Full Transcript: Tech Attorney And Diversity Strategist Bärí Williams On GHOGH Podcast Part 1

Written by Staff
Bärí A. Williams
Tech attorney Bärí Williams talks to Jamarin Martin about working at Facebook. Image: Anita Sanikop

In episode 51 of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to tech attorney and diversity strategist Bärí Williams about her experience working at Facebook and whether Trump could be talking about Sen. Cory Booker when he claims he could blackmail a U.S. Senator.

They also discuss some criticism of Sen. Kamala Harris that is “out of pocket.”

You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, and SoundCloud.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 51: Bärí Williams
Jamarlin talks to tech attorney and diversity strategist Bärí Williams about her experience working at Facebook and whether Trump could be talking about Sen. Cory Booker when he claims he could blackmail a U.S. Senator. They also discuss some criticism of Sen. Kamala Harris that is “out of pocket.”

This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! Today we have Bärí A. Williams, VP of legal affairs and policy at All Turtles. Author, you may have read her great work in New York Times, Wired and Fortune. Welcome to the show.

Bärí A. Williams: Thank you.

Jamarlin Martin: Tell us a little bit about how you got into tech and started working at tech companies. What was your path?

Bärí A. Williams: Yeah. So when I was in law school and I went to law school because I wanted to understand how law was actually created because I think that understanding the creation process of it also helps you, it’s going to sound not necessarily as positive, but how to weaponize it. And I feel like in marginalized communities, it’s weaponized against us. So I wanted to learn how can I use it as a tool. But in terms of tech, my family, I argue a lot. I argue in person, I argue on the internet, I argue on the street.

Jamarlin Martin: With Ja Rule.

Bärí A. Williams: With Ja Rule. Look, I just answered that man’s questions. He asked me some questions, I responded. They weren’t the best questions. But my family thought I was going to be a litigator. “Oh you should be a DA or a public defender.” And I actually spent my first year and my first summer at a firm that specialized in litigation. I hated it. It was completely boring. And I actually found that litigation to me is destructive and the work that I do in transactional in terms of terms of service and contracts, you’re creating a business, so it’s constructive and I wanted to be a part of something that’s building as opposed to something where there is a clear winner and a loser. So, second summer in law school I went to a firm that specialized probably 75 percent in tech transactions. And when you do well as a summer associate, they offer you a full time role. And so that’s where I went after law school. And from there I went in-house at different companies.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. And you have like three degrees?

Bärí A. Williams: Four.

Jamarlin Martin: Four? Can you share those degrees with the audience?

Bärí A. Williams: Yeah. So, my undergrad degree is in mass communications and a minor in African American studies. I have an MBA. I have a masters in African American studies and I have a JD.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. I read about you back when you were working at Facebook. How long were you there?

02:33 —Bärí A. Williams: Two and a half years and some change. Yeah, I left right before New Year’s in 2016.

Jamarlin Martin: Did you work with Maxine Williams?

Bärí A. Williams: To an extent, but she is in diversity so I didn’t work with her a ton, but I definitely worked with her in an informal sense when I created the supplier diversity program at Facebook and then I was part of the Black employee resource group leadership team. So we had to work with her for programming and things.

Jamarlin Martin: How was it working there? You were working there way before everything starts crashing down.

Bärí A. Williams: Yeah, including my stock price. I need that back up. But it was fun. I will say, and what I think is interesting to even see the difference between employees of color that work there and majority folks, is it never gets old to them. The whole free food and ice cream shop. And I did go to that dessert shop probably three out of five days a week when I was there for the first three months. And they call it the Facebook 15 because you’re so excited that everything is free, that you’re just eating everything. And after a while, the novelty of it wears off and you’re really looking at what do I do on a day to day basis? And I found that most of the employees of color were reflective in that way, particularly after three to six months. And for other people it just doesn’t get old. It’s like, “Yeah, let’s go hang out. We’re going to bar crawl on the mission.” And it’s just a completely different existence.

Jamarlin Martin: There was an engineer, you probably saw this, where he left Facebook. He was maybe there less than a month. Another senior brother blasted him. And then the engineer who left, who said Facebook was racist…

Bärí A. Williams: Oh, you’re talking about, okay. So, I don’t know the individual. That’s Mark. He actually was over Black influencer engagement on the platform as part of the partnerships team. And so he would work with influencers, famous people of different races, typically people of color. And I am not sure if he focused on the African diaspora in particular or Black folks, but I tend to believe that that’s what it was. And he made some very interesting observations that are not far from the truth. I’ve seen people get stopped before, like where’s your badge? Or if you’re walking with a guest and they ask like, who are you with? Cause clearly, I can’t be the employee and this is my guest. It’s like, well, who brought you? So, you do get a bit of that. And then I think, it goes back to a lot of the things that I write about. You can’t have homogenous groups making decisions for a global population. It just isn’t going to work.

Jamarlin Martin: Things are going to break. He says, “Move fast and break things.”

05:48 —Bärí A. Williams: Yes. And they will break or they will never get made, which sometimes is worse. And so if you don’t have somebody at the table who can say, okay, well this product is great, it’s a good idea, but would someone who’s blind use this? Or how are you marketing this in this particular community? Have you thought about the use case for if someone has this data, how could it be weaponized against them? Facebook is good for a lot of things, but I think that it is actually having to level set and understand the role that they played in essentially subverting democracy. Cambridge Analytica, I wrote on this last year with one of my friends who was a politics professor, and Cambridge Analytical, the whole point of it is that you’re using data to essentially encourage voter suppression and voter depression. So it’s like, “If you’re thinking about voting, Hillary is not really good for you, just don’t even bother, don’t come out.”

Jamarlin Martin: There was an article in the Washington Post where the writer said Facebook was psychopathic in terms of culturing, what it is done and when you look at the definition of that word, you know, you’re thinking about…

Bärí A. Williams: I think that’s a bridge too far. Now I will, I will say that it can seem that way, particularly when you meet all of these fresh faced people who are straight out of Undergrad and this is their first job. I always wondered, how do you go up from here? Right. Cause you’re coming out of a dorm where you had free food and you’re going straight into a job where you have free food and it’s kind of like, you’re never forced to be an adult and you can see some of that. But for people that were older and had worked other places, it was different. But there is an undercurrent of being very careful about how you frame things. If there are issues or problems, how do you frame them? Who do you bring them to? And how do you surface them? Because Facebook has this saying in some poster, it says “Assume good intent”. So you always want to assume that someone is telling you something because it’s valuable or it will be good for you. But all that news isn’t always going to be good. Right. And so if you’re assuming that I’m coming to you in good intent, but you don’t like what I’m saying, you’re going to discount it. There’s a CNN special I believe on it on Sunday. When I first saw the commercial, I laughed. It’s a guy who’s voice is essentially masked and jumbled and he’s like, “Facebook is a cult on the inside and please disguise my voice. I don’t want them to know it’s me.” It’s like, come on.

Jamarlin Martin: What was the final straw in terms of why did you leave Facebook?

08:46 —Bärí A. Williams: You know how many times my mother has asked me that? I wouldn’t say a straw so much as I knew that I was capable of doing more and of being more. And when I joined Facebook, I think it was like 8,300 people, which was already big. And when I left I think it was like 17,000 or 18,000. You’re a cog in a wheel at that point. So there’s only so much you can do. And I always like to leave a place better than how I found it. And I feel like I did that to a certain extent with supplier diversity. I did that through ERG work. I did that through my regular contractual work. But one thing that all large companies are guilty of is they want to make sure that if you are speaking and you are presented as someone that is of and from the company, they want to control the narrative and the message. And I don’t work that way.

Jamarlin Martin: So they’re control freaks over there?

Bärí A. Williams: I wouldn’t say control freaks, but you always want to be mindful that if someone who’s speaking and they’re representative of your company, that whatever they’re saying isn’t going to shine a bad light on the company or isn’t going to be something super controversial because the first thing it would say is Bari Williams, Facebook employee said, “Blah, blah, blah blah.” You know, they don’t want that.

Jamarlin Martin: With the control freaks, I’m talking about more externally where their public relations teams and lobbyists, it seems like they are very aggressive in trying to manipulate and control the narrative, maybe more so than a Google.

Bärí A. Williams: So, my husband works at Google, so…

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got it.

Bärí A. Williams: But I will say this, it’s the same and I’ve been on panels with Black employees from Google and the conversations that we’ve had have been around, well, how did you, not circumvent, but how did you figure out a way to say what you wanted to say and the company was okay with it? And it’s just, again, it’s about how you phrase things, who you surface them to, and always leading with how is this beneficial to the company and not necessarily just me as an employee. That’s the other thing that a lot of these companies, particularly the large ones, they don’t want, but a certain number of people that are going to essentially represent the brand. So when you think of Facebook, you think of Mark and Sheryl, you don’t think of Joel, who heads policy, but you know it’s something that…

Jamarlin Martin: You’re talking about Joel Kaplan?

Bärí A. Williams: Yes. But you don’t think of Joel. You think of Sheryl, you think of Mark and that’s kind of it. And on occasion, twice a year you think of Maxine when she comes out and says, here are our numbers and this is what we’re doing. But aside from that, they’re very strategic about who they want. And Google is the same way. You don’t think of some random product manager, you think of Sergei, you don’t think of anyone else?

Jamarlin Martin: I’m going to switch gears here. You probably read about the scandal related to Jeff Bezos and the National Inquirer where his team is now saying that they believe that MAGA or a foreign government working in alliance with MAGA.

12:09 —Bärí A. Williams: Surveillance

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, surveillance. An intelligence agency may have been involved…

Bärí A. Williams: In order to blackmail someone to get them to stop giving you bad news, essentially.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So, Jeff Bezos says, “Hey, I’m being blackmailed.” And so that brings up a quote by Donald Trump that I pulled from Vanity Fair. Donald Trump says last year, “I happen to know some United States senators, one who is on the other side who is pretty aggressive. I’ve seen that person in very bad situations. Okay. I’ve seen that person in very, very bad situations, somewhat compromising. And you know, I think it’s very unfair to bring up things like this.”

Bärí A. Williams: But yet you bring it up.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So, he suggested that he could kind of blackmail a U.S. Senator, Donald Trump. And then last year the media started speculating about… no, not last year, it was a few years ago. He said he knows more about Cory Booker than Cory Booker knows about himself. Do you think that there’s let’s say a greater than 30 percent probability that when Donald Trump said he had blackmail material on a U.S. Senator, that it was Cory Booker?

Bärí A. Williams: I don’t know if it was Cory Booker. I honestly think it could be anybody because I don’t put anything past this administration. And the thing that was so interesting to me with Amazon is, think of all the people who were blackmailed that didn’t just out themselves. That was the first thing I thought was, well, how many people have they done that to that just paid whatever it was?

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. They’re bringing this white criminal corporate criminal culture to the surface.

Bärí A. Williams: And that’s the thing that’s so interesting to me is, everything is “witch hunt” and “no collusion”. But like, you are who you hang around and if everybody around you is going to prison, I’m going to probably think you’re a criminal. And I have no doubt that he would use surveillance in a way to essentially gather, it’s Apple research. That’s how he’s using it. Yeah. And it’s no different to me then how you have J. Edgar Hoover following people for decades. It’s the same idea.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So the only reason I mentioned Cory Booker in relation to Donald Trump’s claim that he has some blackmail material on someone, is last week Cory Booker at a press conference would not admit that Donald Trump was racist.

14:54 —Bärí A. Williams: Yeah. So that was the, “I don’t know what’s in his heart. I’ll leave that to the Lord.”

Jamarlin Martin: That’s what he said.

Bärí A. Williams: I remembered it because I was like, “Just say yes or no.”

Jamarlin Martin: Why can’t you just say that? Yeah.

Bärí A. Williams: Well, and I think the reason for that, and the next day on Meet the Press, Sherrod Brown, Chuck Todd asked him the same thing. And he’s like, do you think the president is a racist? And he was like, what do you mean? And he said, well, in his heart do you believe? He’s like, “Well, I don’t know what’s in his heart, but yes I do. And he says racist things and he does racist things.” And if you’re not sure…

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, a lot of white Democrats…

Bärí A. Williams: I think that’s because you can’t play both sides. It’s hard, right? Because Cory is a Black man. And so for him to come out and say, “Yes, Donald Trump is a racist,” he’s already lost like, two thirds of the white electorate. And considering his background, I think that that’s very important to him. Stanford, Yale, Oxford, Rhodes scholar, he took a lot of pharmaceutical money. And I think for him he really wants to walk a fine line and not alienate a potential voting base. Now you lost another piece of the voting base because now everybody else is like, okay, well you just can’t call a spade a spade.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I find it troubling that he can’t say that Donald Trump is racist and so many white Democrats can. It’s not like he’s trying to make this the center of his campaign. He’s not trying to talk to Donald Trump, but the fact that just a side question, he can’t say that he’s racist. And I do believe that based on the chronology of events with Donald Trump and blackmail and saying that I know a lot of things about Cory Booker. Cory booker, he’s in New Jersey, that it seems like it could fit within this blackmail box.

Bärí A. Williams: I wouldn’t doubt it.

Jamarlin Martin: Does Cory Booker get you excited in terms of 2020?

Bärí A. Williams: No.

Jamarlin Martin: Kamala Harris?

Bärí A. Williams: Yes.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Why?

Bärí A. Williams: Okay. Full disclosure, I supported her initial campaign for attorney general and have fundraised for her subsequently.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. So you’ve been riding with her. This is nothing new for you.

Bärí A. Williams: No. Been down since 2006, 2007.

Jamarlin Martin: Got it. Okay. So you’re an OG. You’ve been on the team for a while.

17:31 —Bärí A. Williams: Yes. And it was funny, when I was in law school I had her speak at an event at a BALSA event. And she was the DA and everyone loved her and thought she was going to go on and do great things. But if you would’ve told us 12 years from then that she would be running for president, I don’t think anybody would’ve necessarily thought it would be that fast. But if I had to pick between Kamala and Cory, I’m picking Kamala. And also, full disclosure, I’m more familiar with her record. I’m less familiar with Cory’s because I’m not in Jersey.

Jamarlin Martin: You have a geo-bias towards Harris. Do some of the criticisms of Kamala Harris specifically from Black men, do they get you upset?

Bärí A. Williams: Yes.

Jamarlin Martin: For the audience, can you share some of the criticisms where, I wish I could just punch it?

Bärí A. Williams: I don’t remember who posted it, but there was a video of her dancing to Cardi B and she had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and she was clearly working and somebody was like filming this from the side of the table and I just saw so many men post that on Twitter. Oh look, she’s pandering for Black people, but she doesn’t actually say she’s Black and look, she’s trying to show off her edges and I was just like, how stupid is this?

Jamarlin Martin: That’s not a legitimate critique.

Bärí A. Williams: But their whole thing was like, she’s pandering because, okay look, she’s literally, it was like she’s trying to show her edges. She’s dancing to Cardi B, do you think she sits around with her husband who was white and they listened to Cardi B? Yeah, I actually believe that they do because he also has teenagers, so it’s fully possible if not probable, but and everything is like, oh, well she’s a cop. She just wants to put us all in jail. No. If you actually dig into her record, and a lot of what they criticize her about too is the truancy. Her aims to limit truancy when she was DA in San Francisco, it turned into something where she would penalize parents. And the way that they have twisted that is just so bothersome. And you know, picking at, well she wouldn’t do anything for Prop 8, she wouldn’t defend it in court. Well, why is that a problem for you? So if she supports the LGBTQ community, she can’t support Black people? It’s not a mutually exclusive proposition. So it’s annoying because I feel like people are discounting her and a lot of the criticism is around, is she Black enough? And that’s what I don’t understand. The woman went to Howard and is an Alpha chapter Aka. What do you want her to do?

Jamarlin Martin: Because of her husband, how she’s dancing to Cardi B, this stuff is out of pocket. It seems like there’s…

20:38 —Bärí A. Williams: Nobody is out here talking about Cory being a single Black vegan. Nobody’s talking about that. Like is that down?

Jamarlin Martin: Kamala’s a bigger issue though because people are checking for her and people are trying to filter. But no one, at least when I travel the country, I don’t see a lot of people in the community checking for Cory Booker. To me it would be a natural that they’re talking a little bit more about Kamala Harris. Now, my personal issue has nothing to do with some of this, what I would call out of pocket criticism. It’s not valid. But her record in California in terms of big tech, in terms of consumer privacy, regulations where, I can live with you being a cop. I maybe even can live based on the options, you were a little bit more aggressive than I’m comfortable with. I could possibly still vote for you. But where you’re policing the corporate actors with the big wallets, with the big connections like the New York AG would be policing Wall Street. Is it fair to criticize the record there when Kamala Harris was AG?

22:08 —Bärí A. Williams: Well, what’s funny is when she was initially running for AG, she was running against the guy who had been Facebook’s original general counsel, and he was a Republican and she beat him. So clearly people were interested in seeing someone who was not in and of that community, be responsible for making sure there was oversight of it. Now, to a certain extent, do I think that she necessarily did a fantastic job in terms of privacy regulation? I don’t know that I can say yes or no to that. And I think a large part of it is also based off of where I sit having worked in tech and being in legal at a big tech company. Everybody was signing away their privacy rights to play Candy Crush. And nobody realized any of this until last year. And I don’t know that that’s necessarily her fault. I think that a lot of the companies we’re playing hide the ball and the ball dropped and now people are paying a ton of attention to that. There is a consumer privacy law that is in play, starts Jan. 1 2020 in California, and she did advocate for that and it allows you to control how your information and your data is used, which is probably going to be the most stringent privacy law in the nation. But I think what we will see particularly in the next 18 months, is you will see federal regulation around that because it’s not a game anymore. If you’re using social media and technology to subvert democracy, all bets are off. So, but in terms of consumer privacy, she fought the banks with the sub prime mortgage lending and she actually went back and got more money for California than they were initially offering in a settlement. So she does care about these things and she does try. I think you also have to understand that California is, and I believe that people do to a certain extent, what is politically expedient for them and California is not as blue as people think. The Bay is blue where I live, L.A. is blue and maybe a pocket of San Diego. Rest of that is agricultural and very, very red. So you also have to be mindful that she can’t play like super, super left of center. That wouldn’t work in the electorate.

Jamarlin Martin: So she had to pivot to get where she is, like many politicians essentially. That may not have fully reflected her values.

Bärí A. Williams: Yeah.

Jamarlin Martin: It’s like, some of you people out there in the streets, you guys are being a little bit naive about this game just like when you go into a job or something like that, stop being so naive. She’s had to play like many others have had the play.

25:08 —Bärí A. Williams: Well, I mean it’s the same thing. When she was DA and there was a man who had killed a police officer and she would not pursue the death penalty and that was her own personal feeling. And then of course when she turns around and runs for state AG, they’re like, will you not pursue the death penalty for people? And she pivoted. I mean, in certain cases, yes. Other cases, no. I don’t remember the particulars of that case where she didn’t pursue it as DA. I think it was in 2003, 2004, but police officers, the unions were very upset about that. And I understand. But I also think, when there are moments where you can take a personal stance in your position, why not do that? And that’s what she did.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So some of the criticism relates to a report she influenced some decision related to Steven Mnuchin’s bank, the current treasury secretary during, I guess, the crisis where his big wasn’t penalized. Is that unfair to scrutinize that?

Bärí A. Williams: Yes.

Jamarlin Martin: Why is that?

Bärí A. Williams: Well because first off, the pool of money in particularly around when everything was too big to fail and you had everything crashing down because of sub prime lending, the state AGs got together to try to get a certain amount of money and a pile of money. I don’t know that it’s fair when you’re dealing with 50 people essentially, to put all of that weight on one. I just don’t think that that’s fair. Yeah. And she went back and negotiated more money than the rest of the state AGs were going to take.

Jamarlin Martin: So you don’t think it was like, hey, someone made a phone call, “Don’t prosecute this one,” in terms of how the game is played?

Bärí A. Williams: I don’t think so.

Jamarlin Martin: I was going to say, Senator Harris needs you on the stump, because I think you’re a really good defender of her.

27:02 —Bärí A. Williams: I want to be clear, it’s not about necessarily defending her. I think for me, and I feel this way about anyone’s record, I went looking at some stuff that people criticized Cory about last week about taking big pharma money and he voted against capping drug prices. There were other things that were in that bill, which is why he voted against it. And also if he’s voting against that, that’s not necessarily in his best interest. So, I think for me it’s really trying to understand the nuance of why people do what they do and to understand that sometimes you may have a particular policy in mind and a way you want it to play out and it goes left. That’s like everyone’s plans in life. Everything’s not going to go the way that you hope that it will. And so the best thing you can do is try to salvage what you can of it. And I think people are not nuanced. People read headlines. People retweets. People want to read hot takes. They’re not going to click on the actual article and read the whole article or read the nuance and understand why that bill didn’t pass or why this person voted that way. For me, that’s what I want to understand because that also lets me know what is your logic and how do you think.

Jamarlin Martin: This is part one. Tune into the next episode for part two. Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @JamarlinMartin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M.com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!