A Portrait Project by John Davidson
Courtney Alexis Santana
Job Title: CEO, The Survive2Thrive Foundation; Principal, S2T Capital Ventures LLC.
Years working in the Tech Industry: 3
On the Survive2Thrive Foundation mission:
The mission of The Survive2Thrive Foundation (S2T) is to provide life-changing resources and support to victims of domestic violence and abuse and to assist them in creating their own sustainable path to recovery, self-sufficiency and success.
On Survive2Thrive in the #metoo moment:
Sexual assault and misuse of power and control is so pervasive in so many male-driven structured environments, that #metoo was bound to happen. Like a pressure cooker, we needed this disruption to finally bring light to this divisive problem. Now organizations like Survive2Thrive can advocate for those who have suffered in silence and we look to provide advocacy tools for corporations to help institute HR policies that protect their employees from this type of control misuse. We hope to create an environment that does two things: deter those who perpetrate sexual assault in the workplace, and create a safe environment for those who have been violated/assaulted/abused to come forward without fear of retaliation or revenge. But until we change the world…S2T always advocates that victims document their abuse, create an exit plan (if one becomes necessary), and speak up for themselves. Silence is the ‘killer’ in these scenarios because the longer a victim waits to come forward, the less likely they are to be believed.
On fighting racial stereotypes in professional settings, and the importance of setting a positive example:
Because of my race, gender, and my cause, I am constantly faced with what I call the “Are you an angry black woman?” preconception. There is a prevalent misconception about black women in business that we are stubborn, hard to work with, over bearing, and that we wear a chip on our shoulders because of our race. This misconception at times sets the tone for an awkward meeting or negotiation. I am so thankful that there are strong women leaders that chip away at that debilitating misconception for me. I do what I can to help set the proper tone and chip away at it myself for the young black business women behind me.
On the challenges of being a black woman in tech:
Being a minority in any environment can be difficult, but I find that it is particularly challenging in tech because unlike other industries, there are very few faces that look like mine in the boardrooms and in C-level positions, making decisions that could affect change for other minority women. Societally we are getting there, but I have always had the philosophy that the leadership of technology companies and corporations should be as diverse and inclusive of as many subsections of our world as possible in order to create a welcome environment for minorities.
On the importance of inclusive procedures and policies for businesses:
I believe every organization should have an executive position with the sole focus on diversity and inclusion, and should accept responsibility to lead by example. There should be hiring policies that require companies to hire the best person for the job regardless of race or gender. I feel the development of a culture of inclusion is paramount to the success of any company looking to succeed and excel on a global scale.
On the changing landscape for women in the workplace:
Because we [women] are so focused on the issue, I do believe it has changed drastically. I founded our tech company just before the last election and I saw a lot of change occurring all at once. The nomination of Hillary Clinton truly changed the sentiment about women in leadership and more and more, we are seeing research about companies seeking out women for corporate leadership and board positions. We see a mobilization of woman on a massive scale and a resurgence of feminist thought. I think many industries are being primed for this new wave of women-driven energy for change and leadership. But the key to making this wave rise, set, and stay is a concerted effort to keep the momentum going and to not be lulled back into a complacency. The tech industry is no exception, and is part of cultural shift.
On feeling optimistic that such changes are taking place:
We are in a transitional period, and if women stay strong, united, and consistent, we can make some sustainable, long lasting change for generations to come. We need to drive policy, legislation, causes, and VOTE!!! When women unite, we are unstoppable. We drive the dollar. We drive the consumer world. It takes massive amounts of pressure to turn coal into a diamond. The same here is true and the change will be glorious!
On not making it alone:
I have had many amazing mentors who have helped me to navigate the direction and growth of my companies. My personal mentors are Yolanda Conyers, VP of Global HR and Chief Diversity Officer at Lenovo; Ingrid Vanderveldt, Founder and CEO, EBW2020; Andrea Moore, Pastor at Summit Worship Center; my mom — Brenda Hornaday, MA LPC; and Kendall Josephine Ramirez, my daughter.
On contributing to the cause:
I contribute by showing up at every opportunity to change things, by being myself, and sharing my own story. I believe that creating equity and equality in the world for all is my purpose. I survived domestic violence and I have the perspective to really be able to serve others with compassion and true insight. So when I speak, I have credibility in the space and I am speaking for MY community, for women like me with children like mine. I am speaking out. I am working towards a solution. I am open to possibilities. I am open to hard conversations. There are others like me and their stories need to be heard to give energy and strength to the collective voice being created. One voice can ignite the million.
And, on inspiration from a distance:
I am so inspired by Michelle Obama. She is grace. She is intelligence. She is mercy. She is inspiration. She is humility. She is a thinker and a change maker. She is a wonderful wife and mother. I find her to be one of the most prolific women of our time. And the cherry on top, because I would respect and love her in any case: she is a black woman.
*Quotes may have received minor editing for purposes of clarity only.
Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: A Portrait Project (author’s note)
Encouraged by the rising tide of women making their voices heard on the subject of gender bias in the tech and corporate world, I’ve embarked on a portrait project that seeks to feature women with a stake in the issue, and hopefully, provide a platform for them to share their experiences and express their views.
About the project’s title:
The first suggestion of this project came to me via a book on my wife’s bookshelf — Women Who Read Are Dangerous, by Stefan Bollmann. It’s a collection of paintings from throughout the centuries, each focused on a woman reading a book — the very act of which has, at various points in history, been considered ‘subversive.’
Are women who tech dangerous? To those in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere, who seek to perpetrate the hegemony that unquestionably exists in the upper echelons of tech at present, perhaps. One woman I asked referred to the project’s title as being, for her, about ‘the notion that I’m not supposed to be here because I’m a woman — but I am [here]…we are [here], and we’re not leaving.’ Still another women described the idea that women in tech are dangerous as being, ‘in this context, almost patronizing.’ Clearly there are a range of views and experiences to be expressed.
My goal is to put faces to some of these women, to compile a portrait of women at all career levels, to elevate their voices and contribute to the dialogue.
The project is ongoing. Contact me at email@example.com if you’re interested in taking part.