Mandy Bynum knows how to be a great human. Even if she's spending most of her COVID days longing for her favorite big Italian-style family dinners, at least she's found escapism with BTS on weverse.
In our Q&A, she shares how she's been around the block as a tech sales leader of hot startups on their path to IPO, before moving to found her Silicon Valley equity strategy design firm with a mission to foster cultural change at work.
We talk about her Italian roots, how she discovered her career passion and why the savviest business people entrust her guidance to whip their DEI programs into shape.
In this post from our Q&A series Noah Koff interviews innovators, change-makers and risk-takers to draw on their approaches and insights for building inspirational products, experiences and companies. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
HOW DID YOU BECOME THE PERSON YOU ARE TODAY?
I became who I am today through the struggle with my identity as a biracial kid growing up in the South; because I felt both not black enough to hang out with black kids, and I didn’t fit in with white kids. Over time I grew into myself, and I value my struggle as a learning opportunity, and super power, that paved the way for my career. Today I feel less alone because I’ve connected with others who’ve also had personal growth through similar experiences.
I have a curious personality, especially when it comes to people. My Italian grandmother calls this ficcanaso, Italian for “nosey neighbor”. And because of my extraversion; interest in people’s stories, language, history and politics; over time I became what felt like a natural leader and advocate for other black and brown people.
Working for a hot tech startup through their IPO phase, I really struggled with aggressive “bro” culture. Despite not having my opinion valued, I tried to fit into the leadership mold that was expected of me. Over the years being the only black woman in an often exclusively white hetero leadership team, I began to approach my work with a new sense of dignity and integrity. With each new role, promotion and supportive white-male manager, I continued to lean into my personal mission for cultural change in the workplace.
Mandy Bynum with New Relic
WHAT IS YOUR FOCUS WITH YOUR WORK TODAY?
My profession has been around for generations. Those who came before me called it activism, race relations, Affirmative Action or Diversity training. Companies have also been working for generations to prove that they are not discriminatory; that all are welcome. This cohort is up against 400 years of a white supremacy, and to do something that’s never been done before, you actually have to do something differently.
I’m often asked to describe the “business case” for diversity and inclusion. The way to think about this is that an environment of respect for all people will strengthen a company's culture. And strong culture increases net income by 756% over 11 years according to a Harvard study of 200 companies. There isn't always a traditional business case for hiring diversity because it doesn't always equal short term net revenue growth. But I believe there is a human case for companies who want to be on the right side of history.
I focus my work on building programs, teams, and projects for companies at different stages of their Equity and Inclusion journey. With my background in sales leadership, investing, and advising people at all points in their career, I have a unique skill set that has often been described as GSD (getting shit done). I provide vision and strategy; see the whole project or initiative from a high level, and illustrate what the path will look like for those involved.
My solutions help people who may not know what they need, or, how to proceed intelligently with a particular project they’re working on in the name of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. People I work with are passionate about making change and driving equity at their company or organization, but don’t have enough experience (to no fault of their own) about how to approach their DEI projects and initiatives.
WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
Together with my co-founder Dion McKenzie, we've created and launched a proprietary tool, the Race Equ(al)ity Index, to help companies plan, implement and measure their DEI initiatives. The Index can help guide resource allocation, policy specifics, and programs that have worked at other companies of different sizes and stages. Because when we are crystal clear about the tactics that are needed to improve Index scores, we’re able to really lean into the areas that need work and implement effective programs. This level of detail also helps the internal Equity team to advocate for more budget and resource allocation. I’m excited to continue my partnership with a cohort of companies continuing with our next iteration of the Race Equ(al)ity Index; and to share findings with the wider tech community, who have been part of my journey from the start.
I’m publishing our Equ(al)ity Matters podcast throughout February. It’s been so fun going deep with guests over the past 6 months as we’ve created the show. I’m excited to share the first batch of episodes with the public -- it’s a real pleasure for me personally to do this work.
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Noah Koff's mission is to help ambitious founders become the best version of themselves, by developing their mindset, skillset and toolset. He is an entrepreneur who has founded and built multiple companies from the ground up, including Redwood, a successful consulting practice based in Portland, Oregon. His wisdom comes from decades working for respected agencies and INC5000 recognized companies big and small. Noah's roots extend from global business hubs; San Francisco, New York City and London, where he's worked across diverse categories and business models.