As the country focuses on racial and social injustice in the wake of the protests following the killing of George Floyd, Alexis Ohanian Sr., co-founder and former CEO of Reddit, announced June 5 that he resigned from Reddit's board and urged the directors "to fill my seat with a black candidate."
Reddit named Michael Seibel to the board June 10. Seibel is partner at Y Combinator and CEO of the YC startup accelerator program, which first helped launch Reddit in 2005, according to the organization.
Ohanion said he will use future gains on Reddit stock "to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate," he said. "And I'm starting with a pledge of $1M to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp."
Ohanian is married to tennis star and entrepreneur Serena Williams. In making his decision to step down, he kept the couple's daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., born in 2017, in mind, he said.
"I'm writing this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks, ‘What did you do?'" Ohanian said in his note. "I'm doing this for me, for my family and for my country."
Ohanian and his college friend, Steve Huffman, co-founder and current CEO, launched Reddit, an online community platform, in 2005. The goal was "to help people find community and a sense of belonging," he said.
Diversity at the ‘highest levels'
Ohanian stepped down from his daily duties at Reddit in 2018, according to The Wall Street Journal. But leaving the board of directors "was not an easy decision at all," he said June 6 on Williams' Instagram Live series "Serena Saturday."
He said he decided to "make way for a black candidate" because "we need diversity at the highest levels of business now more than ever." But as companies face criticism about the lack of diversity on their boards, many lack a formal process for grooming members, according to research.
New board members often are added through recommendations, and that can hamper diversity efforts, according to What Directors Think: Public Company Directors Reflect on the Top Issues in the Boardroom, a February report.
Interest in board diversity varies. PwC's 2019 Annual Corporate Directors Survey found that interest in gender diversity declined from 46% in 2018 to 38% in 2019. However, interest in racial or ethnic diversity slightly increased from 34% in 2018 to 38% in 2019.
Still, almost all (94%) respondents to a 2018 Deloitte survey said their boards are looking to increase diversity in some way.
Need for change in tech industry
Making room for a Black director at Reddit is in the best interest of the company, Ohanian said.
"It's in the best interest of every company for that to happen," he added. "The tech industry is long overdue for change."
In the quest to build workforces that reflect America's increasingly diverse demographics, tech companies — which have traditionally struggled with diversity and inclusion — are becoming more transparent. Huffman shared a statement on Twitter June 1 aimed at Reddit users and employees committing to fighting hate, racism and violence on its platform. However, Ellen Pao, former chief executive at Reddit, responded June 2 on Twitter, criticizing the company for not taking quicker action against a subreddit that had a history of amplifying "hate, racism and violence."
Changing the board composition at Reddit is a way to make a positive impact in the business world, according to Ohanian. "I take that board responsibility very seriously," he said. "And, 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," he said.