In San Francisco, an Alumni Panel Discusses Inclusion, Awareness, and Aha Moments

By Chelsea Edgar

For Dana Brisbane '08, the "aha" moment in her career came when she went to a tech networking event and realized that there were more men in the room named John than women all together. Brisbane, who works at Twitter, was one of four alumni featured in a panel discussion on diversity in the tech industry, held in San Francisco in early April. About 40 Bay-Area alumni and parents attended the event, presented by the Alumni Association Board of Governors Gender Committee and the Alumni of Color Committee, at the Museum of the African Diaspora. 

The four panelists represented a wide range of experiences and backgrounds: Julie Parker Benello '88 is co-founder of Chicken & Egg Pictures and Gamechanger Films, both of which support female documentary filmmakers; Brisbane works on Twitter's People Analytics Team, a division that helps the company make personnel decisions; Tristan Walker '02 is founder and CEO of Walker Company Brands, a line of products for black hair and skincare needs; and Ted Wang '87 is a partner at Cowboy Ventures, an investment firm.

Their discussion ranged from their own experiences with workplace bias and inequality to the importance of diversifying the traditionally white, male bubble of Silicon Valley. Tristan Walker emphasized that when it comes to building diverse teams, it's not just a question of creating opportunity, but raising awareness that those opportunities exist in the first place. 

"When I was growing up, I had no idea that a place like Silicon Valley even existed," he said.

Other panelists talked about the challenges of gaining traction as a new company, particularly in the early stages of fundraising. Walker struggled to convince his mostly white investors that there was a real market for products designed to address the needs of the black community, and Benello saw how little support the film industry gave to women producers compared to their male peers. In their careers, both Walker and Benello have sought to mentor people who don't readily find mentorship from the industry's established gatekeepers. That network of role models and peers, added Brisbane, is key. 

"You can't be what you can't see," she said. 

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