By Joe Garofoli
San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Increased attention has been called to the gender gap in the technology industry. With that in mind, many companies in silicon valley have made efforts to recruit more women and people of color. One of the women in business who is paying close attention to the issue is Freada Kapor Klein. Klein regularly speaks to tech companies and has been on the cutting edge of research into the hidden biases that people have in their hiring and promotional practices.
San Francisco Chronicle
Freada Kapor Klein is a rare type of social change-maker/philanthropist. The Oakland resident had long been a national leader in pursuing gender and racial equality before she started writing checks to help make her vision a reality in the tech world.
Kapor Klein and her husband, Mitch Kapor, oversee a family of organizations in the philanthropic and socially conscious investment world. Kapor Capital, the Kapor Center for Social Impact and the Level Playing Field Institute all aim to increase diversity in Silicon Valley, whose leading companies are overwhelmingly male and white or Asian.
As increased attention has been called to that disparity, tech companies have made efforts to recruit more women and people of color — witness Airbnb hiring its first head of “diversity and belonging” this month. But Kapor Klein, who regularly speaks to tech companies, has been on the cutting edge of research into the hidden biases that people have in their hiring and promotional practices.
For her work, she is a nominee for the 2016 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.
‘We’re startup people’
While her history of activism stretches back four decades — the UC Berkeley grad applied to colleges based on the strength of their political movements — she is also a tech investor in companies that reflect her values. “We’re startup people,” she likes to say.
Earlier this year, she and her husband announced they would fund only startups that prioritize diversity. Their Founders Commitment is believed to be a first in the venture world and will be a standard item in all new investment agreements the firm makes in the $25 million it expects to invest over the next three years.
Last year, they announced they will spend $40 million during that time on various efforts to make the tech sector more inclusive.
Kapor Klein is in regular touch with the White House on tech diversity issues. She was lauded by former Vice President Al Gore during an event in her honor last year at Twitter headquarters and counts former NAACP President Ben Jealous as a close friend. But her eyes light up when she talks about a female entrepreneur who has created a new app that sifts out the hidden biases in tech job listings.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., she grew up the youngest of three children in the San Fernando Valley. Her father was a chemical engineer who went to medical school shortly after Freada was born. At the time, many medical schools had a quota — a ceiling — on the number of Jews they would accept.
Social justice legacy
“All of these twenty- and thirtysomethings who are working on diversity don’t understand how recent and how complicated the whole issue of stereotyping and limiting opportunity for different groups based on wild assumptions was,” Kapor Klein said.
Her mother’s father immigrated to Kansas from Russia, speaking no English. Five of his six children were killed during pogroms there.
“This is some of where I attribute some of my sense of social and racial justice,” Kapor Klein said. “I have these aunts and uncles I never met simply because they were born Jewish. And I see a pretty unbroken line between murdering children because they are Jewish and putting kids of color on a pathway to prison instead of to tech.
“I’m of the school that none of us are free until all of us are free,” she said. “If there is any injustice, then we’re all suffering from it.”
While studying at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, she volunteered at a rape crisis center. But she grew frustrated when she learned that prosecutors didn’t want to pursue a case “unless it’s a nun with 96 stab wounds.”
After graduation she moved to Washington, D.C., and continued this work, going to prisons to interview convicted rapists to try to understand their motivations. Many of the men themselves had been raped in prison, “which gave them such a profound look at it — they really understood both sides of that experience and were so clear about the power dynamics involved.”
Sex harassment on job
She surveyed 200 rape crisis centers in the U.S., and a recurring theme kept popping up. For the first time, many centers were starting to field reports of what was then called “work-related sexual assault.” It was the beginning of a growing consciousness about sexual harassment at work, and Kapor Klein was on the leading edge of connecting the dots to show a national pattern.
In the mid-1970s, she published a booklet called “Myths and Facts About Sexual Harassment” that sold tens of thousands of copies and made her a leading expert on the issue. She draws a direct line from what she studied four decades ago to the hidden bias she sees now in the tech world.
“There is a spectrum of entitled behavior based on stereotypes and power where some group of people think it’s OK either to bully another group or to physically assault them,” she said.
She met Mitch Kapor in the mid-1980s when he was at Lotus, where he was the CEO and founder. They were co-workers, and she was trying to implement his vision of making the company “the most progressive employer in the United States,” as he told her then.
‘Bullied as a kid’
“He cared passionately about these issues because he was bullied as a kid,” Kapor Klein said. “He was a nerd when it wasn’t cool to be a nerd.”
In the couple of years she worked at the company, she was instrumental in making the software company what is believed to be one of the first corporate sponsors of an AIDS event, and to have a diversity council that included out LGBT folks. A decade later they reconnected after his first marriage ended, and they were married in 1999.
In a few months, they will begin another chapter together. The new Kapor Center for Social Impact building is scheduled to open in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood. The new building is designed to be a hub for hackathons, networking events and educational summits and to make Oakland a national locus for tech diversity.
“Both Mitch and I are entrepreneurial. We think there needs to be new approaches to big persistent problems,” Kapor Klein said. “We don’t see tech as a panacea, but we think tech should be deployed to solve social problems.”