The Search is On for Top HR Leaders and Diversity Chiefs as Pandemic Risks Subside

Coming out of the crisis, recruitment firms are seeing great demand for human resources and diversity leaders who can meet the challenges of the “new normal.” These key executives must be sophisticated, proactive, inspirational, and strategic-minded, with strong business savvy, say search professionals.

As the pandemic raged last spring, chief human resource leaders stepped up around the nation. Their task: to play a starring role in helping organizations navigate and fight through a challenge that has turned out to be far greater than the one faced during the Great Recession. A recent article in The Economist noted that during the health crisis of 2020, CHROs “keep employees healthy; maintain their morale; and oversee a vast remote-working experiment.” As companies now begin to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 era, these HR chiefs have other pressing dilemmas, like whether to downsize their workforces – or to rebuild – in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, chief diversity officers have emerged as key leaders during this enormous period of transition. With a global workforce shifting in complexity, there is a growing need for diversity experts who can shape the vision, culture, and very face of organizations. At issue: Too few women and people of color are serving in too few senior executive positions. Pandemic or not, organizations and their very cultures thrive on diverse talent and it is now falling on top DE&I leaders to make it happen. For executive recruiters in hot pursuit of both leadership roles, the search is on for big guns who are sophisticated, proactive, inspirational and strategic-minded, with strong business savvy to drive their people capabilities like they would a P&L. According to these search experts, chief executives are pushing people programs to become sustained board-level agenda items – and mandates to find the best CHROs and chief diversity officers is hitting an all-time high as a result.

Perfect Storm

2020 was a “perfect storm” year for organizations and for their HR functions. “Last year, HR leaders were thrust at hyper-speed into COVID-19 response, remote work, the future of work, DE&I, social justice and organizational fatigue,” said Ruben Moreno, HR practice lead for Blue Rock Search. “Now, more than ever, CEOs and executive leaders are compelled to seek the experience, competence, coaching, and change leadership skills of these top leaders. And shareholders, consumers and government agencies (including the SEC) are demanding transparency with respect to DE&I at publicly traded organizations.”

Last year, of course, the top priority was employee safety and health. “The most immediate COVID-19 challenge was the rapid development and implementation of a pandemic response plan which many organizations did not have in place,” said Mr. Moreno. The lion’s share of that responsibility came to rest in HR, he said. Another top priority was business continuity, “which required extensive cross-functional collaboration to ensure the processes, policies, systems, and tools were in place that would enable ongoing business operations via remote work,” he said.

A full year into the crisis with a “new normal” setting in, the task at hand is to proactively prepare for what is to come in 2021. Mr. Moreno pointed to a few key points. First are the issues around the future of work: “Creating and compensating a more remote workforce,” he said. “Managerial effectiveness – building remote management capability at the individual and organizational level via people development and technology enablement, and policy development and deployment. As we begin the process of migrating back ‘to the office’ there are multiple policy and workplace systems that HR will need to address. Such as mandatory return, mandatory testing and social distancing in the workplace.” It is a full plate for any leader to tackle.

Managing a Distributed Workforce

“We believe companies are recognizing the importance of HR and the thought leadership that HR brings in dealing with complex issues around safety, engaging in a remote workplace, and creating an environment where diversity can thrive,” said Pam Noble, president of the consulting services division and head of the DE&I practice at The Christopher Group. “Creating a sense of belonging and engagement is becoming more challenging in a distributed work environment,” she said. Separately, in companies that are PE-sponsored there is a clear premium being placed on attracting, developing and retaining top talent, she noted.

“Many believe we are not going back to what it was like pre-COVID-19,” Ms. Noble said. “Companies are looking to their HR leader for guidance on managing the new environment, ensuring the business’ success and employees’ well-being as they look to balance a distributed workforce – all by building and creating a culture rooted in shared values regardless of background, location and tenure.” Some companies have been forced to slow hiring and some have reduced their workforces, only adding to their staffing problems. This has brought on organizational cultures and ways of doing business,” he added. History would tell us, he said, that there will not be meaningful and sustained change in the way corporations conduct business until the negative consequences of continuing with “business as usual” outweigh the fears of doing things differently. “The extent of the impact will depend upon the persistence and intensity of the social insistence for change.”

Related: HR Leadership Lessons from the Early Days of the Pandemic

Social Insistence for Change

Most corporate C-suites, of course, have already publicly elevated diversity, equity, and inclusion to the top of their strategic checklists. A key driver: social uprisings in 2020 organized against systemic racism, according to Ben DeBerry, executive vice president at Slayton Search Partners. “It remains to be seen whether this will go beyond the superficial and have any material impact on organizational cultures and ways of doing business,” he added. History would tell us, he said, that there will not be meaningful and sustained change in the way corporations conduct business until the negative consequences of continuing with ‘business as usual’ outweigh the fears of doing things differently. “The extent of the impact will depend upon the persistence and intensity of the social insistence for change.” “It is the organizational culture of companies – their values, beliefs, and practices – that have produced a lack of diversity and absence of equity,” Mr. DeBerry said.

“Those organizational cultures need to change, not the individuals they have excluded from their ranks. The same culture will produce the same results. Organizations need to ask, ‘What is it about our culture that reinforces racial inequity?’ and not, ‘Does this executive fit in our biased culture?’ Diversity is not just about increasing the numbers of diverse people in the workforce. It is a completely new way of interacting, hiring, and providing a healthy environment that spurs an inclusive culture for everyone.”

Setting the Tone

So many elements come into play when HR leaders are trying to build an organizational culture that diverse leaders want to join. “Absolutely critical is having a commitment from the top, whether that be a president or CEO,” said Charlene Aguilar, a consultant in the education recruiting practice at WittKieffer. “The organization’s leadership sets the tone in articulating and prioritizing culture, mission and values that promote belonging and inclusion.” Another key aspect is having a chief diversity officer or other DE&I-focused executive who has real authority to facilitate transformation, innovate and drive culture change, she said. Then there is the need to build diverse representation holistically and within the organization. “When leadership candidates interview, they want to see peer leaders, board members and employees who are diverse and represent a multifaceted community of stakeholders. This gives candidates an understanding that the organization they are thinking about joining is the right one for them,” she said.

Array of Obstacles

“I’m optimistic that many leaders and the organizations they represent now take diversity, equity and inclusion much more seriously than ever before,” said Donna Padilla, managing partner and healthcare practice leader at WittKieffer. “The messages coming from the Black Lives Matter movement have resonated and organizations have been inspired to act towards social change. Meanwhile, the pandemic has highlighted a glaring need to address the great discrepancies in the health and well-being of communities. We see a greater commitment in our search work, as clients are prioritizing diversity more than ever as they look for new executives. Many institutions are also, for the first time, recruiting or elevating chief diversity officers and other diversity-focused leaders. These are positive trends that I hope will continue well after the pandemic passes,” she added.

HR Leaders Thrust into the Spotlight Once Again in 2021
The best CHROs emerged as trusted leadership voices in navigating the pandemic last year. Odds are that they will continue to hold that elevated position in the months and possibly years ahead, according to a new report from Slayton Search Partners. “COVID-19 created a make-or-break situation for HR leaders, and those who rose to the occasion are the ones who are prepared for 2021’s HR trends,” says report author John Doyle.

There is an array of obstacles that diverse candidates must overcome. “Historically, organizations have not done a great job of recruiting, identifying and developing diverse talent within their organizations,” said Ms. Padilla. “Additional challenges include lack of mentoring and continued development opportunities, the way that executive roles are defined and structured within organizations, implicit bias in organizations’ hiring and retention processes, and lack of proper onboarding and organizational support for diverse executives to succeed when placed in senior roles. These are things that can inhibit leaders who have already been successful in their careers from reaching the top echelon of their organizations.”

Committed, Active or Passive

“Since the start of the George Floyd protests last spring there has been a heightened interest in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion issues across all for-profit and non-profit organizations,” said Ted Pryor, managing director of Greenwich Harbor Partners. “There has been significant fresh interest in hiring diverse candidates for C-suite roles and board of directors. There has also been an increase in effort to create more welcoming environments for diverse employees such as creating mentorship programs. I would say one-third have been very committed to diversity for a long time, one-third have been interested and are increasing their level of activity now. And one-third are still somewhat passive and just beginning to think about what more they can do.”

Related: Top HR Leaders Share Transitioning Success Factors 

Mr. Pryor said there is a shortage of diversity in the C-suite partly because of the time it takes for people to development and partly because people tend to want to hire people like themselves. “It takes extra effort to hire someone with a very different background and style of doing business,” he said. “One of the common stated objectives is the desire to hire people who fit in, but this can be a not-so-subtle screen for people who look and talk and think in different ways. If the C-suite executives all need to be golfers to fit in, then you will screen out a lot of people. However, if you focus on skills and experience, you will find a lot of diverse talent. In truth, the C-suite has become a lot more diverse in the last 30 years especially in marketing, HR and legal as people have risen through the professions,” Mr. Pryor said.

Finding Female Leadership

Women workers, to be sure, have been hard hit by the current economic crisis. The number of women who lost their jobs when the pandemic began exceeded all of the jobs created for women in the years between the Great Recession and today. So, what is being done to promote female leadership? What are executive search firms doing to promote women into senior leadership roles? Is there a concerted effort?


“I think it depends on the search firm,” said Judith M. von Seldeneck, founder and chair of Diversified Search Group. “In some cases, you are seeing a more concerted effort to diversify the ranks, and at others it doesn’t seem to be a priority. At the end of the day, it is a matter of intentionality: How important is this to you? Obviously, it is very important to us. We are the largest woman-founded executive search firm in the world. Our founder, me, is a woman, our president is a woman, and the three firms we acquired in 2019 – Koya Partners, Grant Cooper, and Storbeck Search – were all originally founded by women. So, we are clearly intentional about the importance of female leadership,” she said.

The country is, too, she added. “We have more women in Congress than ever, and the first woman vice president in the history of the nation. I think it’s important, as the people who find leadership for the country, that our leadership in executive search reflect our commitment to diversity.”

Ms. von Seldeneck also noted that women are getting the top-level positions more than they used to. “Women being considered for top C-suite roles, which would have been groundbreaking when I started Diversified Search in 1974, is now something completely taken for granted,” she said. “That’s very gratifying. But the executive search industry itself still has some work to do in this regard. There are no other women heading up major U.S. search firms, which just seems astonishing in 2021. As an industry, we should be leading our clients on this, not the other way around.”

One area Ms. von Seldeneck feels good about is equal pay. “The good news is we are making some headway,” she said. “Five years ago, women earned 74 cents for every dollar a man earned; today, the uncontrolled gender pay gap is 81 cents for every dollar. When you control for identical education and backgrounds, it goes to 98 cents for every dollar, which seems terrific. But, she noted, it still does not explain why women with identical experience and qualifications still make two percent less than men do.

“It gets a little trickier when you get into the issue of people of color, but the fact remains that black and Hispanic executives still lag far behind their Caucasian counterparts,” Ms. von Seldeneck noted. “Again, the solution here is that companies have to be more intentional. We are seeing a lot of clients who are undertaking a compensation audit and comprehensive job analysis, or abandoning salary history as a metric, something that is also being actively legislated. Anti-bias training, increased use of flexible or remote working arrangements – there are a lot of tools that can be activated to address this. You’re starting to see them used more robustly.”

“There is universal understanding that workplace equality isn’t going to be achieved by accident –there simply are too many structural impediments for women and people of color – and so companies need to be intentional about distributing opportunities to under-represented demographics,” she said.

CodeCrew students honored for their work in the technology field

Two Mid-South students were honored with prestigious achievements and awards for their work in the community.

For 14-year-old Johnathan Sherrill, it was about highlighting the injustice happening across the country. He and two other students came up with an idea to create an app allowing users to go through a day in the life of a middle-class Black man.

“At the time there was the social injustice movement, the Black Lives Matter movement and we wanted to make an app for that, to explain it,” he said.

The students are from CodeCrew, a non-profit organization serving underrepresented youth and empowering children and adults in the tech and innovator world.

“I think it’s really important for people to know that even if you already have your own perspective, it is very important for you to step into another person’s shoes to be able to better understand what it is that they’re saying to you,” said Jayda Murray.

Sherrill and Murray were accepted into the Raising Good Gamers and Ted ED Talks program, one that supports students as they discover, explore and present their big ideas.

They are two of only 30 students worldwide to be selected in the after-school program. It’s also an opportunity for recognition at the 2021 Games for Change Festival.

Sherrill, Murray and her sister Anaya also won first place in Tennessee’s Congressional App Challenge. This is the Murray’s second win.

On their first win, Jayda and her sister submitted an app about campus safety for girls, giving them the tools to navigate from high school to college.

“There’s some stats out there the Kaper Center put out a month ago that five percent of the workforce in tech is African American. That’s dismal,” said CodeCrew’s Deputy Executive Director Kela Jones.

She said diversity in tech is a real, concerning problem. It’s the result, she said, of students not knowing about the field and being exposed to it through school.

Those in CodeCrew are producers in technology. The organization has doubled its impacts since its start in 2015, serving hundreds of students in Memphis and across the country. Ninety-one percent of the students they serve are Black and Latinx, and ones with success stories or well on their way.

“I wanted to graduate from a prestigious university,” said Sherrill when asked about his future. “I also want to diversify my portfolio by investing in bitcoins, stocks and becoming a successful entrepreneur.”

“I wish to be a game developer and a game designer, but I want to start my own company to be able to help other kids,” added Murray.

McDonald’s is Tying Executive Pay to Diversity Hiring. Will it Work?

A new report from Korn Ferry sheds light on a new approach that the fast-food giant, among others, is trying to boost diversity leadership. While linking pay to DE&I hiring targets is innovative, it poses challenges. Let’s take a closer look.

April 1, 2021 – In the end, money may be the only way to move the diversity needle. After watching most companies fail in their efforts to add more leaders of color, the world’s largest fast-food chain has decided to tie executive pay to the challenge. McDonald’s said it is tying 15 percent of an executive’s bonus to meeting targets including diversity and inclusion. A new report from Korn Ferry, however, reveals how tricky this strategy can be for companies. McDonald’s had discussed such an effort in the past year, but this put “some teeth and transparency behind it,” said Sheila O’Grady, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and head of the firm’s restaurant practice. (Wells Fargo, which announced a similar pay plan last summer, may have been the first to act.)

2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Recruiting Report:
Building a Balanced and Diverse Workforce

Hunt Scanlon Media’s latest market intelligence recruiting report – this time focused on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – will be available later this fall! The nation’s top executive recruiters are resetting expectations and looking for new ways forward to build balanced and diverse workforce teams for their clients.

According to executive recruiters, DE&I should not just be a priority, but an integrated part of every company’s leadership goals. Some companies have even tied DE&I metrics to executive compensation. But it’s more than that.

Part of building strong, diverse hiring teams means asking yourself: “Who is my company culture going to attract – and how will it engage people who are here?” This question can be very difficult to answer if you assume everyone feels welcome already just because you do. Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations is more than just the right ethical decision. “It is one of the best business decisions a company can make,” said Keri Gavin, a partner with Hanold Associates and leader of the search firm’s Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice. Hanold Associates is a proud sponsor of this year’s report. This report will help organizations prioritize DE&I as a business imperative that drives greater competitiveness, innovation and business results. Get it now! 

It wasn’t that long ago that all executive pay was tied to sales, profits or other strictly financial metrics. “Tying 15 percent of an executive’s bonus to the performance of any non-financial metric is uncommon,” said Don Lowman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader for the firm’s total rewards practice. “About one out of every five public firms have started to indicate that they are tying some amount of executive pay to environmental, social or governance metrics. “It’s a coming trend, and McDonald’s, because of its name recognition, will bring this more attention,” he said.

Related: Hanold Associates Recruits Global Chief Diversity Officer for FactSet

But while most are lauding the move, Korn Ferry notes that experts say it will be difficult to determine how to make these plans effective. Should the company give executives one year or five to increase the number of leaders from underrepresented groups, for example? Overall targets must also be realistic and aggressive at the same time, which can be another challenge. For its part, McDonald’s aims to have 35 percent of its U.S. senior management from underrepresented groups by 2025, up from 29 percent currently. Another goal is for senior roles worldwide to be 45 percent women by the same year and 50 percent by 2030, compared with 37 percent now.

Related: Bridge Partners Recruits Chief Diversity Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Holding Leaders Accountable

“We’re serious about holding ourselves and our leaders accountable to these foundational commitments and doing so with respect to local regulations and employment laws around the world,” said Chip Kempczinski, CEO of McDonald’s. “That’s why we are adding annual targets designed to meet these five-year goals to our annual compensation incentive metrics for executive vice presidents. These targets are endorsed by our board of directors and extend to our most senior leaders – including me.”

Giving itself multiple years to reach its diversity goals can reduce the idea that the company is imposing a quota system, experts say. According to Korn Ferry, it also provides the company with more options for hitting the goal, such as developing existing high-potential talent.

Indeed, many experts believe that few companies can sustainably solve a chronic lack of diversity solely through hiring a bunch of people from underrepresented groups. “If you don’t nurture now, you won’t get the leaders later,” said Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s global diversity and inclusion strategist. “The additional years also can allow McDonald’s, or any firm that tries a similar plan, to review its own internal succession plans, allowing it to map out what roles might be open over the next few years and begin identifying people of color inside the organization who could potentially fill them.”

Though corporate executive teams have been saying for years that diversity and inclusion were priorities, people of color in executive positions are still few and far between at large U.S. companies, according to Korn Ferry. Almost 90 percent of the Fortune 500 are run by white men. Only one percent of the large-firm CEOs are black, less than three percent are of Asian descent, and less than four percent are Latinx. According to its own data, McDonald’s actually has a higher percentage of people of color and women in leadership positions than most Fortune 500 firms.

Related: Carrington & Carrington Recruits Chief Diversity Officer for McDonald’s

The transparency behind the company’s diversity move is in itself helpful and unusual, diversity proponents say. “Stakeholders have been pressuring organizations large and small to release demographic data on their workforces along with plans on how they will make their firms more diverse and inclusive,” the Korn Ferry report said. “Some countries have mandates on the minimum number of women on boards. George Floyd’s killing last spring and the resulting protests spurred many firms to make commitments to become more diverse and inclusive.”

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Essence CEO Caroline Wanga calls diversity efforts the ‘lifeblood of the future’ for companies

  • Caroline Wanga, CEO of Essence, said companies should expect all employees to fully participate in diversity and inclusion efforts, just like they expect them to show up to work.
  • “You don’t get incented for participating in something that’s the lifeblood of the future of your organization,” she said at the CNBC @Work Summit on Tuesday.
  • She urged executives to pursue diversity efforts just as aggressively as they chase competitors, putting top talent and the full weight of their organization behind it — not just putting out statements and writing checks.

Caroline Wanga has grown tired of companies dangling rewards and giving pats on the back to employees who comply with diversity and inclusion initiatives.

In an interview with CNBC’s Sharon Epperson, the CEO of Black media company Essence Communications said employers should see participation as an obligatory part of the job, just as they expect people to show up to work if they want to keep getting paid.

“It is vital to your business,” she said at the CNBC @Work Summit on Tuesday. “It’s your endocrine system of your business. And so if your kidney’s failing, you don’t get a piece of cake and a lollipop. You get dialysis.”

“You don’t get incented for participating in something that’s the lifeblood of the future of your organization,” she added.

Wanga, a former Target executive, started at the big-box retail chain as an intern and by the time she left roughly 15 years later, she was its chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources.

She joined Essence in June and now she’s leading the iconic Black brand. Black entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis, founder of beauty company Sundial Brands, bought Essence from Time Inc. in 2018.

At the company, Wanga’s skills were quickly put to the test. She was hired by Essence as its chief growth officer, but she soon ascended to interim chief executive and later CEO as the media company faced anonymous accusations of bullying, sexual harassment and an “abusive work culture” in an essay shared on Medium in June.

The company denied the claims. Essence hired two law firms, which independently investigated the allegations and did not find evidence to support them, according to reports shared by the company with The New York Times.

In the fall, Wanga commended Dennis for authorizing “a full review of all allegations,” and described the claims as “untruths” meant to diminish an “iconic brand,” in a statement shared with the Times.

Companies face pressure to act

At Tuesday’s virtual event, Wanga focused on other challenges companies face, like building brands that resonate with customers across races, backgrounds and life experiences.

Companies have faced heightened pressure over the past year to make their boards and C-suites more representative of the country’s diversity, particularly in the wake of the protests over George Floyd’s killing and violence targeting Asian Americans.

She urged executives to pursue diversity efforts just as aggressively as they chase business rivals, putting top talent and the full weight of their organization behind it — not just putting out empty statements and cutting a check.

“When you think about competing with your competitor, who do you put in charge of that?” she asked. “Put them in charge of D&I. Watch your results.”

And, Wanga added, savvy customers can tell if diversity efforts are authentic or choreographed. She said that’s why a company’s commitment must be infused into all they do, from the products they sell and suppliers they work with to the messages and images in their advertisements and the people they hire.

“At the end of the day, when I spend my money, I should be able to tell that who I spend my money with looks and believes in that,” she said.

Wanga said companies must look critically at the makeup of their own workforce, so they stay relevant and thrive as a business. She recalled a conversation with a colleague earlier in her career who worked in apparel and was tasked with creating a merchandise assortment that appealed to women of all sizes.

“She said ‘Caroline, I’m responsible for expanding our clothing apparel line to women that are in what are categorized as plus sizes, but my team is too skinny and too white. How am I supposed to deliver that?” she said. “The answer became ‘Change the succession plan.’”

By hiring people who better reflect potential customers, Wanga said companies can actually drive sales.

“You have to disrupt the succession plans, the hiring plans, the recruiting plans, the advancement plans,” she said. “You have to surround those people with the resources to be successful. You have to stand up for them when people try to take them down. And you have to ensure that the people that you are moving around are also being leveraged for their insight and expertise and are not token. Otherwise, you take steps backwards.”

Instead of looking for solutions in a slide deck, she encouraged companies to go out where they will find fresh perspectives and honest answers. For example, she said, talk to entry- and mid-level Black men in a barber shop rather than a board room. “Make the people you’re trying to engage with and recruit feel safer than you feel,” she said. “They will tell you the truth. They will honor your presence. And you will get the information that actually tangibly changes things.”

How to attract more women in tech (and get them to stay)

Lekha George, Head of People and Communities for ASEAN and Korea, Cisco, says the first step is to provide exposure to the next generation to experience what it’s like to work in tech. 

The world is celebrating the 10th anniversary of International Girls in ICT Day on 22 April 2021. While people and organisations take this chance to celebrate the role that women play in the tech industry, it is also worth taking a moment to reflect on both the progress we have made in advancing gender diversity as well as the issues that still need to be addressed.

In Southeast Asia, the proportion of women working in tech is higher than the global average and ahead of more mature countries such as the US and UK. Women account for 32% of Southeast Asia’s tech workforce compared to the global average of 28%, according to a report by BCG and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority in October last year.

At Cisco, our workforce is the most diverse it has been since we began tracking diversity in 1998. Globally, women make up 27% of our workforce today, up from 23% in 2015.

While these figures show progress, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In particular, we still see fewer women than men in leadership. It is heartening to see that at Cisco, women account for 24% of our employees in Vice President positions and higher in 2020, up from 19% in 2015.

While having systems and measurements in place to attract more women into the tech industry, the question we need to ask ourselves is, how do we make women stay and empower them to become tomorrow’s leaders?

Start them young

Firstly, we can provide exposure to the next generation to experience what it’s like to work in tech. Younger generations these days are no strangers to tech; we can ignite passion for the industry by allowing them to catch a glimpse of how technology innovations they see every day are developed and brought to market or, better yet, let them participate in the process.

Tech companies can collaborate with schools and non-government organisations to target girls, including those from underprivileged groups, and encourage them to explore the world of tech and pursue an education in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

As a part of our efforts to celebrate women in tech, Cisco is celebrating International Girls in ICT Day by holding a series of free virtual events from 1 April. These include a Cybersecurity Learn-A-Thon which helps girls and women see the opportunities STEM skills can bring to their futures, and allows them to hear from women who have created a successful career in tech.

Culture and advocacy

Getting more women to take up a career in tech is the next step. Despite the progress over the past decade, women are still the minority in the tech industry. Male-dominant or even misogynistic work cultures in some companies can deter women. It is therefore critical for companies to foster cultures that promote diversity and inclusion, in addition to policies that guarantee equitable recruitment and pay.

One way to help amplify the voice of women in tech is by finding champions who are willing to speak for and advance the cause.

Since 2014, we have been running Women Rock IT programme in the Asia Pacific region, motivating young people to consider STEM subjects through inspiring live online broadcasts and blogs from women IT professionals and entrepreneur role models who have made a career in tech.

By the end of 2020, the programme, featuring 89 female speakers, had reached an audience of 1.5mn people. As a result of this programme, more than 690,000 girls have enrolled in technology courses with Cisco Networking Academy, a skills-to-job programme providing people with the opportunity to learn tech skills, at their own pace and even at home. In 2020, 26% of our Networking Academy students globally were female.

An inclusive culture also contributes to the retention and upward movement of women. Companies need to have policies and practices in place that encourage employees, regardless of gender, to have open conversations with their supervisors about their needs, concerns and aspirations, and have programmes that address these needs.

Leadership support is crucial; at Cisco, we are committed and focused on building extraordinary leaders across the full spectrum of diversity in every function and in every region. We drive leadership development programmes, including global programmes like JUMP and DARE Women’s Development Programme, that empower women to create bold career visions, think strategically and reach their career goals.

In ASEAN we are currently piloting a six-month mentorship programme with Tigerhall, a mentor media platform connecting a select group of women employees with leading business leaders who share actionable insights and personalised interactive experiences in bite-sized, digital on-demand formats. Through this experience they have an additional opportunity to learn and be supported in their journey to become future leaders.

A virtuous cycle of empowerment

Technology companies can play a critical role in engaging the youth, career seekers and employees to motivate and enable more women to contribute to and lead the industry. In so doing, we can also empower women to in turn empower other women.

Our Women in Cisco community is a great example of how women can band together to support each other. What started in 1997 as an Employee Resource Organisation with only a few members has grown into a network of more than 4,000 Cisco employees who participate in mentoring, networking events, and community give-backs in nearly 40 countries.

The rise of communities like these, coupled with support from business leaders and governments, will surely pave the way for a more gender diverse and inclusive future for our industry.

Entrepreneurs, consultants, JumpStart trying to make Cleveland’s tech scene more diverse

CLEVELAND — Americans across the nation are spending a lot more time thinking about racial equity and inclusion after George Floyd’s death, members of Cleveland’s community of technology companies are thinking about what needs to happen to make that space represent the community in which it operates.

Long before the coronavirus forced students to learn from home, Cleveland-based Parents In Motion was a company founded on two basic principles: Ridesharing and getting students to school.

Vetted drivers were connected with families who needed help dropping off and picking up their students all over Cleveland. It was basically an Uber for kids and something that anyone who used a rideshare app and most parents could understand.

And yet, co-founders Charisma Curry and Chanel Williams say they still often struggled to show investors the benefits of their work.

“When we’re explaining concepts to people, they question it a lot more,” said Williams. “Being a black woman in technology, you literally have to pull every single string in your identity to relate to someone just to get to the main fact of why you’re even there.”

Parents in Motion Chief Technology Officer Chanel Williams talks about the company’s work before the pandemic in 2019.

“They’ll say things like, ‘You thought of this?” said Curry. “As if you’re incapable of whatever because of whatever unconscious biases they may have.”

Once the pandemic started, Curry and Williams pivoted the company to PIM LEARNS, offering tutoring to students learning remotely in an effort to offset the emotional and educational challenges caused by the pandemic.

Curry and Williams point out that they also had more positive interactions where they were offered help or introductions that could help advance their start-up. But the big problem that arises from a challenge to connect with investors is that it can limit the much-needed fundraising necessary to build and grow their company.

Parents in Motion co-founder Charisma Curry says the company pivoted to stay afloat during the pandemic, but also because the needs of its clients changed.

Studies by RateMyInvestor, Diversity VC, and Crunchbase all show that Black and Hispanic people who start a company have gotten less than 3% of all the money investors have put into startups in the United States dating back to 2015.

JumpStart’s entrepreneur-in-residence Ron Stubblefield says that has a lot to do with white investors often connecting better with white entrepreneurs who have a similar background, network, and education.

“When you take those things together, that’s why you see a disproportionate under-representation,” said Stubblefield. “There are individuals who happen to be in tech who are African American and Hispanic but they tend to be the exception, not the norm.”

“You create the jobs, you grow the tax base, you provide the opportunities to take care of people and help them make their dreams come true,” said Stubblefield, talking about the good that comes from making it easier for businesses to get off the ground.

Denise Williams knows the feeling.

“We’re often unheard,” said Williams, talking about often being the only person of color in meetings during her career in tech.

Williams started Tech Diva Consulting after getting laid off from IBM in 2018.

“I started to see a lot of lack of representation of black faces and voices in the tech space and I wanted to be able to help my community build their solutions,” said Williams. “So that’s how Tech Diva was formed.”

“It made the most sense to align with those types of businesses to help them get out there because those are the businesses that often don’t have the funding,” said Williams talking about businesses started by female founders or founders of color. “They don’t have the kind of money to push forward as someone else might.”

Williams works largely with female founders and founders of color to help them figure out if they need to expand how their company uses technology and how to do it. By helping those companies succeed, she’s hoping it will show other black and brown founders what’s possible for them too.

“Reducing the barrier to entry allows others to get in and pull others up,” said Williams. “There was nobody for me to look up to and say I could do this too or I could learn programming.”

But the mentorship provided by people like Stubblefield and the representation made possible by founders like Williams are only part of the battle and still don’t address the fact that entrepreneurs of color get significantly fewer investments compared to their white counterparts.

No money means no start-up.

Crunchbase’s study shows that founders of color get less than three percent of all the investment dollars given to start ups across the United States.

“The narrative is shifting and I think it’s shifting in the right direction,” said JumpStart’s Chief Advancement and Relationship Officer Teleange Thomas.

Part of that shifting in the right direction is JumpStart’s Focus Fund which often makes about $250,000 available to companies started by female entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs of color.

“We need to focus around women, we need to focus around Blacks, we need to focus around the Latinx population and remove as many barriers that historically have been there to make sure that they have the opportunity to be successful as well,” said Thomas. “We need to have a dedicated resource where they can compete within a pool of their peers and not be competing against the majority, white, male, tech entrepreneurs who get a majority of the funding.”

“You also need to see yourself in the space so being able to see individuals who have that experience, have been in the field, who can mentor, who can advise, who can connect the dots, who can help break barriers is very important,” said Thomas.

She says especially as the United States climbs out of the pandemic, that’s how to make the economy recover in a way that lifts everyone up.

“That economy has to be inclusive,” said Thomas. “It will not be stronger, it will not be sustainable if it’s not representative and has the ability to connect opportunity to those who live, work, play, worship, learn in our region.”

It’s clear more work has to be done but while we’re paying attention to the historical wrongs many Americans have suffered for generations, Stubblefield says this is a moment where we can all change what we think of ourselves and others.

“If people don’t think they’re capable of doing something, they probably won’t try,” said Stubblefield. “If others don’t think someone else is capable, they won’t invest.”

New Study Finds Undervaluing Of Black-Led Projects Costs Hollywood $10 Billion Annually

When it comes to diversity, inclusion and representation, Hollywood is far from where it needs to be, but we are seeing progress. However, there are many blind spots that have been overlooked and cracks in the foundation that are growing bigger and bigger each day. If it doesn’t fix them, the industry will have more problems than it can repair — one of them being the undervaluing of Black-led projects.

McKinsey & Company released a study about the film and TV industry that is both not that surprising but is very eye-opening when it comes to the work that needs to be done to achieve equality in front of and behind the camera. The research is the first integrated view of the data and reveals the many barriers that Black talent encounters across the film and TV-production ecosystem. It also shines a light on the economic impact of those inequities and offers solutions to bolster inclusivity.


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The company analyzed data on more than 2,000 films and interviewed dozens of industry professionals, including writers, directors, producers, agents, actors, and executives, and collaborated with the BlackLight Collective, a coalition of Black executives and talent in the industry, including Franklin Leonard of The Black List. Data from Variety Business Intelligence was also included in the study.

The research found that media and entertainment make up a bedrock industry with revenues of nearly $150 billion each year. That said, Hollywood has the potential to gain an additional $10 billion in annual revenues — which amounts to nearly 7% more than its baseline — by addressing the racial inequities. Specifically, McKinsey found that Black-led projects have been consistently underfunded and undervalued even though there has been evidence that is clear as day that they outperform other properties when it comes to a return on their investment. This aligns with a report from the UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers titled “Beyond Checking A Box: A Lack of Authentically Inclusive Representation Has Costs at the Box Office” that was released in October 2020.

In addition, the term “representation matters” continues to ring true on-screen and behind the scenes. Black talent is underrepresented across the industry particularly in off-screen roles such as producer, director and writer. The one caveat here is that there is significant representation in these roles if at least one senior member of the production is Black. Other than that, Black talent behind the camera has not improved over the past 15 years.

Looking at positions of creative control, the research shows that less than 6% of Hollywood films’ writers, directors, and producers are Black.

When it comes to the talent in front of the camera, the study found that up and coming Black actors receive significantly fewer chances to make their mark in leading roles than white actors. In their first 10 years of work, emerging Black actors get an average of 6 leading roles, while their white counterparts get 9.

McKinsey also unpacks the concept of the “Black tax”, a fee that Black professionals in film and TV often need to pay. This “tax” can be considered literal or a metaphor where Black professionals have to fight — or pay out of pocket — for what others can take for granted, or needing to advocate for greater racial equity on their own. This is an unfair burden that falls in the lap of Black talent or creatives who could otherwise be honing their craft and focusing on their own careers.

At the top of the Hollywood food chain, there is a severe underrepresentation of Black people in decision-making and leadership roles. Black professionals hold few executive C-suite roles throughout the industry. For context, the study found that 87% of TV executives and 92% of film executives are white. The film industry, in particular, remains disproportionately white, ranking last among industries and behind sectors such as energy and finance. To add to that, the agents and executive staff at the industry’s top three talent agencies were about 90% white — and the partners at these agencies were 97% white.

In order to drive change, break down hidden barriers that reinforce the racial status quo in the problematic Hollywood ecosystem, McKinsey offered four steps that streaming companies, studios, agencies, and other industry players can take to advance racial equity in entertainment and beyond. For one, companies need to ensure diverse representation — especially among off-screen talent and executives. Secondly, there needs to be an increase in transparency and accountability. Third, these companies need to seek and financially support a wide range of Black stories. And finally, these institutions must collaborate and create an independent advocacy organization to coordinate action across the ecosystem.

To read the full McKinsey study click here.

How new grass-roots networks are boosting diversity on Hollywood film and TV crews

Last summer, freelance cinematographer Sade Ndya was scouring social media to find projects and collaborators in Los Angeles when she discovered the mentoring program #StartWith8Hollywood.

As a 21-year-old Black woman navigating the industry, she had to fight “10 times more” than her peers for fair rates, she said. She joined the mentoring program, which connects well-established Hollywood experts with eight women of color working in the entertainment industry.

Ndya was mentored by “Destroyer” cinematographer Julie Kirkwood, who advised her on pitching herself to the Gersh Agency, which helped her land gigs with big brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Microsoft and Apple.

“Not a lot of folks that look like me are in these rooms,” Ndya said from her home in L.A.’s Mid-City neighborhood. “She really prepared me for the first meeting with Gersh and really pushed me to own that confidence as well.”

Since last year’s protests over the killing of George Floyd by police and Hollywood’s reckoning over systemic racism, activists have launched a number of grass-roots initiatives aimed at helping marginalized film and TV talent advance in the industry.

#Startwith8Hollywood began last year, as did a foundation launched by Los Angeles-based film editor Ri-Karlo Handy to help young people of color get their first jobs in the industry. In February, a group of women at Ava DuVernay’s nonprofit Array Alliance launched a platform to aid diverse hiring for crew.

They’ve joined others already working to better diversify Hollywood. Boyle Heights-based writer Kayden Phoenix in 2019 formed the Chicana Directors Initiative to promote female-identifying directors and directors of photography of Latina descent. And TV executive Bree L. Frank in 2017 started the Facebook group Hue You Know — now with 15,000 members — providing mentorship and fostering job opportunities for Black and Indigenous people of color.

“They’re doing a very good job of coalition building and building networks that exist outside, that are not controlled by, that are not restrained by, established studio systems,” said Stephane Dunn, a professor at Morehouse College’s Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media Studies program.

Janine Jones-Clark, executive vice president of inclusion — talent and content at NBCUniversal.

1/5Janine Jones-Clark, executive vice president of inclusion — talent and content at NBCUniversal.  (NBCUniversal)

Christina Faith, a Philadelphia-based filmmaker who joined #Startwith8Hollywood.

2/5Christina Faith, a Philadelphia-based filmmaker who joined #Startwith8Hollywood.  (Creative Thought Media)

A photograph of James Duhon, cinematographer.

3/5A photograph of James Duhon, cinematographer.  (Chris Dvoracek)

Film producer Cheryl Bedford.

4/5Film producer Cheryl Bedford.  (Antoine Reekmans)

Bree L. Frank, president and founder of Hue You Know.

5/5Bree L. Frank, president and founder of Hue You Know.   (Jerome A. Shaw)

Here's the Opportunity the Pandemic created for the Future of Work


Here’s the Opportunity the Pandemic created for the Future of Work

By Deloitte Private

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a time machine to the future – creating an opportunity for organizations to reimagine the future of work.

These efforts are filling a need to help people of color enter the industry to address a systemic lack of diversity behind the camera. For example, there were no women of color as directors of photography in the top 300 movies from 2016 to 2018, according to a study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. White men accounted for 80% of film editor positions. Between 2007 and 2018, just one director of more than 1,200 popular movies was Latina, another USC study found.

While Dunn welcomes studio fellowships and diversity programs, she says they haven’t necessarily translated intoemployment.

“If you’re not getting a job at the actual network, if they’ve not nurtured you into the next step, you can be out … just beating the pavement despite having done this really good fellowship,” Dunn said. “And that’s definitely problematic.”

#StartWith8Hollywood founder, writer and activist Thuc Nguyen said she was inspired by the success of similar mentor programs used by venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.

“The real work [of diversity and inclusion] is better when it’s led by the actual people who are the most marginalized,” she said.

Nguyen in June teamed up with Cheryl Bedford and her L.A.-based nonprofit Women of Color Unite, which has more than 3,500 members and maintains a database of women of color in below-the-line jobs.

“It was just me getting tired of white folks saying, ‘I don’t know any dot, dot, dot, dot,’” said Bedford, who relies on donations and grant money from the city of Los Angeles and other groups.

Over the last year in the U.S., the #StartWith8Hollywood organizers said the free program has matched almost 1,000 people with industry mentors, including veteran producer Cassian Elwes and “Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin.

Among them is Philadelphia-based writer and director Christina Faith.

Faith wanted to get a distribution deal for a feature she made, “Love You Right: An R&B Musical,” featuring actor and “The Voice” contestant Mark Hood. She discovered #StartWith8Hollywood on Twitter in April 2020 and asked to be paired with mentors in distribution.

The executives helped her target specific distributors and craft her pitches, made introductions and reviewed the 14 offers she received. In October, Byron Allen’s Freestyle Digital Media struck a deal with Faith that gives her 75% of any profits.

The 37-year-old self-taught filmmaker was impressed with the ease of access.

“You can get in the door or you can get a mentor in your specific area without all the roadblocks,” Faith said. “It doesn’t cost anyone anything but time.”

One common refrain from producers is that they would like to diversify their productions but that they don’t know any crew members of color.

To address that, DuVernay and her team spent two years creating a searchable platform for diverse crews that is free to anyone with one verifiable industry credit. Several major studios and streamers signed onto multiyear agreements to invest six figures annually in the database, called Array Crew, and will cover costs for their producers to use it.

A line producer can create an entire crew list from the service, across 500 search categories, in a way that is compatible with commonly used production software. At launch about 70 productions were actively using the platform — that number has grown to 200, DuVernay said.

“It’s been an unorganized process that allows folks to say, ‘Let me just do it the old way, let me just use the people I know,’” DuVernay said. “If you’re a woman, if you are a person of color, if you’re an older person, if you’re a person with a disability, you will most likely be the only one standing there that’s like you.”

James Duhon, a Dallas-based cinematographer, is among the thousands listed on the Array Crew database.

“It’s something that’s been needed in the industry for a very long time,” the 39-year-old UCLA film school graduate said. “It’s just a close-knit, hush-hush society of white men. When I step on set, I still get looks. Who is this big, 6-foot, 3-inch, 220-pound guy? Is he security? I don’t look like your normal cinematographer.”

Film editor Handy created a list of other editors of color last year after getting calls from producers looking to diversify their teams, triggering a backlash from white union colleagues. But he found that many of the same people on the list got the work offers, so he instead focused on trying to get young people of color their first breaks. He created the Handy Foundation, joining with the Los Angeles Urban League and the Editors Guild, Local 700, to train and mentor assistant film editors and get them their first union jobs.

So far, the foundation has placed six trainees at studios funding the program, including BET, ITV and Netflix, Handy said. A new round started last month, with 17 selected out of 400 applicants.

“You’re not going to find the showrunner that you want, the editor you want or the producer you want today if you haven’t been helping create those people four or five years ago,” Handy said. “At some point, somebody, somewhere has to give you your first opportunity.”

John Gibson, who heads the Motion Picture Assn.’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program, welcomes the new groups. The MPA initiative funds 40 partner programs such as the American Black Film Festival and the Georgia Latino Film Festival.

“It takes really the entire ecosystem, whether it be the studios, the networks, the production companies, the guilds,” Gibson said. “We all collectively have to work on it. Over the last year, this increased conversation on social justice and injustice and representation has allowed organizations that have been around forever … to really have honest conversations about where they are and where they need to be.”

Despite their limitations, studio-run fellowships and diversity programs can introduce filmmakers and crew members of color to powerful executives they might not have met otherwise.

NBCUniversal, for example, has diversity initiatives to train writers, directors, composers and animators. This summer, it hopes to launch a pilot program for below-the-line workers.

“This industry can be such an insulated, ‘who you know,’ business at times,” said Janine Jones-Clark, executive vice president of Inclusion — Talent and Content for NBCUniversal.

Of the more than 100 who have graduated from the programs since 2017, about half have secured production credits in the industry, and 25% within NBCUniversal. They include Juel Taylor, who is writing on Universal’s upcoming LeBron James biopic, and Gandja Monteiro, who will be directing the musical feature “Talent Show.”

“These programs open doors, but that’s one small part,” Jones-Clark said. “The hard work starts after the program ends and we continue to invest in helping this talent chart a course for success in the industry.”

How Scholarships Can Support Diversity and Inclusion in Tech

Improving the inclusiveness of tech careers can start with education access for a broader demographic.

Organizations that want to make their technology teams more reflective of the populace still face a quandary — finding diverse talent to hire. Scholarships have the potential to create more pathways for a broader spectrum of people to develop in-demand tech skills that enterprises want.

Early this month, technology and business training company O’Reilly Media introduced a scholarship program to give 500 people from underrepresented groups one year of free access to online curriculum. The intent, like programs from other groups such as Flatiron School, is to broaden access to tech skills and subsequently encourage more diverse and inclusive landscape of professionals and leaders.

Adam Enbar, CEO of the Flatiron School, says his organization has strived to see 50-50 gender parity in its programs, but there has been room for growth in this area. “We launched our online in 2017 and we did an outcomes report in 2018. When the data came out, only about 30% of our students were women,” he says. While that might have sufficed for other computer science programs, Enbar says Flatiron School in response launched the Women Take Tech program, which offers scholarships up to $3,000 for women to enroll in its classes.

“It started with Birchbox as our first partner then expanded to other partners like Karlie Kloss, Citigroup, and all kinds of companies,” he says. Within a couple of years of the launch of Women Take Tech, Enbar says women made up more than 50% of Flatiron School’s students. “We saw it pretty plainly that if you actually work on this, you can move the needle,” he says. “You can change the statistics and change the ratio. It’s not a thing that just happens on its own.”

Over the years, Flatiron School has run a number of programs to help open up pathways for diverse groups to pursue careers in technology. Those efforts included web development training for immigrants and software development training for refugees.

The issue of gender and racial disparity in tech jobs and leadership roles begins at a much earlier age than when people enter the workforce, Enbar says, such as when young girls are not as encouraged as boys to pursue STEM education and related career opportunities. He says recent activism efforts, for racial justice for example, have elevated awareness of the need for tangible change. “It’s not good enough to think about diversity; we have to think about inclusion as well,” Enbar says.

Making noise about improving diversity and inclusivity can make a difference, he says, citing momentum that has been building in recent years to improve gender parity in tech. “There are now some schools where women exceed men in majoring in computer science,” Enbar says. “Why are there protests in the street for Black Lives Matter? Why is International Women’s Day an important day to share your voice? Because making this stuff known really matters.”

Many companies are thinking about diversity, he says, with some concrete results being realized. “In our jobs report, our employment rate for women was higher than for men,” Enbar says. “Our average starting salary higher for women than for men.” That stemmed from companies taking active roles diversifying their teams and seeking out more diverse graduates, but there is more work to be done, he says.

“The next phase where companies need help is, ‘How do you not just have a diverse workforce but how do you make it inclusive?’” Enbar asks. “How do you make the people who come in feel comfortable and productive?” Flatiron School launched the John Stanley Ford Fellowship, which speaks to the advancement of Black tech professionals through apprenticeships and sponsorships. “It goes beyond just hiring people, to investing in making people successful,” he says, “giving them the tools and support needed so they can find their own voice.”

Flatiron School has been designing programs and partnerships to go beyond diversifying their staff by also creating space for them to thrive, Enbar says. “We ask for a commitment to hire people, give them an internal mentor, allow them to have a mentor from Flatiron, and to join ongoing professional education because that is what has long-term impact,” he says.

Laura Baldwin, president of O’Reilly Media, says when her organization previously introduced inclusivity and diversity scholarships for its in-person sessions, companies such as Microsoft and Google sponsored some of those scholarships. She hopes to see similar underwriting support with the latest scholarship program. “What we’re looking to do now is go back to large sponsor companies to do that same kind of sponsorship online through our digital platforms,” she says. “If we can make that happen, that 500 number may grow even larger.”

One hurdle to diversifying the technology community is the sector is often regarded as a male-oriented space, Baldwin says. On top of that, many organizations are now scrambling to make new hires to change their demographics. “Hiring diverse talent is very difficult to do in tech,” she says. “Everyone’s trying to do it. There’s automatic competition to try to bring those voices to market.”

Part of addressing such hurdles is finding the talent and showing them there is a place for them in technology. “There are a lot of great organizations,” Baldwin says. “I think about Code 2040Black Girls Code, or the Posse Foundation that are working to help the younger generation to know there is a place for them in technology.”

She says proactive recruiting efforts must continue if diverse talent does not apply for roles with organizations. “It’s not just about people coming to us, we have to outreach. We have to bring it forward,” Baldwin says. “We can’t just wait for those communities to come to us. We have to go find them.”

There are ways for companies to make tangible changes on diversity and inclusivity by making it part of the entire organization’s mission, she says. There can be a tendency for organizations to put the responsibility to improve diversity on the shoulders of just one individual on the staff. “I just think that doesn’t work,” Baldwin says. “My instinct, and what I’ve seen at O’Reilly in best practices, no one person can help achieve diversity for an organization.”

She says the effort must be universal and brought to the entire employee base. “If we can get everyone to stop thinking about it as a number you have to hit, but as a way of working and including people, I think everybody is going to see a lot more success.”

One best practice Baldwin says organizations can adopt is to develop a set of corporate goals that make it clear the top leadership wants to move forward on this front. “If it’s not that high level for your organization it won’t happen,” she says.

Underrepresented groups make up 30% of O’Reilly’s talent database “of thousands,” Baldwin says, and the objective is to grow that population fast. “We want that to be 40% representation, 10 full percentage points, by the end of the year.”

Though setting goals can get an organization to focus on the objective, she says it is also important to remember it takes time to see results. Consistent, ongoing effort, Baldwin says, is necessary to deliver on those goals. “It’s not a one-time event for us,” she says. “It’s been happening for years already. We’re still focused on it; we still can make it a core goal; and we still have ways to go.”

The Right Tech Exec to Lead Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Joao-Pierre S. Ruth has spent his career immersed in business and technology journalism first covering local industries in New Jersey, later as the New York editor for Xconomy delving into the city’s tech startup community, and then as a freelancer for such outlets as … View Full Bio

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