Kimberly Bryant’s suspension creates ongoing tension at Black Girls Code – TechCrunch

In the morning from December 21, Kimberly Bryant, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Black Girls Code, learned that she could no longer access her business email. The board of directors of the nonprofit she founded a decade ago sent her a message on her personal email informing her that she has been “suspended indefinitely.”

“Press Release: So it’s 3 days before Christmas and you wake up to discover that the organization YOU built and built from the ground up has been ransacked by a rogue board with no notice,” Bryant said said in a tweet. Two days later, Bryant responded in a formal statement to TechCrunch about her temporary removal.

“First and foremost, I know that as the founder and CEO of Black Girls Code, I haven’t personally done anything unethical, immoral or illegal,” the statement said. “As a founder who was built up from the ground up with her own blood, sweat and tears, for me this fight is about justice and the rights of founders, especially women in leadership positions. We have to be treated fairly and justly. ” Bryant went on to say, “None of the so-called allegations were founded, not even an investigation was opened, and this entire process was dishonest and unlawful.”

In a later statement to TechCrunch, the Black Girls Code board of directors said it had formed a special committee to review and evaluate complaints from current and former employees about Bryant’s behavior. The board formed a special committee to review the complaints and last week put Bryant on paid administrative leave “to ensure a full and fair review process”.

In her statement, Bryant identified the interim chairman of the board Heath Hiles, Founder of edtech company Pathbrite, as the person who ultimately decided to suspend her “without a fair investigation or substantiated allegation”. When TechCrunch asked for more details, Hiles responded in a text message that “The board has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the organization and well-being of its employees. I can confirm that the recent activities are the result of exercising this responsibility. “

Through a spokesman, the board declined to comment on whether an investigation is pending, the process of Bryant’s suspension, and whether the founder was notified prior to his leave of absence. The board also declined to comment on the schedule for the ongoing review.

The founder claims there was no active investigation even after agreeing to a payment in October 2021 requested by an ad hoc committee of the board of directors to hire a lawyer to conduct one. The board said in a statement that it had formed a special committee “to examine and assess the complaints and determine what action, if any, should be taken to address these concerns.” The committee consists entirely of members of the BCG Board of Directors.

Bryant founded Black Girls Code in February 2011 to fill the technology gap for black women and girls. Since then, the nonprofit has founded 15 cities in the U.S. and abroad that host technology workshops, hackathons, and other enrichment opportunities for over 30,000 black girls, it said.

Senior sources currently with the company say Sofia Mohammed, Black Girl Code’s vice president of programming, is serving as interim CEO. TechCrunch reached out to Mohammed, who has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“A mixture of emotions”

Five former Black Girls Code employees spoke anonymously to TechCrunch about the state of affairs at BGC in fear of retaliation. They confirmed the board’s decision to look at corporate culture after a summer of rapid changes, with many citing Bryant as the main reason for the split.

Bryant attributed sales to distributed labor. “Well, like many organizations navigating the pandemic, we had a lot of revenue last year, mostly from people we virtually hired in 2020. We were not spared the ‘big resignation’ ”, she said in a text message in response to allegations.

Two former employees who spent both months in senior positions at the company say the churn was largely attributed to Bryant’s leadership style, which they believed was “rooted in fear.” When Bryant was there, they said she publicly berated managers in meetings, repeatedly labeled people incompetent, and told a manager to “go back to school” when they were unable to complete a certain task.

Bryant denied saying so, citing her decision to hire consultants to create a compensation policy that weighs employees’ years of experience against the number of deals. “As a technology freak in an industry where not everyone needs a degree, I don’t attach great importance to it.”

One employee said that Bryant kept failing to say, “You meet my expectations of who you should be,” even though she refused to give them independent access to widely used productivity tools. New employees weren’t given access to Salesforce, which they said prevented them from accessing critical information about the community they were responsible for, including their names, ages, and the history of the program. One employee described the lack of an onboarding process and Bryant’s absence from day-to-day operations to follow media appearances.

“People stayed because they figured out the workarounds,” said one of the former employees. “Someone said it was to your advantage to stay off their radar, and if you could figure out how to do your job without access to certain systems, everything would be fine.” I have completed a strategic plan with the Bridgespan Group that “addresses operational issues” that would include strategies on which databases employees have access to. The founder denies having control over who can access what.

A recently terminated employee conveyed a mixture of emotions.

“We know how it is perceived to take out a black man,” they said. “And that’s not even what we want to achieve. We want the organization to be under leadership that can keep our work growing. “

Despite believing in the mission, they said they eventually left the company, thanks in part to consulting their therapist. “Working for an organization that tries to change treatment, appreciation and appreciation – and when that doesn’t happen again – is really a special kind of betrayal,” they added.

In a now-deleted tweet, Bryant said, “I’m driven, [have] high expectations and [am] a bit of a perfectionist. But I have never in my life misused, abused or abused something or someone for the org that I built out of love. So never believe that. It is not true.”

Separation of powers

Although Bryant has denied allegations by former employees, current busy sources familiar with the matter say layoffs, along with a string of negative Glassdoor reviews, led the founder to hire Edgility Consulting, an outside firm, to conduct a salary study and Address employee concerns. According to a document received from TechCrunch, the consultation launched in June and concluded in December. The findings were not made available.

Karla Monterroso, an executive coach, told TechCrunch in an interview that Bryant hired her in September 2021 after complaints surfaced against Bryant and the nonprofit’s culture.

While Monterroso declined to give details of her conversations with Bryant, she said they met for 90 minutes every other week about the company culture and the operational complexities that lie ahead. Monterroso was not contacted prior to the change in leadership. The board of directors, which carries out an ongoing review, still has to confirm whether it has commissioned an external company, checked the salary structures or consulted a board advisor.

“I think there are a lot of imperfect leaders out there trying to do their best, and I believe the story is about the systemic complexity that comes up with colored leaders,” said Monterroso. “And it’s not about a single organization or individual, but about the poor conditions under which our leaders and our teams can thrive with intact dignity.”

At the time of writing, Bryant is still employed by the nonprofit but still does not have access to their corporate email and internal platforms. Current employees and contractors were told that if they communicated with Bryant, they would be fired immediately, says Bryant.

“Controls and balances of power and support have been put in place at BGC and I absolutely believe in proper board / corporate governance,” said Bryant in the written statement. This matter is not being handled appropriately and I have not been treated fairly or fairly. “

Current and former Black Girls Code employees can contact Natasha Mascarenhas by email at [email protected] or through Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 609 4188.

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