Portland Tech Executives Talk About Decreasing the $4 Trillion Racial Equity Gap

“We have power with our wallet. We have power in where we choose to work, which is where companies are most sensitive.”

Nitin Rai at Techfest 2019. (Sam Gehrke)

In a presentation at TechfestNW on Thursday, Portland executives Stephanie Lampkin and Nitin Rai said their peers must act proactively to rectify the $4 trillion equity gap facing Americans of color.

Lampkin is founder and CEO of Blendoor, an enterprise software company that reduces unconscious bias in hiring practices. Joining her was Nitin Rai, founder and managing director of Elevate Capital, an investment startup company. Rai invested in Lampkin's startup, and both of their companies intentionally prioritize people of color.

Lampkin began with a slideshow dating back in early American history to when the term Blackness was coined. "Black" was used to justify perceived genetic differences and slavery as well as a way to keep Black people down and increase the wealth of white people. By going back that far, Lampkin could demonstrate how systemic racism started, where it stemmed from, and why it's so difficult to eradicate because of how deeply ingrained it is.

Lampkin grew up with a single mom, and her grandfather was among the first generation of Black Americans born free from slavery. She was born 60 years after that generation passed, and now she's an award-winning business owner who makes the tech industry and job hunting a better, more equitable experience for those seeking employment.

Rai's company focuses on investing in diverse and historically underserved communities in part because that's his background and where he thinks is the best area to invest.

"I've had to fight every battle and had my own challenges," Rai says. "If I was going to invest in a fund and create a fund, that's where I would put my money in because that's where we're going to make that money."

How can anyone help minimize the racial equity gap, whether they are investors or not? By voting at the national and local levels, consciously spending money at businesses that align with your core values and, most importantly, being picky about where you work, Lampkin says.

"We have power with our wallet. We have power in where we choose to work, which is where companies are most sensitive," Lampkin says. "They miss out on intelligence. Use diligence in how you choose where to work. We're trying to enable that transparency."

Lampkin said the most successful companies, eventually, will be able to recognize intelligence and true talent without biases, but that doesn't mean anyone should aspire to ignore or not see color.

"I don't believe in colorblindness. As much as people would like to believe they're colorblind, it's not the case," Lampkin says. "It doesn't make sense to suggest that you are. We shouldn't be striving for colorblindness."

Although Lampkin had to slow hiring during COVID-19, she could still advance racial equity at her company. This year was the breaking point for many people of color, but also the year when white people began to truly listen to the struggles of Black people and address internal issues of inequity, including at major companies.

"We saw after the death of George Floyd much more attention from companies who needed to understand even where to start in thinking more holistically in how to improve diversity equity and inclusion from an operational standpoint and not just with hiring," Lampkin says. "We saw that as an opportunity to position ourselves for the golden standard for that."

TechfestNW, WW's three-day celebration of the entrepreneur in all of us, has moved to its natural home: online. Originally scheduled to host its ninth year in the spring, TechfestNW is now a virtual event continuing through Dec. 4. Go here for tickets and details.

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