September 24, 2018
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Twilio is working toward a 50% female workforce by 2023

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Diversity fatigue is a real thing, but that’s not news to Twilio Global Head of Culture & Inclusion LaFawn Davis. What that does mean for her, however, is less talk and more action. Since coming on board as Twilio’s diversity and inclusion leader about one and half years ago, Davis has been focused on creating a global approach, rather than one that is just U.S.-centric.

That strategy is based on three pillars, Davis told TechCrunch. Those are having an equitable approach (i.e. hiring people without traditional backgrounds), equal promise (unbiased recruiting process, equal pay and promotion opportunities) and creating a sense of belonging. As part of that, Twilio is unveiling its first diversity report today and publicly setting a five-year goal to hit specific diversity targets.

“We believe that the data is how we stay accountable and measure it but it’s really our actions that are going to speak for us,” Davis said. “We wanted to intentionally set goals publicly so that we can be transparent.”

By 2023, Twilio aims for its workforce to be:

  • 50 percent female
  • 30 percent black, Latinx, two or more races, Pacific Islander or Native, LGTBQ+

By that time, Twilio also aims to have 100 percent of its employees report feeling like they belong, based on Twilio’s employee engagement survey around belonging and inclusion.

Today, Twilio is:

  • 31 percent female
  • 24 percent international
  • 37 percent white
  • 22 percent Asian
  • 1 percent black
  • 3 percent Latinx
  • 3 percent two or more races

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 06: Left to right, Wayne Sutton, Nicole Sanchez and LaFawn Davis participate in a panel at Alamo Drafthouse New Mission on June 6, 2017 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

While Twilio does not have goals in place around age, it’s still something the company tracks. For example, 66 percent of its workforce is from a millennial population, 31 percent are from Generation X and 3 percent are baby boomers.

Twilio has yet to capture data around people with disabilities, but Davis said that’s because the company first wanted to make sure it was focused on the inclusion aspect.

“It’s more about accommodations or having an environment where they feel included, feel like they belong and feel supported,” she said. “What we’ve been working on is more exposure, programs, more understanding of what their needs are before asking for demographics from that population. The same goes for our veteran population.”

Some of the initiatives Twilio has in place to achieve those goals are an overhaul of its hiring process. Part of that entails looking at the hiring funnel to identify places where biases might be occurring and where women and underrepresented people fall out of the funnel.

Meanwhile, for technical roles, Twilio is now using rubrics to ensure a standard evaluation process for candidates. Twilio is also hosting emotional intelligence training for managers, rolling out emphatic leadership for those at the VP level, as well as working with nonprofit organization tEQuitable to identify problematic themes and areas where Twilio can intervene. This could be around discrimination, harassment and any other workplace issues that may come up.

“I believe the ideal Twilio is one that perfectly reflects the communities we serve,” Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We need every person with the skills and desire necessary to help us fulfill our mission to want to join us and to be successful in working at Twilio. While we haven’t solved the diversity problem, we are investing in the programs that foster an environment where people can do the best work of their careers. I’m personally committed to ensuring that our employees feel a sense of belonging when they come to work at Twilio.”

Additionally, Twilio is hosting a diversity, inclusion and belonging bootcamp for people of color to better understand and discuss their unique experiences in the workplace.

“We’re trying to tell the story of actions we’re taking,” Davis said. “The thinking is, we’re going to get yelled at regardless so let’s just be authentic. There will be things we try that work and things we try and fail, and we want to be honest about those things. If there was a playbook that really worked or that one action you could take, everyone would be doing it. We’re going to be talking about our progress toward those.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Uber’s complex relationship with diversity

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Since Dara Khosrowshahi came to Uber as CEO about a year ago, there has certainly been less drama, but drama remains. Over the last few months, there were reports of Uber COO Barney Harford making insensitive comments about women and racial minorities, as well as Uber’s now-former Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey making denigrating comments toward Uber’s global diversity and inclusion lead Bernard Coleman and Bozoma Saint John, the chief brand officer who left in June.

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF earlier this month, I sat down with both Khosrowshahi and Uber’s new, first-ever Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee, who joined in March. Believe it or not, there are still bad actors at the company, so Uber still has work to do. What surprised me, however, was Khosrowshahi’s defense of Harford, not only saying that he’s “an incredible person” but that he’s also “one of the good people” as it relates to diversity and inclusion.

“This is an issue that everyone is fighting, and I will tell you Barney takes it personally,” Khosrowshahi told me. “And he is a champion and he will be a champion as it relates to these matters. He’s one of the good people.”

Lee, when I asked her if she agreed with Khosrowshahi, said at Disrupt, “absolutely, 100 percent.” Lee, on a call ahead of Disrupt, described the importance of internal diversity champions who find ways to bake diversity and inclusion into their everyday workflow. Onstage, Lee described how she had been aware of the allegations against Harford and had already been working with him around inclusion. In fact, she said, Harford had reached out to her, admitting that he knew there’s a lot to learn and that he’d like for her to help him.

Harford also wrote, in Khosrowshahi’s words, “a really heartfelt apology letter to the company,” but it’s still hard for me to get on board with the idea that Harford is one of the “good” ones. This is not to say people can’t be imperfect and can’t change — an idea Khosrowshahi made quite clear, and one that I generally believe as well — but I would just hope that there are some better “good” ones out there.

“I don’t think that a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to report by large news organizations should mark a person,” Khosrowshahi said. “I don’t think that’s fair. And I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive and you take that as a learning moment. And the question is, does a person want to change, does a person wants to improve? Does a person understand when they did something wrong, and then change behaviors? And I’ve known Barney for years and that’s why I stand 100 percent behind him.”

Khosrowshahi described how he’s also made mistakes, and how that doesn’t mean he should be marked by those mistakes. He went on to describe how at his last job, Expedia, he would usually grab a beer with “one of the guys and, because I was comfortable because it was you know, a person who looked like me, a person with whom I could be more casual and I could have a conversation.”

He added how these people got “access to me that was not fair, and that could have shown up in a New York Times article and that could have marked me,” he said. “That’s not who I am. You know, I learned, I corrected, I’m aware. And the question is, what do you do?”

A new chief in town

During my conversation with Khosrowshahi, we also chatted about the hiring of Lee as CDO, as opposed to promoting Coleman, and the fact that she doesn’t report directly to the CEO — despite the suggestions of former Attorney General Eric Holder. Though, it’s worth noting those suggestions were directed toward now-former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi said Lee is the right person for the job and he thinks it’ll become clear that she is the right person for the job. Regarding why Lee doesn’t report directly to Khosrowshahi and instead, to a yet-to-be-hired new chief people officer, he said, “diversity and inclusion have to be a core part of everything that the company does, has to be a core part of your people strategy.”

“And I want Bo and my chief people officer working together fundamentally not just on the diversity of the company, but also on the core culture,” he added. “Like, we’re really trying to shift the culture of the company going forward. So Bo is going to report into our chief people officer. And she and I more than monthly, are constantly having exchanges on how things are going. And I think that’s the optimal structure, which is open — open communication with me working directly with the CEO but part of the core strategy of the company because I do think that this is one of the things that we have to execute on.”

In conversation with Lee, she spoke about the task she has at hand, as well as some strategies she has implemented, and plans to implement in order to get Uber to where it needs to be. One of those initiatives involves creating a pipeline around Uber drivers, which consists of a couple million people around the world. Lee described to me how it would be “amazing to create a pipeline to hire some of those driver partners,” whether into customer service, community operations or “maybe there’s great tech talent in there that we don’t even know about.”

That’s an area where Lee is working with recruiters to better identify ways to source that talent. Lee is also working on ensuring Uber’s new cultural norms actually get baked into the company. Last November, Khosrowshahi introduced Uber’s new cultural norms, which include values like “We build globally, we live locally” and “We do the right thing. Period.” Before, Uber’s values were indisputably much more aggressive.

“You can put out new cultural norms, you can put out new cultural values but it’s not until those values are built into our systems, our performance management, our organizational design — the way that we even think about product design, you’re not going to see the full manifestation of it,” Lee said. “And as an organization is going through culture change, that can be very unmooring for people and that can actually make people feel very psychologically unsafe. And what I find at Uber right now is a lot of people who are trying to — within this culture that is shifting, that is changing for the better — trying to find their footing somewhere along those lines.”

Part of what’s hard right now, she said, is getting Uber employees to the point where they “feel like they can trust that the system will work.” Regarding the allegations about Harford, Lee said that she was aware of them and looking into them, but didn’t resolve them by the time the NYT piece came out.

“But I would say that when the news did break in that public way, I was, more than anything, just really sad about this because what it told me was that we still have a culture where people aren’t sure they can trust that things are going to get fixed and things are going to get done,” she said. “And so they felt that they needed to go outside to find remediation for some of that.”

Lee also told me, ahead of Disrupt, that she’s exploring the idea of what fewer levels of hierarchy at the company would look like.

“It’s hard to speculate what the changes would look like,” she said. “I ideally would love to see the number of levels possibly changing. More importantly, what I would love to see beyond levels, is the power distance between those levels decline.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Backstage Capital to launch an accelerator in four cities to promote underrepresented founders

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After launching a $36 million fund earlier this year to help support black female founders, Backstage Capital isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Today, the fund’s founder and managing partner Arlan Hamilton announced that it will launch an accelerator to further amplify and support the best companies led by underestimated founders.

The four cohorts will be located in Philadelphia, London, Los Angeles and a fourth city to be determined through a public vote.

“We decided on Los Angeles because the ecosystem is really prime for it,” Hamilton said onstage today at Disrupt SF at Moscone West. “There is just the most diverse group of founders and types of companies they’re building. There is a lot there to pull from.”

With London, Hamilton said she visited the city a few times and was blown away by the founders and the interesting challenges they face there.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors, but it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” she said. “It’s a melting pot of a city and we can pull from different parts of Europe as a launching pad. And there are several groups of African founders who found their way in the ecosystem in London who are doing great things with great resources but are being overlooked.”

But it was Philadelphia that served as location inspiration.

When Philadelphia is thinking about what it means to become a tech city, it’s not about ‘how do we retrofit this Silicon Valley model, but more so how do we use technology to do what Philadelphia does best,” said Aniyia Williams of Tinsel and Black and Brown Founders, who was onstage with Hamilton.

Williams will spearhead the Philadelphia chapter of the accelerator to provide more resources for founders there.

“It’s our privilege to be helping out with the Backstage Accelerator. We’ve been thinking through an ecosystem of how to support founders,” Williams said. “Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates of American cities and one of the highest populations of poor black and Latinx people. So for us it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech. There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: Black & Brown Founders Founder and CEO Aniyia Williams speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Backstage Accelerator will be accepting applications throughout the rest of this month, and six companies will be chosen per cohort. The accelerator will invest $100K in each company in exchange for 5 percent equity.

Participants can look forward to a different kind of accelerator experience, Hamilton said, starting with the demo day model.

“Demo day to us seems a little like standardized testing,” she said. “It’s important to a lot of the accelerators, but we’re wondering what could be an alternative to a demo day? We’re just thinking about things through a different lense, and at the same time having very high standards like we always do.”

Hamilton said it took awhile for her to be convinced to launch an accelerator.

“We really do things that we feel we can dominate,” she said. “I just didn’t think we were ready for it; why would there need to be another accelerator?”

She said Backstage reached 100 companies this year and put from $25K to $100K in those companies, providing strong value.

“In most cases we are the first call our founders make — either for a good or bad reason,” Hamilton said. “We have the most impact without having to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, but it’s not happening fast enough. We don’t like to wait for other people to catch up to us, so it makes a lot of sense to us today [to launch an accelerator], and it was after very deep and strategic thought to get to this point.”

Christie Pitts, Backstage Capital investment partner and chief of staff, will head up the accelerator, which is one of the programs that came out of Backstage Studio.

“My purpose is changing the narrative in tech and who is allowed to be a successful tech founder,” Pitts told us after the Disrupt panel. “Being a successful entrepreneur is not a zero-sum game. You can have a successful company, and I can have a successful company. And we feel like there is an opportunity in this space for underestimated founders where they can learn how to fundraise.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: Black & Brown Founders Founder and CEO Aniyia Williams (L) and Backstage Capital Founder and Managing Partner Arlan Hamilton speak onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

To help build out programming and work with the cohorts in the four locales, Backstage Capital will enlist the services of Wayne Sutton and Melinda Epler, co-founders of Change Catalyst, a firm that promotes the importance of creating inclusive tech ecosystems. Microsoft and MailChimp are also partners in the accelerator’s launch. Mark Levy, formerly the global director of people at Airbnb, will also contribute to the accelerator.

Hamilton remains steadfast about the importance of diversity and inclusion in tech.

“I just think that Microsoft and MailChimp are understanding that we’re now the cool kids,” Hamilton said. “It’s the right side of things to be talking about. And you can only talk so much before it’s time to act.”

Hamilton said that the firm’s $36 million fund it announced earlier this year will yield results by the end of the year. She also says we’ll see Backstage with a $100 million fund by the end of 2020.

“We’ll keep doing what feels right to us, and try to leave things a little better than where we found them — that’s always our goal,” she said. “The accelerator will allow us to continue with our growing deal flow. And maybe by 2021, there’s a chance we could be in 10 to 12 cities investing in 100 companies a year.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Xbox Adaptive Controller goes on sale today and is also now part of the V&A museum’s collection

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In an important move for inclusion in the gaming community, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, created for gamers with mobility issues, is now on sale. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also announced today that it has acquired the Xbox Adaptive Controller for display in its Rapid Response gallery dedicated to current events and pop culture.

First introduced in May, the Xbox Adaptive Controller can now be purchased online for $99.99. To create the controller, Microsoft collaborated with gamers with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as advisors from several organizations, including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged.

According to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller project first took root in 2014 when one of its engineers spotted a custom gaming controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a non-profit that provides gaming devices for wounded and disabled veterans. During several of Microsoft’s hackathons, teams of employees began working on gaming devices for people with limited mobility, which in turn gave momentum to the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

In its announcement, the V&A said it added the Xbox Adaptive Controller to its collection because “as the first adaptive controller designed and manufactured at large-scale by a leading technology company, it represents a landmark moment in videogame play, and demonstrates how design can be harnessed to encourage inclusively and access.”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large buttons that can be programmed to fit its user’s needs, as well as 19 jacks and two USB ports that are spread out in a single line on the back of the device to make them easier to access. Symbols embossed along the back of the controller’s top help identify ports so gamers don’t ahve to turn it around or lift it up to find the one they need, while groves serve as guidelines to help them plug in devices. Based on gamer feedback, Microsoft moved controls including the D Pad to the side of the device and put the A and B buttons closer together, so gamers can easily move between them with one hand.

The controller slopes down toward the front, enabling gamers to slide their hands onto it without having to lift them (and also makes it easier to control with feet) and has rounded edges to reduce the change of injury if it’s dropped on a foot. The Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed to rest comfortably in laps and also has three threaded inserts so it can be mounted with hardware to wheelchairs, lap boards or desks.

In terms of visual design, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is sleek and unobtrusive, since Microsoft heard from many gamers with limited mobility that they dislike using adaptive devices because they often look like toys. The company’s attention to detail also extends into the controller’s packaging, which is very easy to unbox because gamers told Microsoft that they are often forced to open boxes and other product packages with their teeth.

News Source = techcrunch.com

23andMe’s ancestry tools are getting better for people of color

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23andMe is beefing up its African, East Asian and Native American ancestry capabilities — something it has sorely lacked. Specifically, 23andMe has added to its database 12 new regions across Africa and East Asia. When I first tried 23andMe a few years ago, it told me I was 71 percent West African, which tells me next to nothing about which countries the bulk of my ancestry comes from. Well, that’s all changing — though, I already received the information from Ancestry — with 23andMe’s latest product update.

“Key to this update is really the availability of more data from around the world, specifically in Africa and Asia,” 23andMe Senior Product Manager Robin Smith told TechCrunch. “It’s possible through certain initiatives, like the African Genetics Project and Global Genetics Project.”

Before, 23andMe only provided three subgroups in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Now, there are eight additional subgroups in the area, as well as four additional populations in East Asia.

Here are the 12 additional populations on 23andMe:

  1. Southern East African
  2. Congolese
  3. Coastal West African
  4. Ethiopian & Eritrean
  5. Senegambian & Guinean
  6. Nigerian
  7. Somali
  8. Sudanese
  9. Chinese Dai
  10. . Vietnamese
  11.  Filipino
  12. . Indonesian, Thai, Khmer & Myanma

23andMe first launched in 2007, but it’s taken a long time to collect the data needed to provide a more comprehensive genealogical view to certain populations. Roughly 75 percent of 23andMe’s customers are of European descent, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017. So, 23andMe realized “at some point that we needed these initiatives to go out and get the data,” Smith said.

For early 23andMe adopters, they’re going to have to re-take the test because this update is only available for people on the most recent genotyping chip, Smith said. 23andMe is now on the fifth version of its chip, which he said is “reflective of a better idea of the diversity of the world.”

That means they’ll either have to buy a new kit or opt-in for a yet-to-be-available upgrade program, Smith said. Beyond this update, 23andMe plans to regularly release updates and continue adding new populations.

“We haven’t done an update like this in a long time,” Smith said. “It’s been on our roadmap for many years now.”

Last September, 23andMe raised $250 million at around a $1.75 billion valuation. As part of that capital raise, Wojcicki said, 23andMe planned to work to expand the diversity of the data and the research on that diversity.

In addition to ancestral information, 23andMe also offers health reports. Earlier in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration started allowing 23andMe to test for 10 different genetic risk tests, including ones for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In addition to testing risks for certain diseases, 23andMe also tells you fun facts like how your DNA influences your appearance, preferences and physical responses.

I’ll be retaking the 23andMe test soon and will let you all know what I find. In the meantime, a researcher over at 23andMe shared a before and after look at their results. Check it out below.


News Source = techcrunch.com

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