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Building Our Own Table: Netta Jenkins
Meet the co-founder of Dipper
If you’ve been following the newsletter recently, you’ll have gathered that there’ve been some shifts on the job front. That’s why it seems timely to talk to Netta Jenkins, co-founder of Dipper, a startup that creates a safe space for Black people and people of color to share their experiences. Please meet Netta.
Netta, tell me briefly about your background prior to founding Dipper.
My educational background is in communications and behavioral psychology, with a lens of leadership as well and I have always been focused on diversity, equity and inclusion from a very young age. My parents are from Liberia. They came to this country in the 80s and having two African parents, I had three jobs that I could do: doctor, attorney or engineer.
My father was buying me law books at a very young age - I was around eight - and my mother was looking into cardiovascular books. And they weren't playing at all that my job was to do something great. Especially in African culture, you want to make sure you’re progressing.
I do remember I had a pretty pivotal moment where when we had moved into a neighborhood that was predominantly white, a white woman has been in my mother's space and said “Blacks don't belong in my neighborhood”. And, and I was standing right next to my mother at the time. And I was seven years old. And I remember my mom being silent, walking back to the house and not saying anything and then fast forward, I go to school and I was experiencing more racism. I'm running to my mom one day crying and she said to me: “Netta, I didn’t bring you into this world to cry about things; I brought you into this world to impact change.” Only an African parent would say that! And that's exactly what stuck with me.
How did that affect you at school?
I ended up running for president of the freshman class. And I remember my student council teacher saying to me, “Well, Netta you know, your big gig here is to fold flowers for the freshmen float”. And I looked at him and I said, “I'm not here to fold flowers; I'm here to create change.”
And I started to challenge my professors, and I took a lot of honors and college credit courses. I’m a firm believer that education is a critical component, Many people can’t self-reflect because they've been educated in a way that only allows their mind to think in with one narrative. So I asked questions, and they didn’t like that, but that led me into this work. It was always about advocating for people that didn't have a voice, especially for those that are marginalized, that are systemically overlooked.
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What’s the elevator pitch for Dipper?
Dipper is a review ratings and recruiting platform that guides professionals of color to a better workplace one review at a time. What we also want to do for companies is help them increase representation and get feedback from the community on some of the goals for their DEI efforts.
Tell me about the inequity or gap that you're trying to redress with Dipper and why it's so important.
People of color have been systemically overlooked for many, many years. And because of that, there has been a gap in the way in which we propel within organizations, in terms of treatment within organizations, the respect level, the credibility that's given.
And if you're suffering within the workplace because of the way you’re being treated, because you can't move up, because there's a barrier internally, that hinders the way in which you can feed yourself and your family. And that's when we see such a tremendous wealth gap especially as it pertains to those that identify as Black, but we see that for other people of color as well.
What we're really trying to solve for is one there's no true safe space for people of color to really understand what's happening within the organization that you're applying to before you apply. We may look at reviews, but it's on a platform that isn't really speaking about our experiences. The reviews on Dipper are about our experiences as professionals of color within the workplace. Some of those experiences that are shared are positive, they're great. And that's amazing for us because we want for any job seeker, you know, that is that is a person of color to say, Okay, I'm willing to go to that organization. So then that organization will see organic progression, and they won't have to fight hard to hire diverse talent.
It also gives an opportunity if the reviews are negative. There's a lot of hidden stories of professionals of color that have committed suicide based off of the treatment that they have received. And so I also see Dipper not just as a technology platform, but really a platform that saves people's lives. Because now they know okay, if I get involved in this and I see the reviews and I'm seeing that it's not the best experience here for those that look like me, and I get involved, that's on me, but if I research them, I say okay, see, that's what’s up, I'm going to save my life. And that there's a level of freedom. There's a level of power that Dipper truly wants to give back to the people, you know, our people. And I think there's a beauty in that.
What do companies get from Dipper?
The other piece is we want to see companies excel. Some of us are serial entrepreneurs, like myself, but some of us are still going to be working for others. And oftentimes I think about legacy. I think about my children. I have a two year old and a three year old. They may want to work for an organization or they may want to start their own. Regardless of what they do, I want to make sure that they're providing the best spaces for people. I want to make sure that they're treated with a level of respect. Dipper helps with that.
Netta, I know you also do DEI consulting. What is one of the issues companies typically fail to think about, and how can they fix it?
One of the things companies don't typically think about is really assessing how their employees are being treated by various demographics, the type of support that the various demographics need within their organization, and the benefits that they need. So, if we're thinking about those that are caregivers, what are some of the experiences that caregivers of color are having within your organization? Are those people growing? Are those people given opportunities?
And so when I step into an organization there's a gamut of things that I talk about, but I always like to start off with an assessment. That’s not just assessing your demographic that is marginalized, but assessing what do your leaders know? What do your leaders think about diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism? How do they use this as a lens for the work that they do? Do they even understand it? Because if they don't understand it, then we can do all the assessment on those that are systemically overlooked within the organization but that doesn't change anything.
What's next for Dipper? What do you have coming up that you're excited about?
I'm excited about a lot. With Dipper, we want to continue to drive more members to ensure that they're sharing ratings of their organizations. We want more organizations to share their open roles and to share their DEI and ESG efforts. I'm excited about that. And just kind of building up the momentum.
But I'm also excited because I'm working on building one of the most inclusive cities in the world called Telosa. A new city hasn't been built in over 100 years. And so I'm working with Marc Lore, who is a serial entrepreneur, as well as the owner of Minnesota Timberwolves. I’m just really excited to see how that pans out.
In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?
That's a good question. My vision for the future is that people learn and receive not just one narrative, but they start to understand the full scope of how race even became a thing. Because it's a social construct. And how in removing themselves from that and saying, Okay, I need to turn this around. I need to reflect on how I have systemically oppressed people, even if I didn't feel like I was actively doing it. And so really, you know, I love to see that people are deeply educated. I think if people aren't it'll be very, very hard for us to create the shift and the change that we need.
Thank you, Netta. Folks, there’s lot to think about here. I’d love to hear what resonated most with you.
Know someone who’d be a good fit for this series profiling Black founders? Invite them to submit their answers here.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Head of Anti-Racism at Diverse Leaders Group, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.