Professionals of color have a new voice in the workplace thanks to a virtual safe space that lets Black and Latinx employees build connections and share their experiences.
Former co-workers Jacinta C. Mathis and Netta Jenkins are the co-founders of Dipper, a digital community launched at the end of last summer that has more than 8,000 members sharing what it’s really like to be working while Black at corporations across America.
Black Enterprise spoke with Jenkins about how she and Mathis came to found a tech platform for diversity and inclusion aimed at “guiding professionals of color to a better workplace, one review at a time.”
Where did your passion for work around inclusion start?
My parents moved from Liberia to Rhode Island. I grew up in an affluent Causasian neighborhood in Johnston. We were the only black family in the neighborhood, and we faced extreme racism. There was one time where a Caucasian woman spit in my mother’s face and said blacks don’t belong in my neighborhood. This was like when I was 7 years old. And I stood there in silence and disbelief, but also—at a very young age—being really upset with myself for not speaking up and saying anything.
Fast forward to middle school and one kid was like, “I heard you’re from Africa. How fast can you climb a tree?” I remember running home and crying to my mom about it. My mom said something so pivotal to me. She said, I didn’t bring you in this world to cry about things, I brought you in this world to create change. And let me tell you, that was when the Martin Luther King/Malcolm X woke up in me, and I started challenging teachers and students.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion were not popular terms at the time, but I was getting them to think about those terms, to reflect on how it feels to be excluded. And I knew right there and then this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
How did you and your co-founder come up with the idea for Dipper?
She was an executive at IAC, like myself, and so we started talking about parenting, but then it morphed into creating our own safe space. Eventually, she and I had talked about how there is really no safe space out there for professionals of color to review their companies. When we started speaking to professionals of color about their workplace treatment, you hear these drastic stories of how they’ve been mistreated. A lot of the times when folks go to HR, they’re retaliated against, their demoted, or they don’t have enough money to get an attorney.
There are many hidden stories of professionals of color that have committed suicide due to workplace treatment. A lot of people will say, “Well, you should just leave,” but that’s not that easy. Especially now, with COVID-19, so many people have been laid off. So you keep yourself in those situations, and then what happens to your mental health?
So we got together and we’re like, OK, we want to be that safe space, instead of people fighting this battle alone. But we also want to make sure that professionals of color are guided to make the best decisions when they’re looking for new opportunities. So how cool would it be to have a site you can go to and say, OK, I’m applying to Amazon. Let me check out how it really is here for professionals of color. And you get to see the ratings, you get to see how managers are treating their employees, how executive leadership is, how their D&I programs are—the real deal.
You provide a service not just to professionals or color, but also corporations.
There’s a lot of organizations out there that want to help professionals of color. A lot of organizations say representation matters, or they’ll put up pictures of professionals of color, or they’ll talk about all these awards that they won. But it’s not reflective of the Black and brown experience there at all.
We want to make sure that these companies are improved. So we are offering the data and the input for them to be better. That’s something that that many organizations lack right now, especially with how much organizations are putting into D&I—they’re putting in like $10 billion yearly. To be able to say, “You are putting your money in the wrong places; here’s how you can really make a dent and here’s how you can definitely make sure that people are being treated correctly,” is our goal.
Reviews are just the first stage; what else will professionals of color be able to do?
We’re working with our engineers to build out a platform. We want to ensure that our members are able to create profiles; companies are able to create profiles as well. We’ll also have salary information. Professionals will be able to apply to different positions. There’s also going to be a forum, so people in real time will be able to share their work experience with other members and also give advice.
Sharing their experiences is something that professionals of color have been very scared to do. But when we did the research, we found out that 87% of professionals of color are now ready to share their work experiences, whether it be good or bad. And even more so now, with COVID-19, people want to definitely guide other professionals in the right path as well. Now’s the time, especially for professionals of color, to be treated better and to be at organizations that are really going to value them.