Diversity in leadership won’t just happen with time: it needs leaders to step aside to make room for it.
Last week, we saw one example of a white man doing just that. It’s worth reporting, because it just doesn’t happen that often — at least not in high profile leadership circles.
Alexis Ohanian publicly stated he resigned from the board of Reddit, the company he co founded, in order to be replaced by a black director.
“I have resigned as a member of the reddit board, I have urged them to fill my seat with a black candidate, and I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate, and I’m starting with a pledge of $1M to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp,” he shared via a statement on his website and video on social media.
Ohanan said that it’s long overdue that he does the right thing for him, his family and his country.
“I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: what did you do?”
“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now. To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: Do not stop.”
His wife, tennis star Serena Williams, has shared her support for the decision, noting that their daughter will be proud.
In an Instagram video, she then asked Ohanian to explain the move and revealed that it came as a shock to many people, even to her.
“Upon reflecting on the state of where our country is right now, I thought about what I could do beyond a social media post, beyond a donation, but really lead,” he said in the video. “We need diversity at the highest levels of business, now more than ever.”
He also explained the need for diversity on boards — describing it as different to that of executive leadership. He said that the Reddit board position is one out of five board seats and comes with a vote. “That one vote is a chance to stand up for customers who aren’t in that room, to stand up for investors who aren’t in that room.”
Last year Ohanian penned a piece for The New York Times on how he took 16 weeks parental leave from his CEO role, urging other dads to follow his lead.
Ohanian has retained a seat on the board since stepping down from his daily duties in 2018.
Reddit has, for some time now, come under fire for hosting forums promoting racist content. While it has banned some key groups and ‘quarantined’ a pro Trump forum, it retains a number of controversial free speech policies. Former CEO Ellen K Pao tweeted about the company last week, saying “You don’t get to say [Black Lives Matter] when Reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”
Some have noted Ohanian’s record at Reddit, particularly the racist and misogynistic forums that continued to be hosted by the site during his time in leadership.
He has repeatedly called out sexism, including urging his “fellow geeks” in 2013 to do better to use platforms to fight sexism. But men’s rights groups, far right groups and racist views have gained momentum on the platform, which was also a hub for the 2014 GamerGate movement.
The Reddit board announced over the weekend that they are working to change their content policy to explicitly address hate, and have promised to honour Ohanian’s request to fill his seat with a black candidate.
Ohanian’s a good example of a senior leader moving to “step aside” in order to create diversity in leadership. We need more of them. But diversity should have happened on these boards a long time ago.