There's a lot of talk these days about improving diversity
and gender representation at technology firms. There's something in air. But
you'll forgive Mitch and Freada Kapor if they arch their eyebrows. From their experienced vantage point, the
Kapors feel 2015 could be an inflection point in the push to get tech companies
to look more like their customers. What the Kapors think matters. They are a
tech-community power couple, especially for those who are powerless.
Mitch made his name and fortune founding the spreadsheet
pioneer Lotus Development. Eager to make that Massachusetts-based company a
place where people who felt out of place, would want to work, he hired Freada
Klein in the '80s with the mandate to make it a welcoming work environment. It
reached out to gays and lesbians, and addressed sexual harassment issues well
before there was a movement to do so.
Their personal relationship blossomed a decade after Freada
was hired, and she went on in 2001 to found the Level Playing Field Institute,
which focuses in part on promoting math and science careers for people of
color. In 1990, Mitch helped co-found the digital rights non-profit Electronic
Frontier Foundation. And in addition to investment firm Kapor Capital, he and
Freada also run the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which leverages tech to
generate social change.
The center's offices, which are in the heart of this
historically racially diverse city, buzz with employees of various ethnicities.
The walls are dotted with art, especially well-known photographs. Over here,
Gandhi sits cross-legged by a spinning wheel. Over there, a multi-racial
gathering of kids in 1950 plays stickball in the streets of Mitch's native New
Seated in a conference room with their rescue dog Dudley
snoring under the table, the Kapors aren't fire-breathing rock throwers. They
exude kindness toward each other, and are reasoned about the issue that
consumes their financial and emotional resources.
Kapor says his wife's corporate consulting calendar has
never been busier, a sign that leaders of some of the world's most recognizable
tech companies — Google, Twitter, Facebook and others — are serious about
finding best practices to improve the ranks of women and minorities in their
world-changing companies. She always arrives armed with statistics and tips,
sometimes as simple as blacking out the names and schools from candidate
At Twitter, one of the company's sales teams has started to
implement some of Kapor's suggestions, specifically with regard to looking
beyond employee referrals for new hires and considering graduates of schools
that might not have the pedigree of a Stanford or Harvard, says Janet Van
Huysse, Twitter's vice president of diversity and inclusion.
At the root of Silicon Valley's lack of diversity is that
many companies are started by white male entrepreneurs who tend to hire people
they know, says Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP who is a partner with the
Kapors. Kapors feel that tech companies shouldn't be daunted by the prospect of
radically changing their make-up. Rather, small but significant steps can lead
to a natural evolution.
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