“Growing up, my parents were both academics and we lived in New York City, which meant that I learned early on the importance of work ethic and tenacity. Yet even now, when it comes to knowing how to motivate and inspire myself, I am still humble. This is why I was so surprised to find that during my time at Harvard, being an advocate for women’s issues, gender equality and promoting female entrepreneurship, many of my closest and most valued friends were women.”
While at Harvard, I met my husband, my best friend and co-investors, the people I trusted most for insight and support, and many colleagues. From my first job as a publisher for an industry publication, where I worked with dozens of female entrepreneurs and female-owned companies, to reporting on nonprofit board members’ gender diversity and championing female entrepreneurs around the world as a journalist, I have come to recognize that while each of us has our own particular talents and strengths, in most cases we all share a similar worldview: I believe women are just as capable as men and we can accomplish things together and independently.
At WNYC, we are working towards making that vision a reality for our students, their families and the entire community. In particular, we are creating opportunities for our female students, our students at Chicago’s E2 Graduate, our students in Asia and Latin America and particularly, our students here in New York City and at WNYC to acquire employment in ways that are not constrained by traditional gender stereotypes. Having a diverse workforce will require a stronger commitment to creating more equitable workplaces.
That vision leads me to the Women’s Collective, an online community where we are empowering women in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The WCC is changing the face of science and being part of it has been one of the most rewarding and inspiring projects I have had the privilege of working on at WNYC. From cooking experiments to guest stars to STEM field trips, WCC is inspiring the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs with opportunities for storytelling, crafting, networking and, of course, baking.
The expertise, skills and ideas of women and girls in STEM is critical to this country’s success as a global player in the information technology and science-based industry. This effort is important because many women still lack the opportunity to know, see, talk about, build and study in STEM subjects and technical fields. It’s important because a disproportionate number of women leave the field because they cannot see themselves in leadership roles, and men are those who stick around and become the leaders.
I still remember my experiences meeting my mentor’s daughters. They were incredibly focused, self-assured and had never heard me name-check the phrase “Ifeoma Ozoma Blew the Whistle on Pinterest.” I’ve tried many times to do the same for others, but one of the greatest barriers to us blowing the whistle on harassment and other problems within our industry is the sheer numbers of women — and men — who remain on “safe” boards. I wish that it weren’t true but it is.
Ifeoma Ozoma Blew the Whistle on Pinterest. Now she protects whistle-blowers.
Our commitment to this cause has been strengthened by the successful adoption of the Rayburn Report. Ifeoma Blows the Whistle on Pinterest, our fellowship program that addresses situations where women and/or members of underrepresented groups are not being appropriately promoted or given the tools they need to succeed, was created to continue the work of building a true, room-for-all workforce. Through the Rayburn Report, we’ve learned that it is possible to build a culture of accountability where senior leaders have the power to protect both whistle-blowers and supporters, and for managers to develop their workplaces so that everyone feels safe and supported.
On a day to day basis, we are developing policies and procedures so that we will be able to prevent and detect instances of harassment and other issues within our industry, and the WCC is an important part of that. We’ve developed concrete plans and, thanks to The Rayburn Report, mechanisms to review and assess risk, and will take action to improve protections. Additionally, we’ve developed WCC Captains, women who work to develop the women of our peer groups and to encourage women to take action when they hear harassment or other issues come up.
For too long, women have been left to their own devices, with often very unfortunate results. It’s time to turn that around. The WCC will be my platform for helping women and other women to build lasting value and ensure their