By Jared Karol
In today’s Diversity & Inclusion Spotlight, we hear from Fran Benjamin, Diversity Strategy Lead at Airbnb. He works with leaders as well as employees to design strategic solutions and facilitate immersive learning experiences that unleash human potential.
Change Catalyst: What are you currently working on to improve diversity and inclusion in tech?
Fran: My role is twofold. First, I serve as a strategist within our Diversity & Belonging COE. I design belonging into the entire talent lifecycle at Airbnb: in our people leadership program, in mentorship and sponsorship, to consulting to talent design and recruiting, to name a few areas. Second, I serve as a business partner to our leaders. I sit embedded within our functions to ensure a lens for diversity and belonging is applied to business, hiring, and promotion decisions.
Change Catalyst: What motivates you to work towards an inclusive tech ecosystem?
Fran: Clive Thompson recently wrote that technical work, and coding in particular, will be the next blue collar job as the field is set to expand 12% by 2024. Couple this with the incredible privilege and access of angel investors, VCs, and financiers on whose shoulders the tech industry was fairly recently founded, and you have one of the newest and biggest challenges for diversity. We face rapid growth and need for human capital with a history of deep entrenchment in exclusive pockets of wealth and access. Place this in the political and social context of our time where distance between groups is only widening, my motivation is overwhelming: to help to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere — and in tech in particular.
Change Catalyst: What will be the biggest story around diversity and inclusion in 2017?
Fran: It will be how diversity and inclusion offices breach the walls of their organizations to respond to the political pressures of our time. Our business depends on people having a sense of belonging and access. When legislation starts to restrict access for people according to identity characteristics, the purview of diversity and inclusion offices has to expand and we have to become corporate activists — not just because of the business need but because of the social justice imperative.
Change Catalyst: What one key solution would make a huge difference in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem?
Fran: Collaboration. I am relatively new to working exclusively in tech and have witnessed a strong zero-sum-game mentality when it comes to diversity and recruiting. We look for what slice of the talent pie we can take when we can really expand the entire pie by working together. If we can collectively expand the profile of who is typically successful in tech, cultivate talent earlier, and work together to overcome structural barriers, we’ll all benefit.
Change Catalyst: What is the best example of leadership in inclusion you’ve seen recently?
Fran: My favorite recent example of inclusive leadership is a leader humbly stating, “I don’t know. I don’t want to get it wrong, but I don’t know how to approach this. Can you help me, because I’d like to try?” Many leaders are hesitant to start the conversation out of fear of getting it wrong or offending. It’s a valid fear — no one likes that feeling. It can’t always be up to people from a marginalized group to help out a member from the majority group. That simple admission and acknowledgement that it’s going to be a little messy as we work things out is the sign of a leader who is opening him- or herself up for growth and inviting others along in the journey.
Change Catalyst: Describe the impact you’re having in your role.
Fran: I think the early impact of my role is building infrastructure and processes to do great work. We are in rapid growth mode so we have to build the ship as we’re sailing it, which can always be a challenge. However, I’ve had the opportunity since joining in December to take a step back to help really define the challenges that we’re solving for, and identify areas to create systemic change. On the micro-level, we are hiring rapidly (and for some critical roles) with strong goals for diversity, and I get to play a part in huge progress toward those goals.
Change Catalyst: Just for fun, what unique or unusual talent or skill do you have?
Fran: I’m a singer and cabaret performer, and I love to push the boundaries of gender in my art.
About Change Catalyst:
Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation — through events, consulting, research and training.
Our Tech Inclusion programs explore and develop innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion.
Our Startup Ecosystem programs help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund world changing businesses.
Change Catalyst is a Certified B Corp, winning the “Best for the World” award for community impact in 2014 and “Best in the World” overall in 2015.