Nina Baliga was tired of being the only woman of color or Black woman in the room at tech events, so she designed a platform that connects coders, developers, engineers, and designers to companies that value inclusion and diversity.
Her app, <div>ersity, launched in December 2017. It’s an employee review that she hopes will result in more people who look like her leading companies around the country.
Baliga dove into the startup world when she became a finalist for Go Code Colorado, a statewide apps challenge that brings together developers and entrepreneurs to build better business apps with public data. She created <div>ersity with her co-founder and chief technical officer, Kim Schlesinger.
With 10 years of work in the tech sector, Baliga is focused on designing user experience and user interface, as well as digital strategy and business development. In 2017, she was recruited as a prospective CEO by 10.10.10 Health, a Colorado nonprofit that helps serial entrepreneurs and identifies problems within complex systems.
“I would go to events to network and find myself in a room where all the men looked and even dressed the same,” Baliga told Moguldom. “I would be the only woman and person of color in attendance.”
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Baliga was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C. She has lived a life of helping to engage minorities and drive conversations to make the world a better place. She
With more than 20 years of work experience at nonprofit and for-profit companies, Baliga’s roles have included lobbying for Florida’s water, voter engagement for the 2004 presidential campaign, union work for custodial janitors which were predominately Hispanic and work for the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. Moving to Colorado gave her an opportunity to become an expert in advocacy and diversity.
Baliga has raised millions of dollars for nonprofits and built and scaled teams over the years. She has remained passionate about bridging the need for social benefits as part of her career while keeping her eye on the landscape of the tech industry as it struggles to hire diverse workers.
She spoke with Moguldom about her new venture and its potential impact on the tech industry.
Moguldom: How did <div>ersity begin?
Nina Baliga: I had moved from D.C. to Colorado for a more laid-back lifestyle. I had pivoted from the nonprofit world to U/X design, and the tech industry was more dominant here. I would go to events to network and learn and found myself in a room where all the men looked and even dressed the same. I would be the only woman and person of color in attendance. I entered a hackathon in Denver. A few of us came together and developed an application to address diversity. From there, two of us from the team decided to try and figure out where could all of this go. Over time, we hashed out the vision and launched the site in December of 2017.
Moguldom: Have you felt disregarded at tech events where you were the only woman of color in attendance?
Nina Baliga: Absolutely. Often I will speak up about the blind spots that people have at tech events. Usually, I will be met with a couple nodding heads, but mainly a roomful of silence. I would like to think that by speaking up, I am at least getting a point of view out into the world that most of these folks do not usually hear. I want the <div>ersity platform to do the same: elevate the voices of the underrepresented and change the face of tech.
Moguldom: How did you test out the market fit for this company?
Nina Baliga: We would speak to others in the industry. We found that a person of color would leave a company if the culture was exclusive to them. It has profound effects on any company’s ability to obtain and sustain quality talent. We know, based on studies, that companies do best when there are diverse employees. However, how can a company know if they are really moving the needle forward without having a way to see feedback in the form of reviews from their current or past employees?
Moguldom: So, is <div>ersity like Glassdoor? If so, how will you keep businesses from padding the reviews like Glassdoor is known to have on its site?
Nina Baliga: Yes, people will be able to review their employer, but our questions are more based on the culture, and not a simple tell-us-how-you-feel-today approach. We will be targeting minorities while protecting their anonymity at tech companies to provide insight as to (whether) the environment is inclusive or not. We are also looking past diversity in its traditional form of race and sexuality. We also take religion, abilities, veteran status and sexual orientation into consideration. With any review system, we know you have 10 percent of people (who) will be angry, and another 10 percent will be happy, while 80 percent will not write anything at all. We want to target those not writing anything.
Moguldom: Do you see non-tech industries using your company?
Nina Baliga: When we have worked out all the kinks associated with working in the tech industry, we will consider expanding to non-tech sectors. However, as a lean startup, we are staying highly targeted and focused on the needs of diverse coders, engineers, and developers right now. We know that those needs can be different and separate from other types of jobs.
Moguldom: What is the goal of the platform besides talking about diversity and shining a light on the lack of it?
Nina Baliga: We want to elevate the voices of those who are in a small percentage in the workplace. We believe the topic of diversity is not a public relations issue. It cannot just be discussed now and then. By obtaining some hard data, we think the metrics will help leaders in companies to wake up — to actually take action and focus on creating a successful company with people from all backgrounds.
Moguldom: How will you know if your company is moving the needle forward and your company is not just a place for people to complain?
Nina Baliga: I believe one of our measurements of success will include the number of company profiles that have been filled out and completed by companies. We want companies to highlight their success stories, and any innovative practices/policies they have in place. The platform is equally an opportunity for talent to share their experiences, and companies to talk about how they are moving the needle forward.
Moguldom: What will it look like once the needle has moved?
Nina Baliga: Our goal is to create more transparency within companies. We already know that companies that are more diverse are more profitable. However, not all companies see it as a financial imperative to push for inclusion in their practices. Our 10-year vision is to see every company not just thinking that diversity is a department of their company, but an intrinsic value to everything they are doing to be profitable and effective.
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