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How Change Catalyst Became Empovia

What does 10 years of work in DEI look like? How do you transform an industry? And why is Change Catalyst changing to Empovia? In episode 120, Melinda Briana Epler, Founder & CEO of Empovia (formerly Change Catalyst) and Wayne Sutton, Co-Founder & Advisor of Empovia, kick off season 10 with a reflective conversation on a decade of DEI work across various industries, including their impactful work in building inclusive tech ecosystems. They discuss Empovia’s mission to empower inclusive innovation and the launch of a new accessible eLearning platform that provides individuals with actionable steps, tools, and frameworks to create positive change.

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When we started 10 years ago, there weren’t many organizations focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion… so we did a lot… of different things; we worked on… driving change across organizations in a lot of different ways including training…, coaching, and strategic development…. It’s different now: there are many organizations that are focused on creating change around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion…, and so now we have the ability to… focus on where there are still gaps…, where do we still need more work to really deepen the impact that we can have as industries, companies, and individuals— and that is learning and development, that’s where the individual behavior change really happens.

Wayne Sutton is a serial entrepreneur and founder of the Icon Project (501c3 non-profit) and the co-founder of Empovia (formerly Change Catalyst). Sutton’s experience includes years of establishing partnerships with large brands to early-stage startups. As a leading voice in diversity and inclusion in tech, Sutton has been featured in TechCrunch, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to mentoring and advising entrepreneurs, Sutton’s life goal is to advocate for the awareness of humans to address their mental health.

Wayne is a past TED attendee in 2012. With a passion for education and storytelling, Wayne has spoken at several universities and major internet and technology-focused conferences such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, UNC, NC State, TEDx, World Wide Web(WWW) Conference, O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo, South By South West (SXSW), DockerCon 2015 and for the U.S. Embassy Jamaica during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015.

Learn more about the host and creator of Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Melinda Briana Epler.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Empovia, formally Change Catalyst. I’m also the author of How to Be an Ally, and your host for this show. 


What is allyship? Allyship is empathy in action. We learn what people are uniquely experiencing, we show empathy for their experience, and we take action. As a part of that process, we learn and unlearn and relearn. We work to avoid unintentionally harming people with our words and actions. We advocate for people, and we lead the change on our teams, in our organizations, and across our communities. 


In this episode, you’ll learn tangible actionable steps that you can take to lead the change to be a more inclusive leader, no matter what your role is. Want to learn more? Visit Empovia.co to check out more of my work. 


All right, let’s get started. 


Hello, and welcome again to Season 10. We have a special guest today. He’s a co-host of today’s podcast, also my co-founder and advisor and husband, Wayne Sutton. We’ll be talking about our new announcement today, a big announcement. If you haven’t heard it yet, we’ll announce it here in this podcast. Also, we’ll talk about 10 years of doing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion around the world through multiple industries, what it looks like to create change within industries. We’ll share some tips that we learned along the way, the impact that we’ve had, and where we’re headed next. 


So welcome, Wayne.


WAYNE: Hi, Melinda, long time no see.


MELINDA: For those of you who don’t know, we’re literally in one; Wayne is in our living room, and I am in our office. So we are in close quarters here. So Wayne, I’m actually going to turn it over to you. I know you have some questions and you’re going to guide the conversation today. He’s rubbing his hands.


WAYNE: Yes. I get to be the host of the famous Leading With Empathy & AllyShip Podcast that has been going on for 10 years. Thanks for having me. 


MELINDA: Three years. 


WAYNE: Oh, yeah. Been doing the work for 10 years, podcast has been going for three years. Thank you. How has time flown! So let’s jump into it. So Change Catalyst is now Empovia, to transformation. Big name, cool name, cool brand. I like it. You like it. We like it. Team like it. What’s the expanded vision behind the Empovia rebrand?


MELINDA: Yeah. Well, we took a step back. After about 10 years of doing this work, we took a step back and really evaluated where we are now, how the world is different from when we started, how our client’s needs are changing, and where are the gap is still in the market, and where are the gaps in really driving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and sustainability as well? We are honing specifically on learning and development. The pandemic definitely changed our work to some degree. So we’ve been refocusing over the last three years essentially, and now we’re fully focused on learning and development. Meeting organizations also where they are in the current economy was really important as well. 


So two things. One is the name. Our name is different, it’s Empovia. It comes from our tagline: Empowering Inclusive Innovation, which we’ve used for a long time. So we’re excited to have those values embedded in our tagline shorter name. The EMP for us is about EMPowering; empowered, empathy, really driving change from those standpoints of empowered learning through trainings, speaking, coaching, and now e-learning. So that’s number two is we’re really doubling down on our learning and development, recognizing where organizations are in the current economy, and perhaps having to do more with less when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, with budgets contracting in the current market. So we’ve been wanting to do e-learning for a long time, and now is the time. So we’re launching an e-learning platform in addition to our rebrand. With that, we’re giving people the tools and frameworks and the actionable steps people need, to create the change they want to see in the world, to build their inclusive leadership skills. Really, part of that work is those actionable skills and tools, and a safe space for people to practice those tools that they’ve learned. Then at the end, provide people with an action plan too. So in our e-learning, you’ll come away with an action plan to really move forward on your journey.


WAYNE: Nice. As you know, we’ve been doing this work for a long time, as we said, and every day is a constant need in the world, from when we started in 2013 or 2014 to now. Empathy, I hope humans see the word Empovia and get the empathy and get the innovation, and also take the courses that you just talked about, and the world needs it. 


What makes Empovia special today, in today’s world? You alluded to it some, but can you delve more into that?


MELINDA: Yeah. When we started 10 years ago, there weren’t very many organizations focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, quite frankly. So we did a lot, we did a lot of different things; we worked on strategy, we worked on really driving change across organizations in a lot of different ways, including training and coaching and strategic development and all of that. We also worked on events as well, to really drive change across industries and to build awareness. It’s different now. There are many organizations that are focused on creating change around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which is amazing. So now we have the ability to really focus, to focus on where are there still some gaps, where do we still need more work to really deepen the impact that we can have, as industries, as companies, and as individuals? That is, learning and development. That’s where the individual behavior change really happens. Each one of us has to change our behavior in order to radically shift our companies, our organizations, our industries, and the world ultimately. 


So we have, over the last 10 years, really built a strong baseline and research and training practices, that are focused on behavioral science and change management of really how do you create that individual change, how do you drive individual change, how do you create change within organizations? So we’re putting that all together and expanding that work significantly, and then making it available on demand. So we’ve worked with a number of organizations over the years on training and coaching, and now we have the ability to really scale that in a way, through e-learning as well.


WAYNE: Nice. I think about how, in the beginning, a lot of companies wanted dramatic change around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, belonging, in the organization. They wanted it to change overnight, and we know it doesn’t work that way. Like you were saying, we’ve built up this ecosystem and worked within and out of the tech industry and all the industries, people see that it doesn’t happen overnight, and they do need individual change, like you were saying. So how the market has changed, what Empovia and the platform, it really allows individuals to learn on their own time, which is different than a lot of what you’ve been doing, where especially pre-pandemic, it was different. It’s different from where a lot of workshops were held in companies and offices, and some talks given to all-hands, some talks given to the ERG groups. This is really, like you’re saying, undertaking your experience of behavior change and applying that online where people can get the help, nut the learning that they need. Some people do need help, but the learning that they need.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think we want to change systems and processes, ultimately; we want to create an equitable world, an equitable workplace. How do you do that? You have to teach people how to do that, and people don’t necessarily know how to change those hiring practices, how to create more inclusive promotion structures and reviews and compensation, and so on. Teams and people managers and people leaders don’t necessarily know how to build an inclusive team. They need the skills; they need to learn the skills to be able to do that effectively. They need to know what works, what doesn’t work. So that’s where that training comes in. That’s also where Inclusive Leadership Coaching comes in, for the individuals that want the deeper work into really investigating that internal emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, that learning and the unlearning and relearning, and then how do you activate yourself to become an inclusive leader? So I’m excited about it. It’s something that we’ve been focused, on learning and development, since the beginning, and now we can really focus on it exclusively and make it available for a lot more people, and also make it cheaper for organizations where those budgets are cut, unfortunately, where that is the world that we’re in at the moment.


WAYNE: Agreed. Well, looking back some, in terms of reflecting on Change Catalyst accomplishments, what fills you with the most pride? We’ve done a lot in 10 years. So what makes you smile when you think about that, like, you did that, you led that?


MELINDA: Well, we led it. I would say we didn’t do it alone either. Definitely, I didn’t do it alone, we didn’t do it alone. There are definitely even amazing people that we’ve worked with along the way, that have helped us do this work. But yes, there are a few things that I think that at the macro level, I’m really proud of, is the moving industries, especially the tech industry. We started in the tech industry, we’ve definitely gone beyond the tech industry now and moved into many different industries. But we really started out focused on how do we change the tech industry. 


Just a little backstory on that is, during the summer of 2013 and 2014, Wayne and I were sitting on a couch in our living room saying, “You know what, we’ve got to create change. This is not working for either of us, working in the tech industry, and it’s not working in general. You and I have both been working on creating change for some time.” Wayne said, “Well, why don’t we do a conference? Let’s do a conference.” I was like, “Okay, what does that look like?” I was a little bit doubtful. Then we were like, we’ll just do a conference thing. You convinced me pretty quickly, we’ll just do a conference. It turned out to be a lot more difficult than we had originally thought it would be, to really build the trust and create the safe space for people to share best practices. So from that couch sitting to many years later, we have done Tech Inclusion conferences around the world, many different cities around the world. When we first started, it was so hard to bring people in to those conferences. It took a lot of one-on-one engagement with people, to build that trust and get people to come, get people out of their silos and to share best practices. 


So from that to having tech CEOs on stage the very next year, and to really moving whole ecosystems, especially those when we went to the markets where the tech industry was just forming, we were one of the first to really have these conversations in a public space. There, I think we affected even more change, frankly, because we helped those local ecosystems to begin forming in a more inclusive way. We also worked with the Kauffman Foundation and local mayors and local governments on how do you build these inclusive tech ecosystems from the beginning. So that is, I think, from the macro level, working across the industries, working across regions, and fundamentally helping shift them is something I’m deeply proud of. 


Then at the micro level. That’s the macro level. At the micro level, Inclusive Leadership Coaching that I do one-on-one, where in the beginning, a leader, maybe they’re in denial, or they’re completely afraid to do anything. To move them, over time, from that to be an advocate, of really fighting for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. That behavior change over time also, I’m equally proud of that. Because that does impact whole organizations, it has a ripple effect far beyond that one individual too. 


WAYNE: If you had to pick one? If you had to pick one thing you were proud of, what would it be? 


MELINDA: Well, I think it is the work in the tech industry to really help drive change across the tech industry. It was fundamentally different when we started. How about you?


WAYNE: Oh, there’s a sense of pride I have of pulling off something that people said couldn’t be done, and doing it dramatically different than how it was done before. I think about the Tech Inclusion Conference we did at the Palace of Fine Arts, and then we also did at the Armory. Those events were super impactful, and made me proud. Then combine the events we did in Detroit, Michigan, Nashville, Tennessee. Those were, to me, extremely important. Because when we went, people said, there’s a tech culture, there’s a tech ecosystem there, which is true. Because we saw the Silicon Valley transplant happening from The Silicon Valley to other cities, some smaller markets, and bringing the negative behavior of Silicon Valley stereotype pattern-matching, pattern buyers, pattern-matching even lack of funding in terms of local entrepreneurs. So we saw the negative change go to some of these different cities, Detroit, Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee. The voices of the underrepresented people were not being heard. They reached out to us, or we reached out to them. But either way, we partnered with the local community to host those events, and collaborate with the existing tech ecosystem, with the underrepresented people in community who are Antec or one of the Antec, and help build bridges to not go down the downward path or the incorrect path that people have made in Silicon Valley, around lack of DEI, lack of diverse people in roles, lack of diverse people in venture capital funding. Those events were special. 


But the big events we did in the city. Because as you said, Tech Inclusion conference was something that was different. It really hadn’t been done before. Because for me, a lot of underrepresented people, we would go to a tech conference, and we’d be like, out of a thousand people, maybe five Black people; maybe no Black people, no Brown people on stage, very few if any women on stage. We were like, well, we’re going to have a whole conference where that’s who’s speaking, Black and Brown people. We’re going to make it accessible. We’re going to do interpreters. We’re going to make sure that it’s inclusive for people who are deaf or blind. But we’re going to talk about tech things. It’s not just going to be all about people; we’re going to talk about tech, and we’re going to talk about culture as well. 


First one was galvanized in a basement. It was a big basement. But it was huge, you couldn’t move so many of the people. Then the next one, we had at the Palace of Fine Arts. I remember one of my mentors came with me, he was like, “Great job. I’m impressed!” That’s something I’ll never forget. Then after that, a lot of people literally started copying the formula. Some reached out, and some people who were speaking copied the formula; saw that we did it, and then they went on to do their own conference, their own things, and so forth. So you never know the impact you have by taking a risk.


MELINDA: Yeah, and we’ll never fully know the ripple impact that we had on people and individuals and organizations, on the industry.


WAYNE: Yeah, we eventually had a career fair. But people got jobs from speaking at stage, or shifted companies from just speaking at the very first event. Because people were like, “Wow, I didn’t know you.” Or either there was a press with people speaking. So it changed a lot of people’s lives, and these are stories we were told.


MELINDA: Yeah. We kept hearing at that time, there’s a pipeline issue, there’s a pipeline issue, there’s a pipeline issue, that’s why we don’t have diverse talent. Well, maybe there’s a little bit of a pipeline issue, because there’s an issue in education as well. But there’s a lot more diverse talent, there’s a lot more underrepresented talent than you think. So we’ll bring them to you with our career fairs, and the number of recruiters that attended our career fairs and gave the feedback that, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting to see actual talent, and here they are.” I mean, we created a safe space for them to acknowledge that, great, and that impact you know has a ripple effect. Now they know there is quality underrepresented talent out there, and that was essential to changing the ecosystem.


WAYNE: Yeah, agreed. What do you want to say? As you mentioned, the career fair, eventually over years, we had over 11,000 job seekers connect with hundreds of companies every year. So that was awesome. But we look at the job market today, compared to, say, pre-pandemic or the last couple of years. How do you think it has evolved in terms of companies looking for or hiring underrepresented talent, to how it is right now? What do you think companies or individuals should be doing to create change, still?


MELINDA: Yeah. The numbers have changed, for sure. Percentage wise, there are more diverse people in tech companies now. Back when we started, we thought that they would change a lot more than they have. Turns out that there’s multiple systemic issues, and a lot more work that needs to be done on individuals and across systems and processes. But it has changed, and what’s different over the last three years is, after George Floyd was murdered, companies basically dealt with an internal reckoning of, “We have to do something. Our employees are demanding it.” So what we’ve seen differently is more focus on leadership. So not just at the entry level, but a focus on underrepresented talent at the leadership level, and really, the board level as well, especially the board level, actually. There’s a lot more work to be done, because you can’t just go from zero to 100. You can’t just say suddenly, “Oh, now we care about diverse leadership,” and expect them all to be there, because you haven’t done the work to bring people up in their careers and give them opportunity. So there’s that work of, you bring in underrepresented talent, now you have to work to retain them, now you have to work to make sure that they’re not experiencing acts of exclusion, biases, microaggressions, ways that people are kept from being promoted. You have to give people opportunities. 


So I think it’s at the middle of the organization, that really, a lot of work still needs to happen, where we’re still seeing huge gaps between the representation from the early career people in tech, and then managers and directors and above. So there’s so much work that needs to happen there.


WAYNE: Yeah. I’ll also add, with the current market, in tech, especially in the last three years, with George Floyd’s murder, but in also the pandemic, where, as you and I have talked about inside is, some companies over-hired, and some companies, they didn’t over-hire, but they’re just not doing well in the current market. So a lot of people have been let go, and a lot of the resources for ERG groups or Diversity and Inclusion training or cultural training, budgets have been cut. So I would say, there’s a lot of fear in the current job market, there’s a lot of uncertainty around, is tech industry for certain individuals? Because we still celebrate and put up on a pedestal, certain type of individuals of CEOs and product managers, and so forth. But as a nerd and a geek, there’s still a lot of excitement in the tech industry and the job market. There’s an uncertainty where we are right now. I’ve seen it in 2008, I’ve seen it prior to that as well, where the tech industry always put a bias to people who just build fast, or people who talk and look a certain way to pattern-matching. So I’m seeing kind of the same patterns from 2008 of typical Type A founder or individual who can build something with AI and look cool and be like, “Okay, yes, this is going to change the world,” and get access to capital. Then tech companies are just slow on hiring. So with a crowded market, individuals have to do a lot more to stand out to get a job.


I’ll still say that, for underrepresented individuals and diverse individuals trying to get a job in tech now, your network is most important. It has always been important. But your network, and then how you show up or communicate, is hyper important today than what it was as, I’d say, pre-pandemic and 10 years ago. It’s even more.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think, on the leadership side, on the HR DEI side, and on the hiring manager side, when we have fear and when we’re stressed, we tend to default to our biases more. Pattern-matching is all about bias. It’s all about, we see a specific education that we know is going to be successful, and so we just take that candidate. We see a certain type of person that’s going to fit in better, and so we take that candidate in, before people that we just don’t know. Really, especially in the current economy, especially when things are more uncertain, you need the diversity. You need people to be challenging decisions that are being made. You need people with diverse experiences to say, “What about this? What about that? I’m not sure if this is working right here.” That’s what you need in this moment. 


So anybody who is a hiring manager, stop for a moment and slow down, and remember why a diverse team is important. Remember that people on your team might be extra stressed, especially if you’re doing rolling layoffs, there’s definitely less stressed, less psychological safety, less feeling of belonging. So you have to work hard to create those spaces, so that people still can get from that amygdala response of stress, where everything is really shut down and they’re just focused on what they absolutely have to, to a space where people feel safe, to be more innovative, to trust each other again. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s a really important thing to do right now.


WAYNE: Yeah, and that’s where Empovia comes in. Because as you a hiring manager, or you’re someone in a leadership role, or you’re a recruiter, you need to take an e-learning course on how to be a better leader, a better manager, go to Empovia. Just hire Empovia, that’s what you should do. A shameless plug. Not a shameless plug.


MELINDA: Yeah. I mean, you need a trusted space to learn how to do that effectively if you don’t know it. So that’s what we’ve worked hard to create over time.


WAYNE: Agreed. So in addition to Tech Inclusion, the conference that we hosted, Change Catalyst has consulted with numerous companies over the years, ranging from startups to VCs, Fortune 100 companies. We worked with Figma when they just got started. I remember thinking, Figma, tiny little organization. We’ve worked with Google of course, Reddit, Salesforce, Asana, Kaiser Permanente, Zillow, Indeed, I’m just name-dropping right now. We’ve worked with Amazon, VMware, WP Engine, and many more. Also, like you said, Kauffman Foundation. That was a big partnership we had with Kauffman Foundation.


MELINDA: Yeah. I mean, those were all mostly tech companies. We’ve worked with a lot of product companies, Coca-Cola. Education, UC Berkeley. Financial institutions, and architecture and engineering firms too.


WAYNE: Yeah. McKinley, our colleagues and friends at Indeed as well. So when you think about all those companies over the years, what kind of impact do you know? What kind of impact would you say that we’ve had at those organizations, and also, what did we learn from collaborating with those companies as well?


MELINDA: Yeah. I think one is, what we learned is related to the impact, where the more impact that we have made is in organizations where we’ve been able to affect change across different aspects of the organization. When we work with leadership team, to really deepen their understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to create inclusive leadership skills, to understand how to develop empathy for people. For some leaders, that doesn’t come naturally. So working with them to deepen their empathy skills, and then activate allyship, understand where microaggressions are occurring and interrupt them, and then develop those companies that are more diverse, equitable, and inclusive overall. So working at that leadership level, I think, is really important. That’s where we’ve made the most impact, is when we are able to work with leadership teams, and then roll it out across management teams as well, and then across organizations too. Whether that is doing a series of keynotes across organizations, or ideally doing e-learning across organizations, and really scaling that work across all the teams of an organization.


WAYNE: Yeah. I think about Reddit when we worked with them. We should probably follow-up with Steve, CEO of Reddit these days. But it was an interesting time for Reddit when they hired us, because Steve had just came back. I think Steve and Alexis had just came back to be CEOs, and it was this culture change, almost this culture war happening internally, where you had the former CEO, Ellen, who was there and left. Then Steve and Alexis came back, and new teams were being hired and new teams were being formed. They wanted to really get it right in terms of hiring and culture, and we advised them on that. I think about that, in terms of what we learned and what I learned, was I often used to look at these tech companies and these CEOs, and I’d just see a lot of the tech companies and people in position as if they had all the answers; they knew everything. It was a very opportune moment for me just to see when you do have people in leadership roles who are willing to learn, who are not coming in and just saying, this is my way or the highway, like we see some CEOs now, not to call anyone out. But they were willing to learn. 


And Caitlin, who was there, also hired us, and really allowed us to work together and do a good assessment. I remember you interviewing the Head of Product, interviewing the Head of Engineering, and talk about their experience, where they come from. Looking at, if you bring a Head of Engineering from Microsoft, or Head of Product from Pinterest, or the CEO coming back from his second startup, you actually have a culture chaos happening here. We did assessment and put together a report. I know it was very valuable for the organization at the time to really have that, to give people who were there for a long time, and people who had just started, a sense of calmness, or at least less things to worry about and focus on their job, to know that this culture could be a mess right now, but they’re working on it. That there’s a plan. Sometimes, that’s all individuals need to know, is that they’re working on it. It gives them hope, that the culture could improve, and how it is today may not be how it’s always going to be.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think that working with our leadership team, that was near when we first started, so this was a long time ago. One of the things about a leadership team is, people do have different motivations, people do have different ideas about where they want the culture to go. You have to create that safe space for people to really identify what it is that is driving them, and find the access point for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and then work with them on sculpting it together. You can’t just like hand somebody, this is what you need to do. You have to work with leaders and really identify where their pain points are, where their issues are with culture, and then work together on how to solve all of that together. That was a key piece that I learned in working with that team and finding a solution that everybody felt good about. It was a pretty powerful thing.


WAYNE: Yeah, agreed. I think there’s been a lot of cases with some of the companies we worked with, think about Indeed, where they hired new people in positions, and they need our expertise and your expertise around behavior change, to help reduce some of the friction, for when you bring in different people, especially diverse people in different and leadership roles. You have resistant culture there, and people were not used to things. People don’t like change. I don’t want to say people, I know that’s a broad term, but everybody doesn’t always like change. So that was always a good experience as well. 


Well, let’s shift gears. Let’s talk about tech ecosystem now. So we have alluded to it. But how has the tech ecosystem and culture evolved since our work with these organizations, over the years? 


MELINDA: Yeah. I’m going to give a tiny bit of a backstory, where when we first started doing this work, we realized we couldn’t just say, “We have all the answers, here it is. We did a lot of work. We had a lot of conversations with people, we looked at the data, the little data that was there, we took our own knowledge and experience, and we mapped out the ecosystem. Where are all the issues within the ecosystem, and then where could we pull the levers to create change?  That took some time to really figure that out. But then we were able to take it to all those different ecosystems that we talked about earlier, the Nashville, the Detroit, and London, and Melbourne, and so on. 


So I think what’s different is, there are a few things. We found there were multiple components. The media, media wasn’t talking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion very much until that year 2014, when the first diversity numbers from the tech industry started coming out. So the media started to write about it a little bit, but we wanted to involve the media more. So we did, we put them on stage. Then education and policy. So we brought the White House to our first Tech Inclusion Conference, and we’re working on policy as well. Then workplace, and then investment, or entrepreneurship. So we talked a lot about workplace, what we haven’t talked as much about yet is, and I think we’ve talked about the changes that we’ve seen in the tech industry companies. But what we haven’t talked about is that entrepreneurship ecosystem. It has changed. It has changed significantly. Yes, it can definitely change more, because the numbers are not very big there either. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we made progress when it came to investment in women-owned companies and Black and Brown-owned companies. Those are only things that are measured most of the time, sorry. For the rest of us, disability-owned companies is not measured, and so on. But we made some progress.


WAYNE: Latina companies as well.


MELINDA: Yes, or Hispanic. We made progress in the ecosystem, and then the pandemic hurt a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs, especially people who are underrepresented that didn’t have the friends and family to help with the finances when times got tough, and so on. But then, after George Ford was murdered, there was a big investment in Black companies, Black-owned companies in particular. I think, still, not all that money has been allocated, and there’s lots of issues with it. But generally, there were some additional funding sources that have continued. There’s a lot more to be done there, and it is not changing as much as we would want it to be. What do you think there?


WAYNE: Yeah, it’s interesting. The tech culture has changed. We finally got away from, and I’m talking a lot here in terms of Black tech ecosystem, we finally got away from being able to name two to five individuals, a Black woman or a Black man, who has raised venture capital, to now we know we have hundreds. Still nowhere near the thousands of non-Black entrepreneurs. But that has changed, and that’s grateful. It isn’t as grateful as ultimacy. We’ve seen way more Black-led VC firms, as well. 99.8% of those Black-led VC firms are led by Black men, which shouldn’t be the case, there should be more Black women. Not more, but there should be an equal amount of more Black women. Actually, no, Black women are the leading entrepreneurs or the highest-grossing entrepreneurs in the market. So it shouldn’t be that there’s 99.8% Black men VC firms actually, that should be more Black women VC firms based on the numbers. Because Black women are the more successful entrepreneurs, why are there not more Black women in VC firms? Don’t get it. 


MELINDA: Yeah. I think the issue, too, is that there are definitely more opportunities for Black-owned companies to get investment, but they’re $20,000, $10,000, $5,000.


WAYNE: The checks are smaller. Just talking about Black for a minute, is that the checks are smaller, still there’s more Black VC firms than there were 5 or 10 years ago, there’s more Black entrepreneurs, there’s more Latinx entrepreneurs, more Latinx VC firms, more women VC firms. So the numbers have improved, overall numbers have improved. We have things, not to say better, but it has went up. They went up, like you’re saying, in 2022, and now they’re going back down again because of the market.


MELINDA: They went up in 2019, took another dip down again.


WAYNE: But if we look at the numbers, they’re still very low. If we look at, let’s say beyond numbers, there is more of a celebratory culture in the entrepreneur ecosystem, especially for Latinx, Black or Brown individuals. Because we have more examples, and we’ve seen the impact that their success has had on their local ecosystem or their families, or even just tech culture as a whole. There’s a lot of people who have raised venture capital extremely well. But as we know, it’s not just about venture capital. We know people, we can drop names, but who were turned down from Silicon Valley and went on to create multimillion dollar businesses as well. So things are better, but there’s a lot of work to do still.


MELINDA: Yeah. I think, in several different times along this conversation, we’ve talked about the economy, and how it has contracted budgets when it comes to workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and entrepreneurship investments in underrepresented founders. I think that is a big key learning that I have had over the last 10 years, is that we still aren’t at a point yet where Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not a nice-to-have, but it’s a must-have, especially when things are getting bad from an economic standpoint, especially when you’re doing layoffs. That’s when these programmes, this work is extra important. That is, I think, the shift that still needs to happen. That only comes when every single one of us advocates for those budgets not to be cut. Every single one of us says “Hey, are you looking at representation when we’re doing layoffs? Hey, what are we doing to build, to rebuild an inclusive culture after layoffs? What are we doing to make sure that we are going to survive the next wave in the economy, by having a diverse and inclusive team?”


WAYNE: Agreed, and you can learn how to do that at Empovia.com.


MELINDA: Yes, I got impassioned about that, because it is frustrating to see. So many people are doing this work and really working to create change, and we need that consistency in order to move change forward. So I am excited to launch more low-cost solutions around e-learning, where individuals can still work to learn the skills that they need to be better leaders on their own, even when their company isn’t investing in that right now, and that we can also roll it out to organizations that need to lower costs, but still want to drive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 


WAYNE: Yeah, and leadership and empathy and belonging and culture, and all the good things that humans should just be taking in as a whole. So we’re on this podcast, this is three years of doing the podcast. Change Catalyst launched the podcast in 2020, in pandemic, you have done over 100 episodes. Why do you feel the need to launch a podcast in the middle of a pandemic, then also write the book? What was the vision behind this podcast?


MELINDA: Well, I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for a long time, and when the pandemic hit, speaking of budget contractions, that happened really early during the pandemic. In February, March, immediately, those budgets were starting to contract, and we had more time, and it was a good time to launch it. Also, there were a lot of people that were looking for connections. So we originally launched it in live events, so people could connect with one another at the same time. There’s just so many powerful voices of leaders in the space of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, activists That are advocating for change regularly. At the same time, so many people that are looking for answers and looking for solutions, what can I do to be a better ally? So all that, I wanted to put it all out there, and just showcase leaders in the field, to give people those actionable steps, to build empathy and activate allyship in a way that we couldn’t do in any other medium.


WAYNE: Nice. Who has been some of the most notable guests, or just some of your favorite guests?


MELINDA: Yeah. I think, this season, we’re launching with a few powerful guests, like Ryan Bucky, who we worked with at AWS and Amazon Web Services, and has been an ally for a long time, and is going to talk about how to build allyship programmes. Natalia Villalobos was the end of our last season, and she was there at the beginning of our work together and has supported us along the way, so I was super-excited about her. Then we had the President of Microsoft.


WAYNE: Whoa, and now she’s at New York Times?


MELINDA: Yes, now she’s the VP of Inclusion at the New York Times. We’ve had so many incredibly powerful guests over the years. I encourage you to go to ally.cc and scroll through and see all of the amazing guests we’ve had, if you haven’t listened to every episode, because there’s so many fantastic people. 


WAYNE: Awesome. So as we wrap up, Empovia, new name, e-learning. Why should companies in today’s climate, and you touched on this, but why should companies seek Empovia’s services, especially in today’s climate? Give me the pitch, why they need Empovia?


MELINDA: Empovia is a trusted learning partner, we’ve been doing this work for 10 years. We really focus on creating that behavior change, using science, using research, to really drive our content, and move people from awareness to action. So whether you’re looking for a long leadership series around inclusive leadership, or you’re looking for one conversation to get things started, we work with some early companies that focus on diversity and inclusion for the first time. Or you’re looking to roll out training across your organization, we would love to talk with you and learn how we might be able to partner together. We partner with you, and we really work to drive change across your organization, understanding your goals and customizing our learning for you. We have a diverse team of amazing learning designers. This is what we do, we love doing it and love working with our partners.


WAYNE: Awesome. Well, my hosting responsibilities are done. Thanks for watching, everyone! Check out Empovia, and we hope you reach out soon.


MELINDA: Thank you, Wayne.


Thank you for being part of our community. You’ll find the show notes and a transcript of this episode at ally.cc. There you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter with additional tips. This show is produced by Empovia, a trusted learning and development partner, offering training, coaching, and a new e-learning platform, with on-demand courses focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You can learn more at Empovia.com. 


Allyship is empathy in action. So what action will you take today?