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Resignation: An Act of Leadership?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Why Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams' husband, gave up his Reddit board seat.

A lot of business leaders talk a big game about their commitment to diversity, while making very little progress in actually adding people of color to their boards and C-suites. After all, simply tweeting about it really doesn't add up to much.

If they’re truly stymied about how to make the ranks of power less white, perhaps they should consider resigning. That’s the path being taken by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who announced Friday that he is stepping down from the Reddit board and requesting that he be replaced by a black person. “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” he wrote on his personal website. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”

Ohanian, who is co-founder of the early-stage VC fund Initialized, the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams, and a proud dadfluencer, said he was motivated to act “as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?'”

He also pledged to use profits from his Reddit stock to serve the black community, beginning with a $1 million donation to Know Your Rights Camp, the racial-justice nonprofit founded by football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, according to Quartz at Work.

Protests across the US in the wake of police brutality against black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are forcing many companies and executives to confront the ways that institutionalized racism plays out at their own organizations, and to reflect on what action they can take to fix it.

Giving up a seat of power in order to make room for a member of an underrepresented community certainly isn’t the only way to create a more diverse workforce or leadership team and combat inequality. But Ohanian’s decision is intriguing - and it raises the question of whether other influential people would, could, or should follow his lead.

Among Fortune 100 companies, just 16% of positions in the C-suite are held by non-white executives, and 26% have no racial diversity at this level, according to Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance.

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