Five years of Project Include

Ellen K. Pao
Project Include
Published in
6 min readMay 4, 2021

Pushing the Overton window and more

Image of the eight cofounders of Project Include (listed below) sitting casually in a group, smiling and looking at each other or at another camera
Photo by Tiffany Price

Cofounders Susan Wu, Laura Gόmez, Ellen Pao, Erica Baker, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Freada Kapor Klein, Tracy Chou, and bethanye McKinney Blount in 2016

On May 4, 2016, we launched Project Include as a response to performative “solutions” to sexism and racism in the tech sector. We crafted a set of 87 recommendations for CEOs based on three values from the start: inclusion of everyone using an intersectional lens, a comprehensive approach covering every part of the life cycle of an employee, and metrics for accountability. Grounded in those values, we shared a framework for each set of recommendations, experience-based learnings from our century-plus combined years in tech, and additional resources like case studies and outside research.

Project Include has become a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit; we use data and experience to help drive new recommendations, benchmarks, and research. We’ve partnered with other nonprofits that share our goals and values, and we’ve helped launch others. We held little hope for venture capitalists in the early days, but have recently been encouraged enough to target recommendations for them.

Today, cofounders have moved to advisor roles, founding startups (bethanye at Compaas, and Tracy at Block Party), growing their teams (Y-Vonne at ReadySet and Freada at Kapor Capital, SMASH, and Kapor Center), investing and advising startups (Susan), serving the public at the DCCC (Erica) and Proyecto Solace (Laura), and even running Project Include full-time (Ellen). We all continue to advocate and push for change in our daily jobs, our talks and our writing, and after five years, we still have a monthly call to check in, brainstorm, get feedback, and help each other, and a Slack group where we share news, jokes, and images of happy animals.

Thanks to Laura for suggesting we each share our perspective on Project Include’s first five years:

Laura Gómez

Project Include changed my life. Without these women, their support, and their advocacy, I wouldn’t be the woman I am now. They have taught me so much (when they didn’t have to or need to), and they have lifted me when I had fallen. Most importantly, they have shown me what strength, rage, and service can do — cast ripples of changes across a whole industry.

It’s been half a decade since we came together — and I believe we are seeing the industry-wide fruits of the collective seeds we individually and collectively have planted with each other and others. Do I think the ecosystem has radically changed? No. There is still a lot of room to grow. From funding women of color — especially Indigenous, Latina, and Black women — to creating truly inclusive environments — the work is not done. Inclusive workplaces that accept discussions of racial injustices and politicized identities cannot, and should not, be separated from work.

I know we will continue to advocate for a genuinely diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem where everybody belongs, where everybody is part of wealth creation. Where tech is ethical, responsible, and in fact, does change the lives of many. Not just a few.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson

I think that Project Include gave people the info they needed all in one place, and for tech companies I think it was the first time that we spoke to their context. It took some of the excuses off the table and armed employees passionate about DEI with the info they needed. I still recommend it to people today.

I’m amazed at how far the conversation has progressed since we launched. A few years ago, we had to push people to talk about intersectionality. Now people have moved way past that to discuss institutional racism, white supremacy, transphobia, and fragility in tech.

We’re also seeing workers organize in a way that they hadn’t before and I think part of it is that they have access to more information, they’re not buying the same tired excuses, and they feel like they deserve better. I think we’re a part of that.

Tracy Chou

When we first came together to discuss what became Project Include, we were each already fighting our own battles for diversity and inclusion in tech; and to me one of the most powerful insights was how much more effective we could be if we coordinated our efforts. I feel beyond spoiled at a personal level to have the fellowship of these women as friends and colleagues, but I’ve also been thrilled to see that us working together has had a material impact on the industry.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised many times over to hear folks reference Project Include’s materials as guidance for DEI at tech startups, and it feels like we really are tugging the Overton window open, slowly but surely.

Susan Wu

Project Include has played a profound role in transforming how I think about my 25 years of work in shaping the tech industry. Joining forces with this strong, insightful team of committed leaders made me realize how much more the tech industry is capable of when we build for equity at the outset. For too many years, I suffered in silence through pervasive erasure, gaslighting, and harassment. What I hadn’t fully understood was that all of this suffering was systemic, not idiosyncratic, and that it was wholly unnecessary. Masking and contorting yourself to earn a seat at the table is not an acceptable rite of passage.

Since the launch of Project Include, we’ve seen the rise of many other incredible movements and organisations all working to ensure that the career genocide that’s befallen each previous generation of underrepresented groups is much less likely to happen in the future. Our work will not be done until every type of human feels they have the right to belong in, thrive in, and own part of the tech industry.

As for me, I have finally found my voice, and I will never again let anything or anyone diminish it.

Freada Kapor Klein

In May 2016 the tech/VC ecosystem wasn’t talking about systemic racism, intersectionality or algorithmic bias. Even uttered less frequently were suggestions that the responsibilities of leaders included stepping up and speaking out. Project Include put out rigorous recommendations paving the way and ignited conversations. Personally, while this was a continuation of my lifelong work, it was a rare opportunity to have a wonderful, challenging, fun-loving cadre of women to engage with. As we told others that they were not alone, we rallied together to launch Project Include.

Erica Joy Baker

Since we launched Project Include, there hasn’t been a talk where I haven’t been asked about a resource for startups wanting to improve DEI or been thanked for helping to create Project Include. I feel like the impact of Project Include will be felt for years to come.

bethanye McKinney Blount

When we first came together to create Project Include, I didn’t foresee how the work would become foundational for DEI conversations throughout tech. The founding advisors were laser focused on supporting real change and opportunity for early-stage companies, and our handbook was the first step. We took only a few short months to outline and create content, while simultaneously building out the site. I knew that Ellen had put together a talented team, but seeing it all come together was still something to behold. Fast-forward five years, and PI’s work has been used to create new programs, advise companies, and support real change for employees throughout tech. We didn’t just build something quickly — we built something meaningful that has grown and moved as the Overton window has shifted.

I feel so fortunate to be a part of Project Include. It has given me the chance to help create something truly impactful — and to work with an extraordinary team.

Ellen Pao

I appreciate all that so many people have done to get us here and to build a platform that pushes the Overton window wide open, giving people a view into how things can and should be. We still need Project Include to encourage these hard conversations and point out gaps between where we are today and where we need to go. I’m always pleasantly surprised to meet people who tell me they are using our recommendations, that they’ve read our entire website, or more recently, that they’ve read all 63 pages of our report on remote work since Covid-19. People are absorbing our content, even if they’re not ready to talk about it yet.

My goal as CEO of Project Include is to make Project Include obsolete over the next five or ten years, to get to a place where people don’t need our recommendations or data, because they have learned to identify and solve systemic problems effectively with empathy and equity.

Thank you to everyone who has implemented our recommendations, amplified our messages, funded our efforts, and kept us going for five years and counting.



Ellen K. Pao
Project Include

Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include. Author of Reset. Angel investor.