San Francisco & Palo Alto, CA – Silicon Valley’s notorious and much-derided “brotopia” culture eroded as 300+ C-Suite execs, financiers, tech and health entrepreneurs gathered for a weekend of collaborating, deal-making, and celebrating actions that make the upper reaches of America’s boardrooms and tech companies corner offices more diverse. Known as the “Davos of Diversity,” Culture Shifting Weekend assembles a carefully curated group of Black and Latinx leaders who share a goal of diversity, inclusion, and innovation.
Produced by business consultant Andrea Hoffman, CEO of Culture Shift Labs, Culture Shifting Weekend is a twice-yearly gathering of power players who can move the needle, impacting companies and industry sectors. The fall 2017 Culture Shifting Weekend in New York, hosted by SAP, convened the largest ever gathering of black VCs. Denmark West of Connectivity Ventures and former Booz Allen Partner Reginald Van Lee co-chair the event.
“We aim to close the racial divide in Silicon Valley and Culture Shifting Weekend is a firm step towards that goal,” said Andrea Hoffman. “People often say to me, ‘Where are the people of color who can lead America’s best companies?’ The answer is they’re right here—hiding in plain sight. We’ve built a 5,000 person network that is leadership and board ready, that include top subject matter experts and investors who want to be in the room because of the business deals and business opportunities they access.”
The weekend, which took place last month, spanned activities including: A Millennial Tech Entrepreneurs Breakfast where founders of color with traction met corporate decision makers, led by Kwame Anku of the Black Angel Tech Fund; a Fireside Chat with Dr. Mae Jemison, pioneering astronaut, physician, engineer and entrepreneur led by Russlynn Ali, Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective and Chief Executive Officer of the XQ Institute; a Think/Action Tank afternoon, focused on inclusive healthcare innovation, led by Dr. Michael Penn which was kicked off with a conversation between Caroline Clarke of Black Enterprise and Dr. Keith L. Black, head of neurosurgery at Los Angeles’ celebrated Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; and Sunday’s Culture Shifting Awards, held at The Rosewood, Sand Hill. Other event venues included SAP’s stunning San Francisco office and LinkedIn’s Sunnyvale campus.
"We’ve built a 5,000 person network that is leadership and board ready, that include top subject matter experts and investors who want to be in the room because of the business deals and business opportunities they access.”
The Culture Shifting Awards recognize leaders and pioneers of diversity and those who care about growth and innovation through diversity and inclusion. This year actor/producer/comedian Chris Spencer emceed the program honoring Peggy Abkemeier Alford, CFO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Ime Archibong, VP of Partnerships, Facebook; Lloyd Dean, CEO of Dignity Health; and Denise Young Smith, Executive in Residence at Cornell Tech. The Culture Shifting Awards has honored more than 40 leaders to date that span technology, innovation, and social impact.Seven-year-old aspiring neuroscientist, Amoy Antunet, whose goal is to perform the first brain transplant, made a special appearance. At the Culture Shifting Awards, she had the opportunity to be on stage with actress Nichelle Nichols who played communications officer Lieutenant (later Commander) Uhura, aboard the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek TV series.
Luminaries attending Culture Shifting Weekend included Danny Allen, VP, Tech Diversity & Inclusion, SAP; Samuel Bright, Sr. Director, GM of Art & Collectibles, eBay; and Robin Washington, EVP, and CFO, Gilead, among others.
A complete list of distinguished hosts, speakers and sponsors may be found here.
At Friday’s Millennial Tech Entrepreneurs Breakfast sponsored and hosted by LinkedIn at their Sunnyvale office, many of their top executives showed up to listen to and help the impressive tech founders find customers, potential investors, and access resources they need to scale their businesses.
During Friday’s night’s Fireside Chat held at SAP.io in San Francisco featuring Dr. Mae Jemison, Russlynn Ali, Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective and Chief Executive Officer of the XQ Institute, led a candid discussion on Dr. Jemison’s past, present, and future.
Saturday afternoon, healthcare leaders were hosted at LinkedIn for a powerful Think/Action Tank themed “Inclusive Health and Wellness Innovation.” LinkedIn executive Jason Silver kicked off the day. He welcomed 80 hand-selected guests to their campus and shared a personal story of community work he cares deeply about and how inspiring the weekend was so far. That was followed by a fireside chat with Dr. Keith L. Black, head of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center led by Caroline Clarke of Black Enterprise. Dr. Black discussed the technology he developed to detect early Alzheimer’s through the eye, his story of becoming a world-renowned surgeon, how he’s using technology to positively impact society and disrupt healthcare.
Culture Shifting Weekend culminated on Sunday at Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park for the Culture Shift Awards. Over 200 guests attended this event, which celebrated four impressive honorees.
During the awards, six black women expressed in two minutes each how they were “shifters of culture.” The women included Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado, Vice President, Head of Strategy & Business Development at Williams-Sonoma, Inc.; Amoy Antunet, 7-year-old Neuroscientist, Nancy Douyon, International User Experience Research Lead at Uber; Christina Lewis, Founder & CEO, All Star Code (and daughter of the late billionaire Reginald Lewis); Nichelle Nichols, Actress and Activist and Candice Morgan, Head of Inclusion and Diversity, Pinterest.
Nichelle shared with the room, among other diversity factoids she led, that back in the 1960’s she and Leonard Nemoy fought for and won pay equity for her on Star Trek.
“Culture Shifting Weekend presented a unique opportunity to network not only with entrepreneurs of color but also with high profile investors and critical corporate partners, who are dedicated to realizing the commercial impact of inclusive innovation and broadening the investment and acceleration pipeline for all entrepreneurs,” said Alice S. Vilma, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley, Multicultural Client Strategy.
Throughout the weekend Mercedes Benz provided ride and drive experiences, allowing guests staying at the Four Seasons in E. Palo Alto (the host hotel) to drive the cars around town at their leisure.
“Culture Shifting is a weekend of technology, innovation and social impact where black leaders, decision makers including investors come together for this mission disguised as an event,” said partner Denmark West. “We are enablers, facilitators, and accelerators of deals and collaborations among leaders that don’t know each other and should. Leaders who want to be deliberate about diversity, inclusion, and innovation.”