This interview is part of our Diversity in Tech series in partnership with All Raise, Anitab.org, Blavity, Grid 110, and Latinas in Tech, a coalition effort to champion diverse representation in the tech industry. Read more about this initiative here, and download images from the Diversity in Tech collection here.
Carolyn Jones is the Program Lead at Grid110 in Los Angeles, where she oversees all of the organizations program operations. She is a community builder, nature enthusiast, and wellness advocate. Outside of Grid110, she works on diversity and inclusion initiatives that aim to increase diversity in the outdoors and wellness spaces. Carolyn is also a breathwork instructor and hosts outdoor book clubs, mindfulness hikes, and gatherings throughout the year.
We caught up with Carolyn to learn more about her work, what inspired her to join the team at Grid110, and what she sees as some of the greatest opportunities to creating a more equitable tech industry.
Hi Carolyn! Tell us about yourself, how did you get to where you are today and what inspired you to join the team at Grid110?
My journey has been anything, but linear. Prior to working in tech, I worked in various positions in politics and fundraising for higher education. However, I have always been interested in tech and connected to the startup world. One of my earliest memories was visiting my grandfather at the grocery store he owned and as I got older, being able to help him with different tasks around the store. Those experiences taught me a lot about the entrepreneurial spirit and journey.
I was inspired to join Grid110 because of the organization’s values, which are community, belonging, generosity and empathy. Personally, these values are incredibly important to me and what guides and drives me. I especially loved their mention of empathy as a value. There is so much power in learning how to listen to and understand each other, and in understanding how to be there and show up for each other. To have the opportunity to work for an organization that shares these values was something that spoke deeply to me.
Fast forward to today, I continue to find comfort and inspiration in knowing that these values are important to the organization and my teammates. It is what continues to drive all of us as we work to foster the most thriving, inviting, and inclusive community for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.
Grid110 provides entrepreneurs with access to community, mentors and critical resources through no cost, no equity programs in Los Angeles. As Program Lead at Grid110, what are the programs and initiatives you oversee, and what does an average day look like for you?
As Program Lead, I plan, manage, and execute all program-related operations for Grid110. Specifically, I oversee the Residency and Idea to Product programs.
There is no average workday for me. Week to week can look different depending on whether I am actively managing a program or if we are in application season. We recently closed the applications for our Fall 2020 cohort, which I am so excited about!
Therefore, I am currently managing the application process. My schedule consists of reading through applications, conducting interviews, meeting with my team regarding Fall 2020 programming needs, and meeting with founders, mentors, and others, who are interested in learning more about Grid110’s programs.
How can aspiring entrepreneurs in LA get involved with Grid110 programs?
Great question! There are a few ways you can get involved with Grid110’s programs:
- Learn more about our programs at grid110.org
- Sign up to receive monthly news and updates by signing up for the Grid110 newsletter. You can find the sign-up button on our website.
- Sign up for a future Grid110 informational session. The best way to stay up to date with these dates is by signing up for the Grid110 newsletter.
- Check out our blog! This is an excellent way to learn more about our founders and community.
What are some of the greatest opportunities you see right now to drive meaningful change when it comes to more equitable representation in the tech and startup worlds?
I think the greatest opportunity we have is to actually listen to founders of color and other people of color who work in tech. Many of these founders, people of color working in tech and organizations have already expressed important ways to diversify the tech industry and have expressed ways to show up for them. They have not just expressed these things today though — they have been doing this for years.
I think the bigger question we need to ask ourselves is why are we still talking in circles? Why do we continue to ask founders of color and people of color who work in tech the same questions over and over again? If we say we care more about equitable representation in tech and the startup world, we need to start actively moving in that direction.
For instance, if you are an investor, VC fund, startup, or company, below are some questions you can ask yourself if you are looking for ways to support Black founders and employees:
- What % of Black owned companies are you invested in?
- What % of Black people serve on your executive team?
- What % of Black people serve on your board?
- What is the retention rate of Black employees at your startup, fund, or organization?
- What type of roles do your Black employees serve in? and
- How many of your Black employees are being promoted?
Depending on how you answer the questions could determine your next steps towards meaningful change. At the end of the day, each change must first start with ourselves. It must start with how we are implementing these changes at our own places of work.
What are your thoughts on why diverse visual representation in tech is important to help change the status quo in the industry?
I love Noun Project’s mission and believe that visual language has the power to shape, reinforce, and change perceptions. Diverse visual representation matters. There is a world of possibilities that can open for a person just by the simple act of seeing someone that looks like them represented visually.
Looking to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you most excited about right now?
At Grid110, one of the initiatives that I’m most excited to be part of is Pledge LA’s fund for Black and Latinx-led businesses in South LA! 20 companies will be selected to be part of Pledge LA + Grid110’s Winter Cohort where each company will receive:
- Three months of tailored training & support
- Mentorship from other LA founders and investors
- $25,000 in non-dilutive funding
Learn more about this exciting initiative here.
Grid110 is an economic and community development non-profit dedicated to creating clearer pathways to success for early-stage entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. Through its two cohort-based accelerator programs, Idea-to-Product (I2P) and Residency, Grid110 provides founders in Los Angeles with a growing community of fellow entrepreneurs, expert mentorship, and crucial resources.