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The Godmother of Workplace Diversity

Freada Kapor Klein
Freada Kapor Klein | Credit: Peter DaSilva, Special To The Chronicle

There’s no lack of focus on gender diversity in today’s tech-dominated business environment. As ideas and initiatives flare up to address it, they all too frequently fizzle out. Making meaningful change will take a long-term commitment by people and institutions willing to evaluate trends and data and modify approaches over time.

Freada Kapor Klein knows a bit about long-term, iterative thinking from her years working at software giant Lotus. During the last several decades, as a partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact and at Kapor Capital, Klein has been a leader in showing businesses how to be more inclusive. In addition to her day jobs, she also founded the Level Playing Field Institute and, more recently, co-founded Project Include with several other tech luminaries, including Ellen Pao, the former interim CEO of Reddit and former associate at Kleiner Perkins.

Klein’s interest in social justice traces back to her Jewish ancestors. Her grandfather arrived in the U. S. from Russia, where most of his family had been killed in the pogroms. Klein speaks of her Jewish father’s experiences in medical school in an era when discriminatory quotas limited the number of Jews who were allowed to enroll.

While at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, Klein began volunteering at a rape crisis center and went on to conduct interviews with imprisoned rapists. Those experiences made her acutely aware of the larger workplace issue of sexual assault. In the mid-1970s, she published a booklet called “Myths and Facts About Sexual Harassment,” which sold tens of thousands of copies and established her as a specialist on the issue.

She married entrepreneur Mitch Kapor in 1999 after meeting him when they both worked at Lotus, the software company he founded in the 1980s. As CEO, Kapor worked collaboratively with Klein to make Lotus the most progressive employer at the time for its equal treatment of workers. The company was one of the first corporate sponsors of an AIDS event, and it maintained a diversity council that included LGBT members who were publicly “out.”

Freada Kapor Klein | Credit: Peter DaSilva, Special To The Chronicle

Freada Kapor Klein | Credit: Peter DaSilva, Special To The Chronicle

The Level Playing Field Institute, launched in 2001, has supported extra-curricular computer science education for K-12 students in Oakland on weekends since 2004. It has recently committed to expanding the program in coordination with the Oakland Unified School District, allowing students to obtain Advanced Placement computer science training and ensuring that every classroom will have computer-based instruction by 2020. In another program supporting a diverse workforce, Klein and Kapor founded the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which serves as a gathering point for hackathons, networking events, and educational summits, with the larger goal of making Oakland a national locus for tech diversity.

Project Include represents a culmination of Klein’s experience and thinking. The non-profit seeks to address the lack of diversity in tech companies by collecting and disseminating data about hiring practices and other human resources functions. From that data, the organization will provide recommended practices and coaching. Its focus is on early- and mid-stage startups, where it seeks to spark conversation and insight among executives. In addition to Pao, the all-star lineup of co-founders includes Erica Joy Baker of Slack; Pinterest’s Tracy Chou; Laura I. Gomez of Atipica; Bethanye McKinney Blount, from Cathy Labs; Y-Vonne Hutchinson, of ReadySet; and entrepreneur and investor Susan Wu.

In recognition of her many efforts at changing the way business and education are conducted, Freada Kapor Klein was named the 2016 Visionary of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.