Creating a more equitable Silicon Valley for all communities has been one of the top priorities for Ahmad Thomas, who in 2020 became the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s fourth CEO in its 43-year history.
The association, representing hundreds of tech companies in the region, recently announced its 25×25 diversity initiative, with an aim to increase the number of executive leaders from underrepresented groups.
“We have this opportunity to maintain all the great initiatives, everything we’ve done in the past and hopefully add my own spin and innovation on top of that,” said Thomas, who previously worked as an investment banking executive and as a legislative aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein, working on finance and economic policy. “I think we have an opportunity at the Leadership Group to be very well positioned to drive change based on our companies agreeing to a common set of principles.”
SVLG is also focusing on the following issues:
- Climate Change
- Racial Justice and equity
- Infrastructure with an emphasis on transportation and housing
- Economic Competitiveness
Within the racial justice and equity issues, Thomas said there are two factors that can bridge the equity divide – hiring and funding.
“Hiring, now granted, is the hand that we’re dealt, which I think is a very good hand but, it’s been focused on executive level hires and on how our corporate board should look — what the composition of these boards might be to better reflect the communities in which we operate, in the communities that we serve,” explained Thomas.
SLVG was the only major business association to endorse AB 979, which requires California-based corporations to include at least one person from an underrepresented community serve on their corporate boards. It was passed and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020.
Funding is another way to increase diversity on corporate boards and executive teams. Thomas points to the SVLG’s Community College to Career Initiative which matches community college students with work-based learning opportunities, leading to higher certificate and degree completion rates and better paying jobs. More than half of the participating students are women and 80% are students of color and they could be future entrepreneurs in need of funding.
These initiatives not only level the playing field for underrepresented communities, they are also good for business.
“The numbers show when you have executive teams that are more diverse, that are more innovative, the output is higher, more productive and efficient,” explained Thomas. “Ultimately they drive higher revenue and so when I pose this question, it’s a question of what I can be doing in this moment to help our companies be as competitive as they possibly can.”
Thomas is putting top priority on other issues affecting Californians such as climate change, the wildfires and Silicon Valley’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “As we move forward, we’ll look at the logistics to distribute the vaccine and how we can help with the supply chain and support here in the region.” Thomas added that as virus keeps spreading, it might bring back demand for supplies such as PPE, which will also need to be addressed.
SVLG is a member of the California Stewardship Network, an alliance of regional leaders across California who are leading and coordinating efforts to respond to their regions’ distinct needs during the recovery and beyond.
Thomas added, “I believe we have a platform here at the Leadership Group to not only catalyze and drive change here in Silicon Valley, in our region, in California but drive meaningful and impactful change across the country.”
The SVLG 25×25 initiative will be formally unveiled at the Leadership Group’s Diversity Summit on February 19.