Meet five Black women driving diversity gains in Silicon Valley

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 9, 2024 2:30 PM EDT
Maxine Williams of Meta. Photo Credit: US Embassy of London

Silicon Valley’s tech giants have grappled with a longstanding issue of underrepresentation in executive roles, particularly in regard to African Americans, who occupy less than 1% of these influential positions. This glaring lack of diversity at the top echelons of the tech industry is emblematic of systemic challenges, including unconscious bias, a limited diversity pipeline, and a dearth of role models and mentors for aspiring professionals of color.

To address these disparities head-on, we turn our attention to five exceptional Black Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) who are leading the charge for change. Their tireless efforts are reshaping the tech industry landscape by actively combating racism, fostering inclusive programs, and advocating for equity in hiring practices.

Meet 5 influential women pioneering diversity in the tech industry:

1. Melonie Parker

Photo courtesy of Melonie Parker. LinkedIn

Parker is the Chief Diversity Officer at Google, where she drives Google’s employee engagement strategy across Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. She previously worked as the Global Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Director, People Operations at Google. Parker views her biggest achievement at Google to be the development and execution of Google’s racial equity commitments focused on internally and externally building sustainable equity. These commitments include improving Black+ representation at senior levels, addressing representation challenges and focusing on hiring, retention, and promotion at all levels, establishment of anti-racism educational programs, among others.

As a first-generation college graduate and newcomer to corporate America, Parker’s upbringing in a predominantly black community has cultivated her into a remarkably empathetic and intuitive leader. With a remarkable rise from Staffing Specialist to HR Director at Lockheed Martin, Parker also made history as the first Black woman to serve as Vice President of HR & Communications at Sandia National Laboratories. Her mantra, “we exist to close gaps,” embodies her belief that diversity is not just a moral necessity but a vital business strategy.

2. Latasha Gillespie

Photo courtesy of Latasha Gillespie. LinkedIn

Gillespie is the Head of Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Amazon Studios where she works tirelessly to improve diversity and inclusion across content, creatives, and the ecosystem. She has also served as Amazon’s Studio Executive; Head of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion and Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion. After discovering her niche was all about helping people, Gillespie is keen about cultivating initiatives that secure safety for everyone in vulnerable entertainment environs.
She has been commended for Amazon Studios’ participation in the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Partnership Challenge and heading Amazon’s first Conversations on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) conference. Gillespie was named the 2022 Multichannel News Wonder Women, and the 2019 Black Enterprise Most Powerful Women in Corporate Diversity and Ebony Magazine 2018 Power 100 List.

3. Maxine Williams

Photo courtesy of Maxine Williams. LinkedIn

Williams has worked as the CDO at Meta for 10 years. She leads the integration of diverse perspectives and experiences into the building of products, development of policies and, creation of programming professional development while building a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace. The Trinidad & Tobagon believes that minority perspectives are invaluable, and under her leadership, Meta has committed $1.1 billion to support Black and diverse U.S. suppliers and communities. Williams was the Board Director of the Massy Group of Companies and is a Member Board Of Directors (Audit & Risk Committee and Compensation Committee) at Doma.
A 1992 Rhodes Scholar, Williams created her own major in Caribbean studies while at Yale University and graduated with First Class Honors in BA Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford. A woman of diverse talents, she has worked as a Senior Manager at Caribbean Human Rights Network, Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Attorney-at-Law of the Chancery Chambers, an On-Air Journalist, Host, Presenter Journalist, Host, Interviewer and Director of Diversity Programs at White & Case LLP.

4. Barbara Whye

Photo courtesy of Barbara Whye. LinkedIn

Whye is the Vice President Inclusion and Diversity at Apple where she where she spearheads efforts to create a more equitable and inclusive world. She credits development of strategies that incorporate representation at all levels as the key to integrating DEI in an organization. Whye has been instrumental in establishing partnerships with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and HBCUs to provide scholarships to students, demonstrating her commitment to diverse talent pipelines.
She is a Board Member at BlackLine, Beyond 12 and Chair Elect at the Thirty Percent Coalition. Whye attended the University of South Carolina where she earned a BS Electrical Engineering and Master in Business Adminstration Organizational Development. She is part of Stanford University’s Executive Education Intel Accelerated Leadership Program Strategy and Culture Transformation and is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy – PhD Artificial Intelligence and Ethics at Arizona State University.

5. Rosanna Durruthy

Photo courtesy of Rosanna Durruthy. LinkedIn

Durruthy is the Vice President, Global Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at LinkedIn where she is responsible for embedding diversity, inclusion, and equity into all aspects of the organization. Before that, she was the Head of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn. Durruthy’s multicultural background informs her leadership, and her efforts have contributed to LinkedIn’s pledge to double Black and Latino representation, with Black senior staff increasing by 127%.

Durruthy has worked as a diversity leader at companies such as Cigna, Vivendi Universal, Joseph E. Seagram & Sons and Merrill Lynch & Co. She was the President and Chief Talent Strategist at Aequus Group, LLC, Vice President, Staffing & Leadership Development at Blockbuster, Assistant Vice President, Human Resources at Citigroup/Citibank and a Marketing Representative with Yourdon, Inc. Durruthy has volunteered as a Board Member at The PhD Project, Lambda Legal, Civil Rights and Social Action and now serves on the board of the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health, Disability:IN and is an Advisor at Viridis.