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Diversity in the tech industry is a huge issue: Meena Harris

'Ambitious Girl' author and the niece of Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris, Meena Harris, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss why diversity in big tech is a major issue and what we should expect this upcoming inauguration day.

Video Transcript


JEN ROGERS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." Last week's viral TikTok video of Meena Harris handing her aunt, Vice President-elect, a jar of impeachments-- you might have caught it-- provided a laugh for some, and a peek inside the close relationship between the two Harris women, who, fun fact, actually share a birthday. Meena Harris has a new children's book out today.

You see her holding it there, "Ambitious Girl," inspired in part by her aunt. Before writing and starting the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, which is her other job, Meena Harris worked in big tech, at Uber and Facebook, no less. And we talked about how much work there is ahead in that industry, in particular, in tech, where speed is promoted at all costs, and how that needs to change.

MEENA HARRIS: There's often this sort of like, this urgency, right? We've got to get this thing out. We've got to do this. We don't have time to spend six more months finding a hire that is, ideally, a candidate that comes from an underrepresented community. We don't have time. And the fact of the matter is, like, you actually probably do have time.

JEN ROGERS: I wish I had more time to talk with you about all of these issues. Before we go, I just, I mean, "Ambitious Girl," it comes out the day before this most historic inauguration. It's going to look very different than it has in the past. How are you feeling about that day, and what will it be like for you personally and for our country?

MEENA HARRIS: I feel hopeful. I think for me, one of the most inspiring aspects of all of this is that, yes, I have a personal connection, and it's very special, but we as a family are experiencing what families all over the world are right now. And I have parents who send me photos of little girls looking up at the TV screen. And that's what's happening in my house, too. And it's just a beautiful, wonderful, long-- something that we should have-- I had hoped would have happened a long, long time ago that is finally happening.

It's historic, it's important, and I think, on this whole topic of representation, it inherently will open the door for more women of color to achieve, and it will normalize ambition, female ambition, not hiding it, not letting society tell us that we cannot be-- telling us that we're too ambitious, that that is just not a thing, as far as I'm concerned. And ambition is going to be on this world stage, female ambition. And it has succeeded. And I think that that is just good for all of us.

JEN ROGERS: So watching that, I talked to her, Kristin and Sibile, last week. So she's in a different place, and I am, too. She's going to the inauguration. I just changed offices. But you know, look, talking to her there, just this idea that we're going to normalize ambition. And I would love to get your thoughts here. And Sibile, maybe just start with you, because she really thinks and-- that this is a pivotal moment.

Of course it is. It's historic. But are we just going to be talking about how ambitious Vice President Harris is then if she wants to be president? Are we still going to be talking about her hair? Are we going to be talking about her clothes? Like, how seminal is this moment? Yes, it's a woman, and yes, it's a woman of color, but the idea that it's going to normalize ambition, does that seem too optimistic?

SIBILE MARCELLUS: I think it's great. I don't think it's too optimistic that it's going to normalize ambition, because little girls who are going to be watching inauguration day, even adults like us watching inauguration day, go wow, OK, a woman of color can be vice president of the United States. Check. That's been accomplished. So any other woman with those ambitions can do it. It's not such a barrier that needs to be broken. It'll be assumed that you can also achieve it, obviously if you work hard.

But I think that when it comes to the next evolution of that is really looking at what she-- beyond just does a woman have ambition, but pretty much what can a woman accomplish. So that'll be the really exciting part about the next four years, what Kamala Harris is able to accomplish as vice president of the United States.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, I think that's a really important question, Jen, because-- and it gets into, actually, a piece of the conversation that we didn't get to hear between you and Meena about speed, right? Because that's essentially what you're asking. Now that we have a woman, and a woman of color, taking on this historic role as vice president, the first to do so, how quickly can we get over that hump that we have had over the decades-- decades-- about what women are capable of doing, what people of color are capable of doing?

And I think what Meena was saying in that interview, again, which everyone can go see at YahooFinance.com in full, is really interesting in the fact that we need to sometimes slow down a little bit, and we need to be a little bit more thoughtful when it comes to things like diversity, when it comes to things like inclusion, because when we are focused on speed, we tend to repeat the same things that we've always done.

We tend to trod over the same pathways that we've always been walking down. And that means that we tend to ignore some underprivileged folks. We tend to ignore that women are capable. We tend to ignore that people of color are absolutely capable. And we need to make sure that we start thinking about those things, slowing down a little bit, and start including that in all of our processes. I'm hopeful that Vice President-elect Harris's swearing in is the start to that.

I don't know how optimistic I am, however, that, you know, on January 21st, everything changes. A light bulb goes off, and everyone thinks, great, women can do it all. We know that, the three of us know that, that women can do everything, but I don't know if the United States in its entirety is going to agree with that.

JEN ROGERS: It's hard to get everybody to agree on anything. And Kristin, I'm pretty sure you are right about that, no matter what the three of us think. I do-- I find fascinating her background in big tech. Like, she's worked at Uber and Facebook, no less, right? It's not just like some fly-by-night startup where she was bootstrapping. These are big companies. And I think that has given her this really interesting position to be in with that background as it goes to how we deal with things in terms of the speed that you're talking about, Kristin.

And she said specifically, like Facebook, you know, go fast and break things. She's like, but if you break things, then you give yourself no time for the culture. You-- she's feeling it in her own business right now. She has this phenomenal action-- women action campaign. It started as the shirts. She was wearing one that said ambitious. She had the whole line that's still out that says phenomenal.

And she's had to slow down her own hiring because she wants to focus on making hires that are diverse, that are from underserved communities. And you can't just snap your fingers and make that happen. And so she's realized that herself. I think that it really is a lesson that baking it in from day one is important. And that'll be important for Biden-Harris administration, as well.

KRISTIN MYERS: Absolutely. It's a conversation that the three of us continue to have repeatedly, and will continue to have going forward.