Diversity and Inclusion
16 min read

21 diversity and inclusion influencers you should know

Steven Huang

Steven Huang

Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Culture Amp

On my first day as the Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Jo Cranford, our Director of Engineering sent me a message: “What are we going to do about the t-shirts?” I had no idea what she was talking about - I thought our unisex t-shirts fit great! Jo let me know that was not the case and that many women at Culture Amp were uncomfortable wearing them.

I learned an important lesson - every person has blind spots. As a D&I practitioner, it is my job to cover as many of my blind spots as possible to ensure that I am creating an equitable employee experience, particularly for people on the margins. Every D&I function should follow a diverse group of influencers to ensure their own blind spots are covered.

So, as the Culture Amp team worked to put together our Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality report this year, we reflected upon the work of great people who have come before us. Whether it’s running a thought-provoking workshop, leading the charge for inclusion internally, championing diversity in venture capital firms or many other worthy initiatives, these diversity and inclusion influencers have inspired us.

The group that we’re highlighting is in no way an exhaustive list, in fact, we’re looking forward to hearing who has inspired you. 

Michelle Kim
Co-Founder and CEO, Awaken

Michelle Kim-1

Michelle has been a social justice activist and community organizer serving on organizations like the San Francisco LGBTQ Speakers Bureau, UC LGBTIQ Association Steering Committee, San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Committee, and LYRIC youth nonprofit’s Board of Directors. Awaken offers interactive, thought-provoking workshops that enable today's workforce to address tough diversity and inclusion, leadership, and culture questions head-on. Their mission is to create compassionate space for uncomfortable conversations to develop inclusive leaders and teams.

What she teaches us: The truth about unconscious bias training. “The ‘unconscious bias training works vs. doesn’t work’ debate is too reductive,” says Michelle. Get her advice on how to think critically about the debate and decide what’s best for your workplace. BonusManaging teams in times of political trauma — what to do, what to say to boost psychological safety.

Iris Bohnet
Professor and author Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

Iris BohnetIris Bohnet, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, is the Academic Dean of Harvard Kennedy School. As a behavioral economist, she combines insights from economics and psychology to improve decision-making in organizations and society, often with a gender or cross-cultural perspective.

What she teaches us: Her book, What Works: Gender Equality by Design explores gender equality as a moral and business imperative. Iris uses behavioral design as a solution to de-bias organizations instead of individuals, making changes that are impactful.

Joelle Emerson
CEO, Paradigm

Joelle Emerson-1Before founding Paradigm, Joelle was a women’s rights employment lawyer. As a Skadden Fellow at Equal Rights Advocates, she represented women in gender discrimination and sexual harassment litigation, and she advocated for local, state, and federal policies to ensure equal pay and other workplace protections for women. Joelle’s legal background highlighted the consequences that can result from companies failing to consider diversity and inclusion early and inspired her to found Paradigm.

What she teaches us: Why a diverse workplace can reduce cases of harassment and bullying. “Is this an organization where people feel like they can speak up and their ideas are going to be heard and valued? And you can imagine why in an organization where that's the case, harassment is less likely to happen because you're going to have a culture where people are speaking up when they see things that are potentially problematic,” says Joelle.

Cynthia Owyoung
VP of D&I, Charles Schwab

Cynthia OwyoungCynthia Owyoung is an integrated Talent Management and Diversity Leader, who’s been building great talent and best places to work for more than twenty years.  Throughout her accomplished career, she's had a passion to develop diverse leaders at all levels. She is an expert in applying qualitative and quantitative research to gain unique employee insights and create innovative employee engagement strategies.

What she teaches us: 3 strategies to help underrepresented talent thrive at your company. “A lot of companies treat Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as volunteer organizations with a focus on building a community of support around a particular affinity. This perspective needs to shift. ERGs should be seen as business-related resources aligned to strategic goals––one of which is to develop the next generation of leaders inside the company,” says Cynthia.

Sarah Saska
Co-Founder and CEO , Feminuity

Sarah SaskaDr. Sarah Saska is an academic turned entrepreneur. Using an evidence-based research approach, Feminuity supports innovative companies to embed diversity and inclusion into the core of their business. While pursuing her Ph.D. at Western University, Sarah developed research on the importance of diversity in innovation. She then became a fellow at MaRS Discovery District to get support needed to put her research into practice. 

What she teaches us: Why it’s time to take diversity debt seriously. “Diversity debt begins with a few co-founders, bootstrapping in the early days, with a ‘get shit done’ mindset. Such a mindset doesn’t typically include a focus on diversity; and when it does the focus is viewed as ‘nice to have,’” says Sarah.

Katelin Holloway
CHRO Reddit

Katelin HollowayVP of People & Culture at Reddit, Katelin is passionate about building scalable, inclusive institutional cultures. She started her career alongside the storytellers at Pixar Animation Studios where she was first introduced to the idea of intentional cultural development. Throughout her career one thread binds everything together: enabling people through belonging to create beautiful, innovative products.

What she teaches us: Cognitive diversity matters and diversity goes hand in hand with inclusion. “Your demographic diversity informs your experiential diversity, but there is a third bucket that people don't talk about frequently, and that's cognitive diversity. The part that is critical to support the diversity that you're bringing in through your recruiting processes is actually the inclusion part. When people talk about diversity and inclusion initiatives, they go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other,” says Katelin. 

Aiko Bethea
Head of D&I

At the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Aiko introduced the first campus-wide conversations on racial equity. Her leadership and launch of ERG's catalyzed leadership's visible presence and engagement in racial equity and D&I matters.  Now at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center she continues to lead the charge by creating and implementing the first organization-wide diversity & inclusion strategic plan, including the development of internal education, metrics, and dashboard.

What she teaches us: The traits to look for in a head of diversity and inclusion. “Learning is ongoing. The D&I field, taxonomy, approaches, and high stakes consequences of faux pas statements and actions are happening every moment and every day. The D&I leader should be all up in the mix with their finger on the pulse,” says Aiko.


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Melinda Briana Epler
CEO Change Catalyst, and Founder, Tech Inclusion

Melinda Epler-1Melinda works in the tech industry, solving diversity and inclusion challenges. with a storytelling background and experience with large-scale culture evolution initiatives, she is a capable strategic advisor for global tech companies, tech hubs and governments. For her, work includes the full tech ecosystem, from education to workplace, entrepreneurship, policy and media.

What she teaches us: How to uproot systemic racism and sexism in venture capital. “Don’t tolerate people and actions that keep other people from thriving. Don’t allow anyone to make women, people of color and people with disabilities feel unwelcome and inadequate. (The data says diversity and inclusion makes teams better, but your motivation should be to do the right — aka human — thing),” says Melinda.

Tariq Meyers 
Global Head of Belonging, Inclusion & Experience, Coinbase

Tariq MeyersTariq is an advocate who believes that individuals should not be defined by their life circumstances, but empowered to defy them. He has experience in community organizing, coalition and relationship building in political and personal spheres. He is well known for his work as Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Lyft. 

What he teaches us: How to launch diversity and inclusion programs where there were none before. Learn Tariq's 5 p's during his time at Lyft: practices, partnerships, public accountability, programming and policies.

Aaron Rose
Diversity & Inclusion Trainer and Consultant; Culture Design Expert

Aaron RoseAaron is a diversity and inclusion consultant who creates cultures where people of all identities thrive. He has a decade of experience in diversity & inclusion, facilitating culture design programs everywhere from elite consulting firms to start-ups to large government agencies. As a white, gay, transgender man, he specializes in LGBTQ inclusion, gender equality, healthy masculinity, and white allyship.

What he teaches us: 5 keys to transgender inclusion. “Update your intake forms and cultural policies regarding names and pronouns. Leave space for people to distinguish between their names and what their legal paperwork says. Make check-ins about names and pronouns a regular part of your culture. If you can ask people in an icebreaker what animal best captures their personality, you can ask them about their pronouns!” Bonus4 steps to creating your truly inclusive culture

Stacia Sherman Garr
Co-founder and Principal Analyst at RedThread Research

Stacia GarrStacia helps companies learn how to enable their people by providing insights on talent, technology and a better way to work.  She is an analyst, researcher, speaker, thought leader, and writer on the topics of talent management, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and HR technology.

What she teaches us: The diversity and inclusion maturity model. “Senior leaders should be out front, very visibly supporting diversity and inclusion,” says Stacia. Diversity and inclusion technology is a category – one that is exploding with new vendors and approaches and has the potential to scale and transform how we approach D&I.

Leslie Miley 
CTO, Obama Foundation

Leslie Miley-1Leslie has a wealth of experience building, motivating, and managing globally distributed teams with different cultural backgrounds. He is an expert at designing and implementing development best practices to support geographically distributed teams.

What he teaches us: How to use people data to create inclusive companies. “Help leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if you don't have an answer. It doesn't matter if you don't have a solution. If you share the data people will come to you with solutions. It helps everyone learn, it helps everyone get better,” he says.  

Lesa Bradshaw
Diversity and Disability Integration Specialist Managing Member at Bradshaw LeRoux Consulting

Lesa Bradshaw 2Lesa is a leading specialist in creating disability-inclusive cultures at organizational, governmental and societal levels. She combines her professional experience with her personal journey as a person with a disability to deliver an impactful message of the value of diversity in today’s world. Lesa and her business partner, Nicky Le Roux, started Bradshaw Le Roux Consulting in 1998 and are considered to be leading specialists in the sourcing, placing and integrating of People with a disability into the world of work.

What she teaches us: How to be inclusive of people with a disability in the workplace. “We see the disability, and we judge people’s abilities based on that. The problem in the workplace is if you have low benchmarks, then you don’t see the value that the person can actually add to your organization,” she says.   

Jay Bendett
Co-founder and CEO, Argo Collective

Jay Bendett-1Jay is a nonbinary inclusion strategist and facilitator who specializes in workplace and product inclusion for innovative communities. With a Master’s degree in Gender Politics and Education from NYU, Jay founded Argo Collective to help teams innovate their products so they’re not only more inclusive but more successful. Argo works with companies of all sizes to build a tactical plan to improve their products and innovate new ways to serve a more diverse (bigger) market, increasing their revenue, all while having a net positive impact on the world.

What they teach us: 10 gender inclusion hacks. “We know “Hey, guys” is a common default greeting. While it may seem harmless, you might be misgendering* someone and not even know it. Try using y’all, friends, folks, people, team, everybody or everyone. Challenge yourself by omitting “guys” for an entire day.”

Aubrey Blanche
Global Head of Diversity & Belonging, Atlassian

Aubrey BlancheAubrey works cross-functionally to provide opportunities for everyone to join Atlassian and have the chance to do their best work. Her influence covers the talent lifecycle from increasing access to technical education for underrepresented minorities through recruiting, retention, and advancement of all Atlassians. She relies heavily on empirical social science in her work, and has developed a new team-level paradigm for external diversity reporting. It's her belief that leading with empathy is key to creating meaningful, sustainable change and highly effective teams.

What she teaches us: How to combat diversity fatigue. “People are tired of talking about diversity and inclusion, frustrated by talks not turning into impactful actions, and overwhelmed by the number of issues to address and the scope of what must change. While respondents continue to say that they care about diversity and inclusion, action declined across the board,” she says.  

Max Masure
Design Thinking Facilitator, Gender Inclusion Strategist, Argo Collective

Max Masure by Marine LécroartMax is a trans-masculine workplace inclusion strategist and co-founder of Argo Collective. Drawing on their extensive background in design, they train organizations to use creativity, empathy, and collaboration to tackle workplace inclusion challenges. For the past 12 years, they worked as a User Experience and Service Designer, guiding Design Thinking workshops for an array of organizations, from startups to Fortune 50 companies.

What they teach us: Why you should put pronouns on your email signature and LinkedIn profile. “For a cisgender person (a person whose gender is in alignment with the sex they were assigned at birth- more on that another time!) there is little to no risk in sharing your pronouns. For a person who is transgender or nonbinary, sharing pronouns can be a bit riskier. That’s why we ask cisgender people to lead the charge by sharing pronouns. It normalizes the process, has little risk, and actually makes for a safer environment for everyone.”

Lauren Aguilar, PhD
Diversity and Inclusion Partner, Forshay

Lauren is a scientific expert on diversity and inclusion, with a specialty in belonging. After 20 years of doing social science research, she now transforms data-driven insights from science into easy-to-use “small wins” strategies to create diverse and inclusive workplaces. Her passion is using data, design-thinking, and empathy to design inclusive workplaces where people feel a sense of belonging and can work at their highest level.

What she teaches us: It’s all about bringing the head and the heart together to drive lasting change. “Small wins add up to big impact. Using data and evidence-based tools to drive strategy + storytelling and empathy building to support change management is where the magic happens,” she says.

Laura Gomez
Founder and CEO, Atipica

Laura GomezLaura is a proud immigrant raised in Silicon Valley, who has worked in tech since her first internship with Hewlett-Packard at 17. She has since joined teams at Google, YouTube, Jawbone, and Twitter, where she was a founding member of the International team. It was her passion for diversity in tech that inspired her to start Atipica.

What she teaches us: How to use machine learning and AI to build empathy and change behavior. “The metrics and the algorithms can help us push for equality, and we should strive for equity. It’s not just about have data and setting it aside, we need actionable items to create a workforce that’s equitable for everyone,” she says.

Dr. Freada Kapor Klein
Founder at Level Playing Field Institute and Partner at Kapor Capital

Freada Kapor Klein-1Freada is a Founding Partner of Kapor Capital, who invest in seed stage tech startups that create positive social impact by closing gaps of access, opportunity or outcome for low-income communities and communities of color. She is also a founding member at Project Include, a community of women in Silicon Valley working to provide practical, effective diversity and inclusion recommendations for tech companies.

What she teaches us: Venture capital has a blind spot on diversity and inclusion. “Without a commitment to diversity and inclusion starting from the top levels of leadership within the VC community, within individual firms, and within startups, VC will continue to replicate biases in their hiring and promotion of investors and, in turn, replicate biases in the founders they invest in and the amount of capital invested,” says Freada. 

Matthew Yazzie
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs, Women 2.0

Mathew YazzieMatthew’s background includes work as COO at both Jurispect, in regulatory FinTech compliance, and also at FWD.us, working towards intelligent immigration reform. He was on the Global Ethics and Compliance founding team at Google, where he had responsibility for training and investigations, metrics, and compliance technology procurement.

What he teaches us: Books that anyone interested in D&I can learn from. There is always more to learn and more people to learn from as Matthew’s list shows.

Wayne Sutton
Founder, Tech Inclusion

Wayne SuttonA serial entrepreneur, Wayne has experience building partnerships with both small and large companies. His advice on diversity and inclusion in tech has been featured in TechCrunch, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.  His life goal is to educate entrepreneurs who are passionate about using technology to change the world. Through Change Catalyst and Tech Inclusion, he helps to build inclusive tech ecosystems through strategic advising, startup programs and resources.

What he teaches us: How to confront depression and overcome imposter syndrome. “Discussing mental health has always been a taboo in America, in tech and especially in the black community. Historically, conversations around mental health are seen as a weakness. I’ve started the process to learn more about my emotional state. First, I had to take responsibility for my mindset and then take action to work on my depression daily,” says Wayne.



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