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Diversity & Inclusion (D&I): A Data-Driven Holistic Path Forward

Athena.Trade Presents Tom Alexander Holistically Speaking, Beyond 1871

DISCLAIMER: Athena.Trade Presents Weekly Series offers educational presentations to discuss relevant companies, industry experts, and other tangential professionals within the Fintech vertical, including but not limited to Blockchain, digital assets, and other emerging technologies. This does not represent any financial, investment, or legal advice. If you have questions, we recommend that you contact a professional in your jurisdiction and or area of regulation. We are a coworking community our member logos are visible on the graphic below. All information provided herein is footnoted properly below. If you have any questions on the validity of any source, please message Jenny Balliet, Director of Presentations at Athena.Trade.

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I): A Data-Driven Holistic Path Forward

On March 27, 2019, during our regular Wednesday series, Athena.Trade Presents, we heard Tom Alexander, former COO of 1871, speak candidly on the experience and how it has shaped his future endeavors. Tom’s new company Holistic, evolved from the initiatives he began to this regard. In light of recent diversity and inclusion topics populating the news, this was an informative and engaging presentation [3]

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Why Holistic?

Since Athena.Trade is the first coworking community dedicated to bridging Fintech, crypto, and Blockchain in the Midwest, we see community engagement and collaboration as woven into every fiber of the entire Athena enterprise. What catalyzes the collaboration we facilitate by and between our members? TRUST.

Trust, as Elusive as a Yeti

Trust is not something that comes prepackaged. You cannot simply whip it up like a favorite seasonal cocktail. Trust is captured only through the foundational journey towards mutual integrity, respect, acceptance, and appreciation. There are multiple paradigms or frameworks one can use to nurture this imperative trust. Since our community is full of crypto traders and data scientists, in addition to those within capital markets, we felt that Tom Alexander would be the perfect presenter as he understands both the startup mind and the importance of data. He most certainly did not disappoint! [1]

Alexander: A Man on a Mission

As the former COO from Chicago’s incubator of trailblazing & fire starting companies appropriately named after the infamous Chicago fire, 1871. He forged the way for many of these initiatives. [2]

“The reason for this is twofold: first, overall as a society and a business community, we are doing pretty terribly on the whole diversity and inclusion front, so it stands to reason that your company is part of this.

Second, more importantly, diversity and inclusion are sort of infinite concepts, in the sense that you could always do more. You never achieve a state where you have fully accomplished these goals — “We’re done with diversity, we’ll do inclusion next month and then we’ll be done and take the summer off.” [3]

But the news to date has been grim. What directions are companies left with, aside of course, from a ‘Scarlet Letter A’ brandishing their integrity? Alexander cites that beginning in 2013, and continuing through 2018, progress has been made.

“… Companies have really started to become aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion and tried to make it a part of their business model.” [1]

#Thankgoodness society is making progress. But given the depth, it is only then logical to acknowledge change is slow, there is no magic D&I wand, per se. Further, to expect this seismic shift immediately would minimize D&I’s deep and systemic roots.

Now, if we agree that change is happening at a speed between that of the movement of tectonic plates and the average of a sloth race, what does this slow progress look like, feel like, and what is the general disposition thereof? To answer this, we must first, agree on the foundational question; we must greet the elephant in the room properly. In other words, ask the tough question, Are D&I fixable problems?

Solvable, or is the Quest for D&I as Irrational as Pi?

According to Alexander, the answer is a resounding, absolutely yes, D&I are fixable. With the caveat, if we act now. While these inequalities stem from biases, many of these biases are not intentional, but rather a product of our socialization, the latter of which is directly rooted in society’s overall view on the topic. The #metoo aftermath is rewriting this playbook on what is and is NOT tolerated, which has ignited a progressive mindset spreading beyond corporate America to the risk management frontlines of general counsel everywhere, as exemplified in Big Law, see The American Lawyer, [4]

“Credit the #MeToo movement. Several years ago, law firms might have handled such cases far more quietly — perhaps with a confidential settlement. At K&L Gates, for example, an ALM investigation found a pattern of such settlements between the firm and women who alleged sexual misconduct and discriminatory behavior between 2002 and 2012. New York employment lawyer Douglas Wigdor said in the past cases brought by his clients against law firms had resulted in confidential settlements, while those tagged with improper conduct remained partners in their firms. But things have changed, he said.[4]

‘Now, with these cases and others, the alleged wrongdoers are terminated and pushed out,’ he said. ‘Law firms are now understanding that it’s a serious liability to have someone going to work as a partner or employee who’s engaged in this kind of conduct.”’ [4]

Alexander’s mission continues full force amid the changing tides and tolerances as he realizes leaders do not want to be left behind, but rather they want to be, and remain, ‘woke’ per se. This understanding is absolutely imperative in creating a culture that matches the third level of ‘wokeness.’[2] [3] We are moving beyond #metoo and even transcending the #timesup; society is now moving towards #notokay, in a very big way.


This is no small undertaking. Where to begin can be as daunting as the confounding variables, which caused and propagated same. Alexander answers this head on through addressing 3 phases for clarity and simplicity.

“Companies and businesses are complex, and leaders are often in positions of leadership because they embrace the complexity. They’re not afraid of it. They’re willing to dive in and roll up their sleeves. They’re willing to take the time that it takes to understand things and they’re willing to invest the resources to make sure that they have the right message. Employees don’t have any of those luxuries, obligations, opportunities, or responsibilities. They’ll understand what they can understand, and that’s pretty much it.” [5]

Using this knowledge of communication, the path begins with the very first step, become aware of the perceptions of the employees by questioning where they are on the spectrum. He describes companies in this initial phase, as Bucket A,

“Bucket A is just being aware of there being issues or problems or challenges…This is the basic bucket — about calling attention to these matters, about making them a public and thoughtful part of the business, about raising awareness and committing yourself to change.” [2]

Once aware of the issues, a company may act to remedy after the fact. This is the Acknowledgment phase,

“Bucket B is when you’ve identified specific things that have happened, or you have attempted to understand the landscape…Analyzing the statistics governing diversity and inclusion at your company and making goals for the future is a great example of Bucket B.” [2]

But the Holy Grail of Corporate D&I, is Impact. To drive this point home, Alexander offers these wise words,

“This is the bucket of companies that are aware of the problem, have identified things that have happened in the past, AND are committed to creating an environment where things are happening in real time to prevent these types of situations from happening again. They are changing their behavior and their actions and giving themselves the mechanisms to chart a different course. Even more importantly, awareness is raised to the point that people start to self-regulate, and avoid these situations entirely. That when these things start to happen, everyone, including the perpetrator, reminds themselves and anyone around them that this is #notokay.” [2]

Best described as immediate intervention 2.0, or remedy & redress in real-time, as evidenced in the following explanation and through the example of cyberbullying.

“What we are really talking about here is intervention, at the right moment, in the right fashion. There is something really powerful about the concept of intervening. It’s a whole other level of awareness. For example, consider the idea behind the Rethink keyboard, a novel invention from a young entrepreneur named Trisha Prabhu. Trisha invented a keyboard to combat cyberbullying.

When you write something in your phone that can be perceived as a bullying statement, the app simply asks you if you are sure you want to go through with what you are writing. 93 percent of the time, according to Trisha, the user “rethinks” and decides not to send what they are going to send. 93 percent! She basically eliminate cyberbullying with one swift action.” [3]

It is to this end that Holistic Index seeks to exact change.

Not in My Backyard, Nor on My Resume, and Certainly Not on my Watch

Now is the time to remedy the past and move to the future of a fully D&I workplace culture. No one wants to be that case splashed all over the news. No one wants to insure that same company, nor even be affiliated with such. Further, it is counterproductive as evidenced by the authentic data that Holistic offers, to scrimp and save through these antiquated measures of bias.

It is not if one gets caught holding the bag of inappropriateness, but rather WHEN one gets caught. Gone are the days when a token minority leader will serve to signify change.

Today’s leaders desire to be fully inclusive. From accommodations to proactive pipelines, there are many things companies can do today to initiate a culture of acceptance including both D&I. Without such an effort, the coordinating risk is enormous and if left unaddressed could spell disaster. To evidence this, all one needs to do is look at a smattering of the news, it is not IF a company will face widespread backlash for inappropriate D&I, but again, when and more importantly, at what cost?

Want to find out more?

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Athena.Trade is the Midwest’s first and premier coworking community dedicated to the intersection of crypto, Blockchain, & fintech. We facilitate connections by and between our members and actively collaborate with all other coworking communities. A desk at Athena.Trade is your bridge to become a part of a financial revolution.

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