I'm On a Mission to Make Companies more Equitable – Lisa Gelobter, CEO & Co-Founder of tEQuitableFeatured

Hi, I’m Lisa Gelobter, CEO and co-founder of tEQuitable, a tech platform on a mission to make companies more equitable by addressing issues of bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace.Before founding tEQuitable, I worked in the Obama White House as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education. And before that I was the Chief Digital Officer at BET Networks, I helped launch Hulu, and I was a software engineer on Shockwave (the first time the internet moved!) I’m a Black woman from a low-income background with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and I’ve worked in Tech for 30 years. Ask me anything about design thinking, product management, engineering leadership, working at a tiny startup vs. huge organizations, private sector vs public and social sector, working in the media industry, crafting your career path (or not!) or something else!
1. What books do you read? What are some favorites'? 2. What is your morning routine? 3. How have you maintained discipline throughout the years towards your goals?
1. A few good friends of mine just released books. They're fantastic!* Lean Startups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact* Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces* The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation2. I am not a very regimented person. I don’t have a consistent morning routine. If I wanted to be a better person, I’d exercise in the morning and think about what I want to accomplish that day/week/month. But I do none of those things. What do I really do consistently? Hit snooze...3. As may be obvious from my answer above, maintaining discipline is not a thing for me… Frankly nor is setting long term career goals.. But I do work really really hard and try to be true to myself and I think that’s what has enabled me to accomplish a lot.
I'm hoping you can let us in on your strategy for building relationships and growing your network. I need to start building relationships with people who can pay more for our services than the people we've been working with, and networking with higher-worth (financially!) individuals, but these folks are outside of my social circle. How do I break in to these communities as an outsider, how do I stay 'me' in these situations, and how do I build meaningful relationships with people despite our differences in class and background? Anything you can share is very much appreciated!
* Truth is I am a terrible networker. The problem is that I only want to socialize with people I actually like, but this approach has meant that I’ve always been able to be genuine and real, which is important to me. And that means my network is strong and we truly support each other, of which I am very appreciative.* Separately from that, sounds like you’re trying to figure out how to expand your business market. Have you already done the Business Model Canvas? I always go back to “What is the problem you’re trying to solve?” b/c the number one thing is solving a problem for your customer and that’s a great entree.
Thanks Lisa, that's actually a relief to hear. When I first got in to this industry I thought I wouldn't find people I 'actually like' and that the people I would meet wouldn't share my values. I was wrong! There are lots of amazing people here who are super inspiring, and focusing on building relationships with them should be my focus. I have done the BMC, but before my company launched. Now that we've been operating for over a year, I should revisit it since so much has changed and the problem I'm trying to solve for the people I am serving is so much more clear. Great idea. Thank you! Really appreciate you sharing your expertise with us here. Have a great week!
I would love to know how you thickened your skin as you rose up through the tech industry. Resilience is something I'm always working on and would love to hear how you develop yours.I would also like to know if you've worked with executive coaches in the past -- or any other resources you have invested in to improve on your leadership skills? Thanks
* I’m the child of immigrants. I’ve learned so much about resilience from them. Some days you’re outraged and offended, some days you beat yourself up for not being better, and some days you’re just tired… But you keep putting one foot in front of the other.* Regarding resources: The most eye-opening exercise I ever did was one where there were 40 questions about who you were and you had to answer them for yourself, but then a group of your peers also answered them about you. I was sooooo far off on how I defined myself versus how others perceived me. It was certainly an aha moment for me. I realized that leadership and communication is about what others take away, not just your intent. I try to be very self-aware, but also learn from everyone I come into contact with: I like the way this person presents, I like the way this person is direct, but not antagonistic, I like how this person carries themselves as they walk through a crowd, I like this person’s vocabulary. I’m always learning, always adapting and molding.
Any tips or resources you recommend on connecting with female tech talent?
LEAP is a great place! Also, dev/colorThere are a number of Facebook groups of women out here trying to support each other, like:* Black Tech Women* Sista Circle: Black Women In Tech* Women of Color in Tech - NYC* Black Women Coders* Black Female Founders (#BFF)* Women of Color in Tech - Silicon Valley
Really appreciate these, Lisa—truly.
Your work is incredible! I'm working on making a platform to better support survivors of sexual violence, and would love your thoughts on – 1. Technology-wise, what's been most effective in creating a real social impact? 2. How do you suggest finding colleagues and partners in the early stages? 3. What are best practices around ensuring user privacy and security, when dealing with sensitive information like reporting harassment?
Thanks so much. And thanks for the work you're doing too! We're all in this together.* I think the key is in finding partners who are aligned with your mission. Build a community of like-minded folks you can rely on and work with. That’s what will also drive social impact, having a passion and deep-seated belief in the work you’re doing.* Privacy and security are of course paramount when building any tech solution. I’d suggest thinking a lot about what data is really critical that you need to collect. Don’t collect anything you don’t absolutely need.
Thank you Lisa! It's so incredible to get such a personalized response. Truly appreciate your input and insights!!!
As an 18 year old, I am personally fond of knowing more about how you forged your career path - it seems like you've done & worked on many things throughout your life, which is super impressive. Mostly curious about whether you had these ambitions & planned for life to turn out this way since my age, and what made you pursue Computer Science :)
* My career path was definitely not meticulously researched, thought-out or planned. Every time I changed jobs, I would think about where I’d learn the most, what product was most intriguing and had the most potential, but also what was possible for me financially. * The beautiful thing about being an engineer is that you can now work in any industry, you don’t have to just sit in a dark cube and code. I never thought my software skills would lead me to being a television network executive and I certainly never in a million years dreamed I’d be working at the White House.
What have been some seemingly minor decisions that, in hindsight, had major impacts on your career?What are some things you have changed your mind about recently? What advice, if any, would present you give yourself 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
* I took a Design Thinking course almost 10 years ago, kind of on a whim, and it has had a huge impact on my career and every project I’ve worked on since. I even teach it now.* 5 years ago, I would have told myself: Working on something you believe in makes all the difference. * 10 years, I had just been laid off. again… I would have told myself: that it would would all work out in the long run
What made starting your own company an appealing next step? And what has been the greatest challenge with it so far?
* Being an entrepreneur and the CEO of my own startup was never on my goals list. But it’s been fantastic driving something I believe in wholeheartedly. And I’ve learned a ton!* The biggest challenge in starting a VC-backed hi-growth tech company for me has been: there is a “typical” model that everyone advocates for and pressures you around. Figuring out which parts to adhere to, which to take under advisement, and when to go your own way, all while being true to yourself is challenging. For example, most important to me ended up being finding investors whose values aligned with our mission, but that’s not what people often talk about.
I'm HUGE FAN of you and your career and so great to see what you are working on now. We met years ago in NY when you were in your role for the Obama Whitehouse and was so inspired by you.What inspired you to start tEQuitable? And how did your previous role under the Obama Whitehouse lead to you to tEQuitable?
So nice to find you again here, Helen!I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked on some pretty transformative technologies over the course of my career, but it wasn’t until I got to the White House that I fully understood that we really can use Tech to solve seemingly intractable, systemic problems. I realized that if we can send a Tesla Roadster into outer space, maybe we could use some of the best practices and innovative strategies from tech to solve some of the issues right here on our home planet affecting the under-represented, the under-served, and the under-estimated.
How do you convince companies to sign up with you knowing that they are likely concerned with exposing themselves to possible litigation or something? I think you are doing something amazing. Also, what keeps you motivated on a day by day basis?
Thanks. Appreciate the support! Using tEQuitable doesn’t expose companies to litigation and we have found that companies are eager to implement tools that foster healthy communication and inclusive workplaces.* Motivation is that we envision a world where everyone can bring their whole and best selves to work and while there is still bias and discrimination in the workplace, we’ll have work to do.
Hi Lisa – Thanks so much for joining us for an AMA!Hello Leap! This conversation is part of our ongoing series featuring experts from our community.Lisa will pop online later this week to answer your questions. She may not have time to answer every question, so we'll be sorting questions by popularity (based on most emojis!). Upvote the questions you most want Lisa to answer.
Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks so much for joining us, Lisa. This AMA is now over.