How This Bay Area Couple Works to Increase Diversity in Tech

How This Bay Area Couple Works to Increase Diversity in Tech

As tech companies like Twitter, Apple and Uber soar, they’ve also come under increased scrutiny for their lack of diversity. According to a recent report, Twitter’s workforce includes just 1 percent African-American and 3 percent Latino employees in the U.S., and 13 percent women employees in its global workforce — this, despite Twitter emerging as an important space for underrepresented voices and activist efforts. Leslie Miley, a former Twitter engineering manager, who was the only black engineer in a leadership position at the company, recently resigned from his position and penned several articles critiquing Twitter’s diversity policies.

Philanthropy has also engaged with these issues, and we’ve written extensively about efforts to narrow the gender and racial gap in STEM and entrepreneurship. One of these efforts was a $40 million investment by Bay Area couple Mitchell Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein to address the structural inequities that make it hard for African-Americans and other groups to become successful tech entrepreneurs.

Kapor, a New York native and Yale graduate, is the cofounder of early PC software giant Lotus Development Corp. and designed the breakthrough spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3. Kapor is also a partner at Kapor Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in social impact tech companies. Freada, meanwhile, has a bachelor’s degree from Berkeley and a Ph.D. in social policy and research from Brandeis. Freada founded Level Playing Institute, which is “committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation.”

The couple has been laser-focused on improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities and women for years. Their Kapor Center for Social Impact “relentlessly pursues creative strategies that will leverage information technology for positive social impact” and is particularly interested in underrepresented communities and “gap-closing endeavors.” The Kapor Center was born out of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, and does award grants, though the center doesn’t currently accept unsolicited responsive grant requests.

The center has three focus areas, which sometimes overlap: Educational Access, Diversifying Tech and Tech for Social Impact. The center currently partners with College Bound Brotherhood, “a growing collaboration focused on increasing the college readiness, access, persistence, and completion of African American young men from the San Francisco Bay Area.” The Kapor Center also steadily supports Freada’s Level Playing Institute and at least $1 million went to the outfit in 2013. Additionally, Kapor Center provides an annual grant in support of Berkeley Science Network, which “aims to strengthen the pipeline of students of color in the science disciplines.”

Funds have also recently gone to outfits such as CodeNow, whose mission is to diversify the talent pipeline of students who pursue computer science and technology,” Black Girls CODE, Ron Brown Scholarship Fund, UC Berkeley Foundation, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, and United Negro College Fund.

Outside STEM, the Kapors have supported outfits engaged in a larger effort for equity through movement building. Funds have recently gone to oufits such as Causa Justa :: Just Cause (CJJC), a “multi-racial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents,” Center for Third World Organizing, “a training and resource center dedicated building a social justice movement led by people of color,” and Advancement Project, a “next-generation national civil rights organization.” Funds have also gone to policy outfits such as Brightline Defense Project, “a public policy advocacy non-profit committed to protecting and empowering vulnerable communities.”

Environmental issues have diminished in the big picture of the couple’s overall grantmaking, but recent funds have still been earmarked for select environmental outfits such as City Slicker Farms and West Harlem Environmental Action, “an environmental justice organization focusing on sustainability, public health, pollution, and other urban quality of life issues.” Take note that support of some of these outfits aligns with the couple’s overall mission.


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