Why I’m taking the lead on Tala’s global diversity & equity initiatives

Tala is excited to announce the recent internal appointment of a #TeamTala veteran who has been committed to our mission since day one.

Get to know Bonnie Oliva-Porter, our first Global Director of Diversity, Equity & Workplace Culture! Below, she shares her story, reflects on our industry and mission, and outlines a vision for diversity & equity at Tala.

A little over 7 years ago, a small group of impact-driven optimists working across two coasts began an adventure to explore a question: How might we make the financial services industry more inclusive and create visibility for billions of underserved people around the world? We called this founding team InVenture. Tinkering with simple feature phones and datasets around a kitchen table, we were nowhere near the international team and multimillion-dollar mobile credit platform we’ve built today. Despite our tremendous growth, one thing has remained consistent: the belief and practice that everyone sitting around the table is equally welcome to be their full authentic self, and contribute ideas that will be considered with equal value.

Tala recently released our inaugural open letter on the state of diversity and equity on our team, which nearly tripled in size over the past year. As a company focused on serving 3 billion financially underserved people around the world, it was important for us to reflect on how we’re creating access and opportunity within our own team. The letter reflected an effort to document our culture, revisit our founding principles, and capture the demographic figures of our fast-growing, global team. Our findings demonstrated that we have both a lot to celebrate and a lot of work to do; we believe that our diversity is key to innovation, and sharing the letter was just the beginning.

We considered the opportunity ahead of us — to build a team and advance a company positioned to solve a global challenge — and decided to restructure our People and Operations teams in parallel. After spending several years building and supporting our back-office infrastructure as we scaled, I was ready to pivot into a role that could address some of the company’s current pressing needs.

An excerpt from my job description reads, 
“The Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Workplace Culture acts as a strategic consultant to Tala’s business leaders and People team focused on attracting, retaining and developing talent that reflects our company’s D&E values and promoting an inclusive environment where employees at all levels can perform their best. This role develops, implements and monitors programs that promote diversity and equity at Tala. This role is responsible for developing training and initiatives to create and foster an open and equitable environment.”

I’d like to share why I’m elated to lead this work, and what I’ll do in the role.

I raised my hand to work at this because I care deeply about dismantling the unjust systems that are responsible for modern-day inequality, including the skill and opportunity gaps that have led to the formation of ivory towers in industries like tech. This industry, with its focus on innovation and disruption, is uniquely positioned to combat the legacies of racism, sexism, homophobia and other systemic issues that have led to widespread oppression and discrimination. In any fast-growing business, it can be easy to make tradeoffs between values and growth, and lose sight of the problem you set out to solve. However, with a clear mission and founding principles, Tala is committed to being a different kind of tech company, and my vision is for our company is to play a leading role in changing the industry standard and rebuilding new systems based on a level playing field.

I’ve been a member of #TeamTala for well over seven years, making me a veteran in startup terms. I’ve worked to help us grow from an idea to a company, from first customer to millionth customer (and counting!), and from small co-working spaces to a sunny, stylish office with two floors and a wellness room. I’ve seen us make mistakes, and then make tough decisions to course correct. I’ve led global operations and launched offices, establishing everything from corporate insurance to compensation policies, and all the other fun stuff that keeps our lights on. It’s through this work that I’ve gotten to know the intricacies of what helps team members in each of our markets feel motivated, effective, and seen. I’m excited to put structures in place that will formalize the practices and traditions we’ve created to empower global team members and create new traditions.

The work of diversity initiatives is not to keep everyone on their toes about being politically correct, or check for and judge levels of ‘wokeness’…but to further equip all Tala team members with tools and spaces that allow them to feel safe, brave and creative, so they can be fully empowered to help create access, choice and control for billions of people worldwide.

I had an incredible childhood growing up in the Bronx as the child of Honduran immigrants, surrounded by the rich Afro-Latinx culture that shaped my love of food, music and history. Like most immigrants, my parents instilled in me the importance of a strong education, and I attended world-class schools (De La Salle Academy, Phillips Academy Andover, Wesleyan University) that provided me with nurturing but complex environments. This allowed me to further deepen my connection to my identity, take part in building supportive communities, and be an advocate for those facing challenges within those environments.

As Tala’s first Global Director of Diversity, Equity & Workplace Culture, I’m thrilled to step into a role that proactively makes space for all of the identities at Tala to continue to thrive, and create space for new ones. We realize, of course, that this work goes much further than creating programs.

The work of diversity initiatives is not to keep everyone on their toes about being politically correct, or checking for and judging ‘wokeness.’ My team and I work to further equip all Tala team members with tools and spaces that allow them to feel safe, brave, and creative, so they can be fully empowered to help create financial access, choice, and control for billions of people worldwide.

My role will focus on helping our team answer some of the questions we outlined in our open letter, as we seek out best practices for scaling our values across new markets and growing offices. I’ll navigate how we make spaces for current and future team members to live those values, and raise awareness about issues that matter to them.

Here are a few key focuses of this role:

  • Designing and launching diversity & equity programs across all offices in support of underrepresented groups and all team members at Tala
  • Leading company efforts to develop a deeper understanding of how we might influence market forces with potential to broaden our talent pipeline and challenge our definitions of diversity
  • Building partnerships for our talent sourcing and recruiting initiatives by supporting and sponsoring organizations that are training and developing the next generation of diverse tech talent
Blast from the past! Shivani, Tala Founder & CEO, and Bonnie in Nairobi in 2012, visiting the offices of Kickstart International .

When someone chooses to work at Tala, it’s because they care about seeing social change in the world. We want our culture, and the structures that support it, to help each team member harness that value into action. Serving our global customer base starts with serving each other, and co-building an environment that reflects a simple truth: whether we’re making decisions around a kitchen table, or charting strategy in the boardroom during a global conference call, there’s a seat for every Talaite, their identity, and their story.

My question and challenge for you is to consider: how does your team scale for people-first values? Let’s discuss! Share your ideas with us at people@tala.co.