Serena Williams and her husband Alexis Ohanian had an honest and insightful conversation over the weekend just hours after the shock Reddit announcement.
The power couple took to Instagram Live on Saturday evening where they touched on everything from racism to Ohanian stepping down from the Reddit board. The pair, who have a two-year-old daughter together, was refreshingly candid.
“We need diversity at the highest levels of business now more than ever,” said Ohanian during the one-on-one interview with his global tennis star wife.“I think if every company took a look around their board rooms on Monday and really had the honest, hard conversations, and said, ‘Are we doing the best by our customers, by our team and by our shareholders with this board makeup?’ I think we’d see more change.”
It came just a day after Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, announced Friday on his personal website, that he had resigned from the company’s board of directors. He urged the board to fill his seat with a black candidate.
In an emotional video on Instagram, he said that he needed to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks him “what did you do?” during this situation. “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” Ohanian added.
View this post on Instagram
I co-founded @reddit 15 years ago to help people find community and a sense of belonging. It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country. I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: What did you do? I have resigned as a member of the reddit board, I have urged them to fill my seat with a black candidate, and I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate, and I’m starting with a pledge of $1M to @kaepernick7’s @yourrightscamp I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now. To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.
Still, as managing partner of Initialized Capital, a Silicon Valley early-stage venture capital firm, Ohanian is admittedly in a position of influence to back scalable minority-led tech startups.
“Ultimately amazing founders are going to come from all over this country,” Ohanian said. “And they’re not all going to fit the mold of the folks who have gotten funding who tend to look like me,” said during his interview with his wife.
According to an Initialized Capital statement on Twitter last week, 7% of the companies supported by the firm’s most recent fund are led by black founders and 9% by Latinx founders.
“I think if every company took a look around their board rooms on Monday and really had the honest, hard conversations, and said, ‘Are we doing the best by our customers, by our team and by our shareholders with this board makeup?’ I think we’d see more change.”
Ohanian said that while he was not satisfied with these numbers, transparency is critical. “Even though they were good relative to our peers they’re still not nearly good enough,” he said. “I was proud of the fact that I think we’re still one of the few firms that does publicly publish it.”
He added that publishing the demographics of Initialized’s portfolio helps keep him accountable. This, he believes, is something the tech and VC industry can learn from.
“I think tech is starting to realize the responsibility it has in our country and our society,” Ohanian said. “We should be thinking about holding our megacorporations accountable.”
He added that more change could come if consumers realize how much influence they have and take action. “All parts of [sic] business has to respond to the market and if the market is saying you need to change, they actually will.”
“I know that behind the scenes and the headlines he has in the past and is currently working with Black founders to share his privilege and them into spaces not built with them in mind,” said Arlan Hamilton, the founder of VC firm Backstage Capital.
“Alexis’ actions should be replicated far and wide by white men and women in positions of power and privilege who want to speak more than from their Twitter and Instagram accounts, and more from their bank accounts and board rooms.”
“Executives and investors like Alexis are committing to long-overdue change,” added Andrea Hoffman, founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs, an NYC-based diversity and innovation consultancy. “I urge other decision-makers to also add Black leaders to their boards, to their c-suites and in their venture and private equity investing. The talent is out there in large numbers in fact.”
But Ohanian does not want his support for the black community to end with a seat on Reddit’s board.
He has vowed to use future profits from his Reddit stock to invest in the black community. Ohanian also pledged $1 million to Know Your Rights Camp, a non-profit started by Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback released after leading peaceful protests.
In response to Ohanian’s resignation, Reddit’s co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman wrote in a thread on the site confirming the company would honor Ohanian’s request. Huffman also said the company’s content policy would be updated with a stronger stance against race so that Reddit was not “used as a weapon.”
“We have a choice: return to the status quo or use this opportunity for change,” Huffman wrote. “We at Reddit are opting for the latter.”
Follow Avalon Pernell on Twitter @simplyavalon