Diversity Is Like Interest. When Done Correctly, It Compounds.

Kathryn Brown
May 12, 2017 · 7 min read

Last night at the Oregon Technology Awards, my company ScoutSavvy won the Company of the Year: Pre-Revenue award. (We are going to be post-revenue soon, <cough, cough, cough> !) No one was shocked more than me.

Before the program began, I booked it for the bathroom while everyone was called to take their seats in the convention center ballroom. I didn’t have to “go”. I just wanted to stand in the stall, facing the closed door, and have a few moments by myself. Don’t ask, it’s an introvert thing. So I quieted my mind and allowed the first natural thought to arise. Perhaps I could come up with something profound to say, just in case I had to talk to people. But, nope. That first thought was, “how the hell did I get here?”

I returned to the table and started eating like being in a room with 600 of the state’s top tech executives was no big deal, but with each bite I noticed my fork quivering.

My female friends who work in tech and I talk to each other a lot about imposter syndrome. We brunch together on Sundays and talk about negotiating higher salaries, whether or not to tell new colleagues about prestigious degrees that some of us have (I’m looking at you, friends with Ph.Ds), and how to score new clients. While we have come up with strategies to help each other in our careers, the feeling that we are “fooling everyone” in tech is real.

Last night, I kicked imposter syndrome to the curb for good.

Suddenly, the name of my company was called and I jumped out of my seat. I gave Farrah Campbell from Reflect a high five and as I walked to the stage that phrase kept repeating in my head:

How the hell did I get here?

How the hell did I get here?

How the hell did I get here?

I looked down at the two little girls who were handing out the awards (they are members of a local robotics team) and then I looked over at Monica Enand, the CEO and founder of Zapproved. I realized that as a woman in tech, I’m midway on this journey from being a smart and shy girl who dreamed of doing something big to becoming a savvy SaaS enterprise tech business woman. In a moment, it was like seeing who I used to be and who I dream of becoming. Then words just started pouring out of me. I hadn’t written anything down. But, the answer to my own question just came out. How the hell did I get here? I got here because of a concept I call “compound diversity”.

Diversity is like interest. When done correctly, it compounds.

The only reason I am standing here in front of you tonight as a technical female founder is because of the mentors, teachers, and people in positions of privilege and power that gave me opportunities to succeed, and then held me to a really high standard.

And now, my team and I have built something that has the power to change millions of lives for the better.

I was still recovering from our launch party that we held at CENTRL Office the night before. I couldn’t believe that over 180 people from diverse communities of the Portland business world were there drinking and laughing together with me at our party: code school students, C-level executives, personal friends, and startup nerds that I’ve meet along my journey all converged in revelry around one idea: that diversity in the workforce must be supported. I realized that most of these people would never cross paths outside of that magical 2 hours, but there we all were, trading stories and learning about each other.

So I want you to all go out there, and find someone who doesn’t look like you, and who doesn’t come from where you come from, and give them an opportunity, and then hold them to a really high standard. The future of the Oregon economy depends on diversity.

Without consciously planning it, my manifesto just . . . appeared.

The concept of compound diversity goes beyond simply getting more people from diverse backgrounds into high paying tech jobs and then encouraging them to thrive in these roles. We must also give people from marginalized backgrounds and underrepresented communities the skills and resources that they need to become great leaders. These leaders will then use their positions of power to give even more people from marginalized backgrounds and underrepresented communities the skills and resources that they need to become great leaders. And those leaders will . . . well, you get the idea.

I know this because I am one of these leaders.

Simon Sinek, the author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, writes:

The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.

That’s compound diversity.

When I first quit my job in 2015 to start working on an idea for a diversity recruiting app, I had no idea what I was doing. Although I’ve worked as an early employee for startups in Boulder, New York, and Portland, there is something very special (and stressful) about being person #1. There are benefits like: sitting at your dining room table day in and day out with a laptop thinking, “if I just stopped working right now and cracked open a beer, there’s no one to stop me”. But, you can also be sitting at that same dining room table typing away, and then it will hit you, “if I stopped working right now and checked my bank account, someone should stop me, because I’m going to cry if I do”.

Very early on in my journey I realized that the myth of the lone founder conjuring magical products in the shower is just that: a myth. It takes a village to nurture this fragile thing that we call the “early stage startup”. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and I will do anything to make that happen (including hauling around the kegs for our launch party, and then getting a parking ticket while trying to unload them, before finally flagging down Dillon from CENTRL Office for his hand truck and his extra pair of hands).

I have to ask for help, whether I liked it or not. Trust me the more you start asking for help, the easier it becomes.

I called in a lot of favors to make this launch week successful, and I want to thank all of the people who are now part of the ScoutSavvy village:

Thank you to Tracy Hooper, President and Founder of The Confidence Project for her help with my public speaking and presentation skills. We’ve been working together weekly for a few months, and her lessons have taught me invaluable skills about how to get my important message to resonate with an audience, no matter whom I am speaking to.

Tracy has taken the Confidence Project to Rwanda to work with the next generation of African change makers. She has worked with companies such as Intel, Solvay, Alpha Media, and Oppenheimer Funds.

Thank you to our launch party sponsors:


Thank you to our launch party volunteers! Here are a few of the volunteers from PDXWIT:

We raised money for PDXWIT programming and thanks to the companies that donated raffle items:

Thank you to my wonderful, smart development team at Knuckleheads.

And finally thank you to the Technology Association of Oregon and the Portland tech community for ongoing support and encouragement.

With lots of love, KMB.

Kathryn Brown

Written by

Founder + CEO @scoutsavvy. On a mission to give everyone a fair shot at meaningful employment.

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