For months, I’ve gotten a chance to follow the greatness of Bärí A. Williams, Esq. – a leading Black woman in Silicon Valley who is causing a diversity shift in aspects of tech that many don’t even consider.
At Facebook, she developed and implemented their Supplier Diversity Program, which calls for the sourcing of minority vendors for commercial contracts. This is one of many examples she has had on helping minority entrepreneurs and business owners penetrate and excel in the tech industry.
For me, it’s her presence alone. With purpose, passion, and brains, Bärí is proof that someone is fighting for us, amidst the White, male dominated, tech industry.
She’s amicable, leads with intent, and fully understands the lack of diversity in corporate America and what is necessary to help turn the tables.
About a month ago, Bärí’s AncestryDNA results came in: 62% African, 30% European, 5% Native American, 2% West Asian (Middle Eastern), and 1% South Asian.
Her mother's results: 44% African, 38% European, 10% Native American, and 8% West Asian.
Although Bärí's parents were born in the Bay Area, her mother’s side of the family is from Oklahoma, and father’s from Mississippi. So after receiving their DNA results, “We have more questions because of Ancestry, then answers.”
The ‘What are you?’ question
“I would sometimes argue about that, particularly when people saw my mom or grandmother.” They would ask her: What are you? Black and what? You just can’t be Black. What are you mixed with?
Luckily from day one, her mother and grandparents instilled James Brown’s “I’m Black And I’m Proud” in every direction. So if you are hearing about Bärí for the first time, just know that she exudes the lyrics boldly and beautifully.
The ‘what are you’ questions and comments may have no end in sight, but because of her foundation steeped in Black American history, Bärí has always identified as Black. “I come from a family that was very, very proud about Black culture. All of my dolls, my books, the artwork in our houses…nobody questioned it in our house. Everybody was Black. Everybody was comfortable.”
Childhood to adolescence
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Bärí was reared by a single mom who was a public school teacher and taught for 40 years before retiring.
She also enjoyed the company of her super active grandparents. Up until freshman year at UC Berkeley, Bärí admits to seeing them at least 4 days a week, including for sleepovers every Wednesday. Her grandmother was also a public-school teacher and counselor, and her grandfather supervised Juvenile Hall.
As her younger years evolved, so did the pendulum of diversity. Elementary school was predominately White. Middle school was a bit more diverse mixed with teenage ordeals marked by ‘You’re built like a White girl’ remarks. “My hair was past the middle of my back, and I was probably 75 pounds on a good day in 7th grade. I was super tall, lanky, and really smart…Nobody was checking for me in middle school. Nobody! [laughter]”
By 14, her maturity level allowed her to foresee the benefits of attending an all-girls Catholic high school. In addition to wanting to focus academically, “…because I didn’t have siblings in my house, especially sisters, I thought that would be a cool environment. It was very diverse and had a good mix of everybody: White, Black, Asian and Latino.”
• “If I had to pinpoint any class that changed my way of thinking and my life’s trajectory, it would be that class.” •
- Bärí on “Race and the Law” taught by Kimberlé Crenshaw
A minor turns into a major deal
Choosing not to follow her family and go the route of government service, Bärí had to learn how to navigate life on her own – to understand the concept of a 401k and investing, rather than counting on a pension.
She decided on Mass Communications with a minor in African-American Studies at Berkeley.
For her minor, “It was something that I was around all the time. I just loved it and wanted to understand the sociological aspect. I think people really believe in the historical element, like the history of African-Americans, which is predominately slavery. I get that, but there are so many sociological aspects of it…”
After graduating with her bachelor’s from Berkeley, followed by an M.B.A. in Business Marketing from St. Mary’s College, Bärí was stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Should I go to law school or do I want to get a Ph.D. and be a professor in the discipline?”
She opted to accept a full ride to UCLA’s African-American/Black studies master's program. While there, she enrolled in a class called “Race and the Law,” taught by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which set the stage for her future career. “If I had to pinpoint any class that changed my way of thinking and my life’s trajectory, it would be that class. It’s really what made me say ‘Ok. I could probably be more useful if I had a command of the law vs. being a professor and teaching other people about sociology or the historical elements of the Black experience’.”
Bärí genuinely enjoyed and loved everything about that program, and gives it credit for her decision to study law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
During her first year, she took a contracts class. The intersection of law, policy, and contractual obligations were the primary focus. “This class put me on to learn that contracts correlate to everything…about redlining and how housing segregation really correlates to Black poverty levels…it was race and the law. It was Black poverty. It was sociological elements of exclusionary tactics. For me, all of those things tied together.”
Bärí’s contracts class was the second one to hit her to the core. Interested and fascinated by all the newly learned information, she declared, “I want to do this.”
Her focus has been “contracts” ever since graduating law school in 2008.
In 2014, Bärí joined Facebook as Counsel for Global Infrastructure & Operations.
Bärí knew that implementing a successful program that sourced from underrepresented vendors could be a snowball effect “…create jobs in certain communities, and provide economic opportunity and access that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
So along with her responsibilities as Counsel for commercial contracts for a slew of departments (i.e. Internet.org, Engineering, Security, IT, Facilities, Marketing), Bärí created the strategy and led a cross functional team to build and launch Facebook’s Supplier Diversity Program.
In January 2017, Bärí was drawn to a company that would allow her to live out her love for sports, entertainment, and law – StubHub (an eBay company) – the world’s largest ticket marketplace for live sports, music and theater events in more than 40 countries.
“This was an opportunity to be in the room where business decisions are made. How do we analyze and position, or even prioritize certain things that we’re doing?... It’s also an opportunity to work with their diversity head, as it’s a new department, and help create a supplier diversity program because they don’t have one.”
As someone who takes pride in being proactive over reactive, Bärí continues to manifest her intentions and pulls us up along the way.
With sincere gratitude – thank you Bärí!
Her advice to someone who may be struggling with their cultural identity:
“I think about this in context of my kids [a 2 year old daughter and a soon-to-be 7 year old son]. All the time, people ask my husband (who is light-skinned) if our son is his, and ask me if our daughter is mine...because they are different complexions. We constantly field that question.
How do I raise them so that they don’t experience that? It’s the things that my mother and grandparents did in order to ensure that I knew who and what I am.
…Draw strength in what solidifies you. For some people, that may be a particular cultural tradition, certain family stories, books or even food…Gravitate towards things that ground you and make you feel like home. What makes you feel most yourself?
I feel most myself literally with my hair up in a ponytail and some sweat pants; listening to some old-school R&B my mom used to play around the house on Sundays or gospel music, and eating Sunday soul food dinner. That feels like home to me because that’s how I was raised; that’s what I was surrounded by. It was literally Black food, Black books, Black art and natural hair. For me, that’s home.”
• • •
- Images courtesy of Bärí A. Williams
- To read her articles on diversity and the value-add that people of color bring, please visit bariawilliams/bylines
- Follow her on Twitter: @BariAWilliams