubricant to carry up through the cylinders, lest the friction caused from a dry piston's travel cause the metal parts to overheat, bulge in the process, and eventually seize. Which is both dangerous at-speed, and really expensive to repair. As a mechanic though, I will admit—it is always fun to pull a piston with some gnarly seizure-skids on the side, and a toffee-twisted/shattered crank-arm to match. :) 

Changing The Face of Tech

Seeing this, made my day. 

It's a video that Reverend Jesse Jackson's latest project Rainbow PUSH Coalition produced this past June—in partnership with Google, eBay, and Intuit. I've only just recently learned of the fantastic work PUSH is doing not just in Tech, but also in the Entertainment, Auto, and Financial industries. It's gotten me very fired-up, and I see a bright future ahead with the work their doing helping to guide the way for us all.

Standing proud with you, Reverend Jackson and team! #changetheface

Groupon Is The Latest To Release Diversity Numbers

It's been a slow several weeks, but on Friday Groupon emerged as the latest in this Summer's flurry of Tech companies to release their diversity statistics. With ~10,000 employees nationwide, that's a healthy chunk of a workforce to receive numbers on.

12% of Groupon's leadership are women, and 18% of their Tech workforce is women. Those numbers I admittedly find to be shockingly bad. Even though the claimed percentages of women tech workers were also 17% for LinkedIn (~3,300 employees) and 10% for Twitter (~3,000 employees). Facebook, Salesforce and Yahoo! were all tied at 15%. Each has ~4,300, ~3,500, and ~6,200 employees, respectively. Groupon having ~10,000 employees though, I'd expect to have better numbers. Well, the only way to go from here is up!

Reporting Round-Up

Google was the first to lead this Summer's pack of diversity releases with their May 28th blog post. Google employs ~27,000 in the US, and their numbers are kind of all in the above described range, too. Salesforce was a quick second to follow, and their numbers were near identical.

Leadership is where statistics continue to remain the fuzziest to me, because almost none of these businesses have given concise (or any) parameters for the three classification buckets everyone seems to have universally adopted in reporting on job types & hierarchies—Tech, Non-Tech, and Leadership. Facebook claims 23% of their “Senior Level" folks are women, Twitter claims 21% of their leadership to be women—Pinterest reported 19% of their leadership to be women (in a ~500 employees company), LinkedIn reported 25% (~3,300 employees), and Yahoo! reported 23% (~6138 employees). 

Holy Hogwarts!

In what has been one of the greatest Ally-calls to date, Emma Watson shook the Twitterverse (and apparently the rest of the world, too) by announcing the launch of the He For She campaign for gender equality worldwide, this weekend at the UN in NYC. 

Men I want to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I've seen my father's role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother's. I've seen men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it'd make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49. Eclipsing car accidents, cancer, and coronary heart disease. I've seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. 

Men don't have the benefits of equality, either. 

We don't often talk about men imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are. And that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't feel compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled.  

As the daughter of single-dad startup guy who did it alone in the 80s—when "Mr. Mom" was a comedy, and not an everyday reality—this got me teary-eyed. :)

We have so much work to do in Tech—and, in the world at large. As techies, we've proven our capacities to move mountains. The work of worldwide gender equality, needs our efforts and our voices. !!

An Open Letter to The NFL

I'm an avid ice-hockey fan, and an occasional (bad) player. I also used to race motorcycles. I get what it is to do something that carries with it significant risk for life-changing head injuries. You do it either because you love it that much (which of course, few understand), or because it's become your livelihood. 

I also grew-up with a mother who was raised in an abusive home—physical and emotional. Her father regularly beat and cheated on his wife. Her mother turned to manipulation, denial, and drinking, as her way out. That was the 1940s & 50s.

The most heroic thing I think any person can do, is to do what my mom did: successfully break the cycle of abuse. It didn't come "naturally" or easy. It required a tremendous effort on her part—years of therapy, constant neurosis as a parent (that yes, did annoy her children), an intense struggle with depression, and by no means was she a perfect parent. As my brother and I (only recently) came to learn more of our mom's childhood, the intensity of her struggle—and for decades had been—became clear to us. How much we grew to admire and love her that much more for it, is beyond measure.

It's not natural to headbutt one's partner, because they don't want to have sex with you. Nor is it natural, to beat another individual with less than half the physical body-mass or strength that you do, into unconsciousness. Especially when that individual is the one you love the most in this world. I don't know why each individual person does it—but I do know, it's rarely because they're a decidedly "bad" or "immoral" person.