How Stripe’s Valerie Williams Thinks About Diversity and Inclusion

The pipeline problem in tech is a myth, and while the issue of diversity and inclusion garners plenty of attention, tech giants—and the industry overall—make small strides towards progress as reports show modest or stalled growth.

D&I tech executive Valerie Williams says, “It’s not that hard.”

“When people talk about the pipeline problem, they don’t look at the nontechnical roles within the industry,” said Williams, the current global head of diversity and inclusion of Stripe, an online payment software company. “It seems to be a cop out when they say they can’t find talented people of color.”

A study released last year by Glassdoor found nearly half (43 percent) of open roles at tech companies are non-technical. However, countless diversity reports reveal tech companies are still struggling to find and retain diverse talent.  

Williams, who has a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Emory, has long been a champion of diversity and inclusion. She began her career at Hewlett-Packard (HP) where she worked in supply chain and helped minority business owners acquire contracts before redirecting her career towards her true passion—investing in human capital.

“With my work in supplier diversity, I found myself spending a lot of time with the people who didn’t get those contracts awarded to them—like women and people of color,” she recalled. “I wanted to help those who had been locked outside of the industry.”

In her current role at Stripe, Williams thinks about diversity and inclusion on a global scale. While some of her efforts focus on internal diversity initiatives like recruiting and employee resource groups, her external diversity projects include leveraging Stripe’s Atlas program to create more underrepresented entrepreneurs worldwide.

“Global economic access for underrepresented communities is the right move for the discussion in the industry when you think about long term impact,” she said on building Atlas–a platform making it easy for entrepreneurs everywhere to start an online business. “We can give people the tools to create wealth for themselves.”

Williams consulted on technical recruiting at Google and created talent search strategies at Russell Reynolds Associates before landing a gig as a recruiter for Airbnb in 2015.

Williams worked to make sure people felt welcomed internally. She also addressed diversity challenges on the platform. For instance, in 2015 a report showed guests with “black-sounding” names seeking rentals faced “widespread discrimination.” 

 

A 2014 analysis of some of the country’s biggest tech giants by USA Today found that people of color are grossly underrepresented in non-technical roles such as sales and administration. Glassdoor predicts the demand for non-tech workers will increase in 2019.  

“As the tech industry matures, employers will look to hire robust sales and marketing teams to transform technology into revenue,” Glassdoor wrote in their annual job market trends report.

Williams recalls this time, and the other moments that started the first rumblings of the now well documented problems most tech companies have tackling diversity internally. 

“At the industry level, we’re all facing the same issues. There needs to be more industry-wide collaboration among people who are working on issues of diversity,” she said.

Though Stripe hasn’t publicly released their diversity data yet, Williams continues to work with managers to help them build a relationship with candidates long before they step inside the office for an interview. 

“I try to get leaders to understand that hiring is an exercise of risk and that you have to put the investment in upfront and really show that you care,” she said, recommending managers organize gatherings like small dinners to get to know potential talent. 

“Yes, we can have a program,” she said. “But if we can strengthen our empathy skills, a lot of this work would not be necessary.”

T.I. Launches Investment Syndicate Tech Cypha

Atlanta rapper and actor Clifford Joseph ‘T.I.’ Harris, Jr. has launched Tech Cypha, a new investment syndicate focused on early, growth and late-stage startups, with an inaugural investment in Culture Genesis, a digital gaming studio targeting urban and multicultural audiences.

The syndicate will provide startups with capital, marketing expertise and brand amplification through partnerships with macro influencers, according to the company.

T.I. and his business partner Jason Geter have been investing in tech companies for years. According to Tech Crunch, the pair first invested in a website called Streetcred.com over a decade ago, a deal that ultimately fell through. Now, the team is looking to leverage the right demographic by investing in the growing tech scene in Atlanta.

“Being in the city of Atlanta and with Georgia Tech producing so much talent, and coming from us being within the hip-hop culture which is always influencing and promoting things, we saw an opportunity,” Geter told Tech Crunch. “In the past, we were always looking through the glass window and looking at ways we can participate earlier. And that’s by coming together to pool our resources so we can invest more.”

PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association report that Atlanta area startups raised $626.85 million across 35 venture capital deals in the fourth quarter of 2018. This is a significant increase from the $72.62 million raised from 22 deals in Q4 of 2017.

These Tech Firms Withheld EEO-1 Reports Due to Lack of Diversity

Tech companies like Palantir and Oracle have been keeping their diversity stats under wraps citing fear that competitors might poach their talent, among other excuses. However, a new report reveals the real reason was “embarrassment.”

An investigative probe by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting led to findings that showed companies withholding information about their diversity were less diverse than their counterparts.

Data analytics company Palantir, for example, had no female executives and only one white woman among their managers, according to Reveal’s investigation.

The firm filed various Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the 2015 EEO-1 report showing the breakdown of a tech company’s workforce by race, gender, and broad job category. While some companies complied, others chose to block the request with claims of protecting “trade secrets.”

Reveal sued the U.S government for alleging that the Labor Department was violating the Freedom of Information Act by failing to release EEO-1 reports from Oracle, Palantir, Pandora Media, Gilead Sciences and Splunk. The Labor Department allowed the five tech firms to block their diversity data for over a year until the lawsuit was filed.

“Thanks to our lawsuit, we now know that just under 13 percent of Oracle’s executives in 2015 were women, including co-CEO Safra Catz,” Reveal reports. “Two-thirds of major Silicon Valley companies had a better representation of female executives that year. And like Palantir, Oracle’s workforce was 90 percent white and Asian.”

Through the lawsuit, the organization was granted numerous letters written by tech companies citing reasons to keep their diversity figures private.

“Keep in mind that the government actually went along with these arguments – until we pushed back,” the outlet warns.

Oracle argued exposing diversity figures would threaten its “competitive advantage” and said releasing the numbers could potentially violate their employee’s right to privacy.

“You could literally just log in to LinkedIn and find out,” Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO of ReadySet, a diversity solutions firm in Oakland told Reveal. “It’s far more likely that what they’re actually concerned about is that their numbers are disappointing.”

Palantir and Gilead Sciences claimed diversity in the workplace “is a business imperative” while Oracle and Pandora stated unveiling their diversity stats would lead to “raiding of minority or female employees.”

Read the full investigative piece here.

GitHub Announces Unlimited Free Private Repositories

GitHub just announced it will now offer users unlimited free private repositories, in the first major update since the service was acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 million in October.

GitHub Free allows developers to use the platform for private projects with up to three collaborators. Previously, free accounts could only create public coding projects.

“Many developers want to use private repos to apply for a job, work on a side project, or try something out in private before releasing it publicly. Starting today, those scenarios, and many more, are possible on GitHub at no cost,” the company said in the statement.

The service also unveiled the launch of GitHub Enterprise, unifying GitHub Business Cloud and GitHub Enterprise (now known as Enterprise Cloud and Enterprise Server) for a “one per-seat” price.

“Whether you’re a student about to write your first line of code, an enterprise leader with teams around the world, or an open source maintainer, we want GitHub to be the best place for you to code, collaborate, and connect with the global community of developers,” GitHub wrote.

3 Ways Tech Is Fueling Success Towards Health And Fitness For Your 2019 Goals

The new year is here, which means many people are already diving into their resolutions.

Technology has played a huge role in the development of both physical and mental health for those seeking to change their lifestyles.

Here are three ways technology is affecting people towards more sustainable fitness results:

Social Media

Whether at home or on the road, the social media content we consume daily tends to follow us no matter where we go.

What type of content we consume can be the difference from those meeting their personalized fitness and health goals.

Some of the most influential fitness enthusiasts document their work ethic daily via Instagram such as former NFL player James Harrison, CrossFit trainer Elisabeth Akinwale,  or even healthy meal preparation from Kevin Curry,  founder of FitMenCook.

With free access to endless amounts of content aimed to inspire and help motivate those seeking help along their journey, it’s safe to say you become what you consume.

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology has become a top fitness trend heading into 2019 and is now known as a reliable resource in aiding better results when it comes to physical health.

Some of these items range from the Fitbit Ionic Smart Fitness Watch, which allows you to check your heart rate while active and asleep, to the Apple Watch, which announced updated fitness features earlier in 2018. 

In addition, the Fitbit has a built-in GPS to track your daily steps whether jogging or walking while storing your favorite music.

Another example is the Training Mask 3.0 which channels breathing to target respiratory muscles—making you stronger, aiding in weight loss and increasing workout stamina compared to traditional cardiovascular workout methods.

Wearable technology has now given people the advantage of tracking their activities, diet, and resourceful equipment for better results.

Innovative Machinery

Despite many people using their local gym or community track, innovative technology in exercise machinery now allows users the ability to get a satisfying workout right in the comfort of your home.

The Peloton Bike is a great example of the evolution in recent technology providing everything right in arms reach.

The bike provides a personalized private indoor cycling studio experience which also streams daily live classes from Peloton’s New York City studio directly into the machine with 24-hour access.

Overall, commitment and work ethic is essential for anyone beginning their fitness journey. As technology continues to evolve whether through social media, smart watches or advanced cycle bikes, it all plays a huge role in fueling those to reach their fitness needs long-term.

Just over 13 percent of African Americans over the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes and Africans Americans are more at risk for heart related diseases.

Exercise and a more healthy lifestyle can help protect the Black community from these diseases and technology could be a new weapon in the fight to make that happen.

NBA Star Aaron Gordon Is Launching A Coding Program In Orlando

Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon is no stranger to Silicon Valley. 

Through his mom, Shelly Davis Gordon–who worked in the industry for various high-profile companies over three decades–Aaron practically grew up immersed in tech. 

Gordon’s mother worked for chip maker Alera (which was previously acquired by Intel), and started a computer science after-school program to teach students how computers operate.

Now, the the fourth year power forward out of Arizona is following in his mom’s footsteps to launch CodeOrlando, a coding program for local youth with disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“I just want kids from a not-so-great upbringing who are underprivileged to have the same opportunity that everybody else has,” said Gordon to the Orlando Sentinel. “I want them to not be cast aside because of the color of their skin or what they look like or if they don’t have both parents. I want everything to be equal and fair.”

CodeOrlando will use smartphone or tablet apps to build code that will program Sphero—a spherical robot—to teach students foundations of computer programming.

“It’s an opportunity for underprivileged kids to get a seat at the economic table,” Gordon said. “It can give a chance on what could be a promising career. It’s not just about getting a job but creating jobs or creating a business for themselves. There are too many white guys in tech.”

The summer program plans to operate out of the Academic Center for Excellence in Orlando serving 30 kids grades 8th to 12th beginning next year. 

Soulja Boy Is Jumping Into the Gaming Industry

Soulja Boy is shooting his shot at the gaming industry.

The star has released two products, a handheld and a console, that are now available on his website SouljaWatch.com.

“I know it’s new to the industry. I know they’re scratching their heads and there’s going to be a lot of talk, but hey man, I’m just a person with a dream,” Soulja Boy told Rolling Stone. “I know that I’ve been introduced to the world as a rapper, dancer, producer, but don’t just limit me to that and think outside the box and really give me a shot with this.”

The Souljagame console, priced at $199.99, will not only run games of its own such as SouljaGames, but also offers PlayStation, NeoGeo, PC, Sega, Game Boy Advance, and NES games as well according to Soulja Boy.

According to Souljawatch.com states the console already has 800 preinstalled games.

The Souljagame handheld runs for $199.99 regular price offering 3,000 games plus Switch, 3DS, Vita, NeoGeo, Game Boy Color and Advance games.

With the offerings being pretty broad, it has raised both legal and technical red flags. Souljaboy’s product is a game emulator, which means it lets users play games from a variety of different consoles. That comes with licensing concerns of it’s own but there’s also another element to all of this.

Both the console and handheld are currently on sale along with some other electronics, but it’s been pointed out that the consoles already have a considerably high markup compared to the identical non-branded versions on other sites.

“Honestly, I don’t have any worries at all, any concerns, because everything we’re doing is legit. It’s been researched. Everything has been basically confirmed that it’s a green light and we’re good. It’s partly the people from the outside looking in, that aren’t understanding the type of deals that were made behind the scenes that are worried.”

According to Waypoint, the consoles are normally sold for $90 and $60 on Amazon and are even cheaper on Alibaba.

Lawmakers Call on Amazon to Release Information About Bias in Facial Recognition Software

Congress is calling on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to release more information about the tech giant’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, after requests from lawmakers were unmet earlier this year.

In a letterLawmakers revealed the company “failed to provide sufficient answers” regarding Rekognition’s technology and have serious concerns about the product and, most notably, who is using it.

According to Axios, Amazon confirmed it met with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials over the summer to pitch their facial recognition software.

The company has numerous government contracts—including operating private cloud services for the CIA—and is actively marketing its technology to police departments.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Ro Khanna, and Sen. Edward J. Markey, all expressed their concern in the letter.

“We have serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public.”

They request Amazon provide the results of any internal accuracy or bias assessments performed on Rekognition and details on how they test for facial recognition accuracy and bias.

The company has until December 13 to respond.

Mixtroz Raises $1M in Seed Funding

Mixtroz, a platform founded by a mother-daughter tech duo, raised $1 million in seed funding, becoming one of only 40 Black female founders to hit this fundraising mark.

Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons created Mixtroz in 2014 to help users navigate networking events and drive engagement for authentic connection. The funding will help the company hire more members to support the growth of its core team.

“Achieving this milestone is a huge success for us, especially considering we are black, female, non-technical tech founders,” said Kerry Schrader, Mixtroz co-founder, and CEO.

They won the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in May 2018 in Birmingham—where the startup is based— securing a $100,000 investment.

“As a startup, Birmingham has proved to be a perfect home base for us. They have figured out how civic, corporate and tech ecosystems must come together to breed success, and we attribute a lot of our accomplishments to the supportive business community here,” said Schrader in a statement to AfroTech.

The founders attribute their milestone to the support of Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator, Bronze Valley, a Birmingham-based fund and online resource.

Mixtroz not only leverages app-based technology to drive attendees to events but also allows hosts to collect real-time data on interactions.

“People attend events to make valuable connections,” said Ashlee Ammons, Mixtroz co-founder and COO. “The attendees are guaranteed to meet people of interest at events, and the organizers and sponsors can gather valuable information about the event participants in real time.”

The platform has hosted clients including the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Deloitte, Vanderbilt, Pinnacle, and Georgia Tech.

“The fact that we were able to acquire prestigious clients clearly shows that there is a real need for our product,” said Ammons. “Mixtroz is a way to make the most of your time when you have decided to make the effort to leave the house and attend an event.”

This Technologist Just Launched a Co-working Space in Seattle

A new innovation hub and co-working space has opened its doors in downtown Seattle. The Union, named after black student unions on HBCU campuses, is a space designed to facilitate events and workshops focused on science, technology, entrepreneurship, arts, and media (STEAM).

“The Union Seattle is changing the way we engage with underserved communities,” said founder Arif Gürsel, who currently serves as director of product at Heroku. “We are excited to introduce the launch of our home base to execute and drive our organization’s future growth.”

The former Microsoft engineer founded the space after seeing the need for a culturally relevant co-working space offering empowering programming with events including focused on software engineering, data science, 3D animation, design, and more.

“The desire to empower a future generation of learners, technologist and entrepreneurs drove the establishment of The Union,” said Gürsel.

The Union will operate as a co-working space during the day and transform into an event space at night where educational workshops will take place. The space also has a recording studio to serve content creators and media producers.