Black Girls Code Founder Suspended in ‘Unfathomable Mess’

·4 min read
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

The head of an organization promoting Black girls in tech says she was unceremoniously ousted from the group—which she created—earlier this week.

Kimberly Bryant, CEO and founder of Black Girls Code, told The Daily Beast she awoke Tuesday morning to find she had been locked out of her email and Slack accounts connected to the organization. When she called senior staff to find out what was happening, no one would take her calls.

It was only when she checked her personal email that she saw a message from Board Chair Heather Hiles telling her she had been suspended, effective immediately.

“Press release: so it’s 3 days before Christmas and you wake up to discover the organization YOU created and built from the ground up has been taken away by a rogue board with no notification,” she tweeted to her more than 112,000 followers.

In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, a “special committee” of the Black Girls Code board said it had placed Bryant on paid administrative leave while it conducted an investigation into concerns about the CEO’s conduct raised by current and former staffers earlier this year.

It was not immediately clear how many board members were on the special committee. A representative for at least one board member tweeted that she had not been informed of Bryant’s suspension and did not vote for it.

Bryant’s suspension followed months of growing pains at the organization, which has transformed over the last decade from a coding camp in a prep school basement to a major nonprofit with15 chapters around the world. Bryant acknowledged that there was “some unhealthy stuff” in the organization, but she said senior leadership had started addressing these problems—beginning with hiring workplace culture consultant Karla Monterroso in September.

Monterroso told The Daily Beast she had just started her work with the organization and was shocked to learn of Bryant’s suspension via Twitter.

“This is an unfathomable mess handled in the most unjust way humanly possible to a woman who was a huge part of building this movement,” she responded in a tweet.

Monterroso said she had recently completed a survey of all current employees and was supposed to be conducting one-on-one interviews in the months to come. She commended the organization for addressing the needs of a diverse staff, and said she worried that news of Bryant’s suspension would “make a lot of leaders of color hide issues they were having internally, and continue to not receive the support and resources they need to navigate very complex situations.”

Some former employees, however, celebrated the decision. One ex-staffer, who asked not to be named, said Bryant had perpetuated a “call-out” culture so that employees felt constantly under attack, and had prioritized fundraising over expanding the mission. Especially during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, this staffer said, “it felt like BGC was trying to capitalize on the movement instead of continuing to do the work.”

“This feels like, I don't want to say an ‘I told you so moment,’” the employee said of the suspension, “but it feels nice that our feelings, our concerns, and our experiences we went through with her as CEO have been validated by the board.”

Emails reviewed by The Daily Beast suggest tensions were also brewing between Bryant and Hiles, who took over as interim chair in September. Bryant vociferously opposed Hiles’ nomination and, in a memo to the board in October, accused the board chair of “belittling” and “verbally berating” her in a meeting. She also faulted her fellow board members for not defending her against Hiles’ alleged attacks.

“Since creating this board three years ago I have sat on many boards and in varying leadership capacities,” she wrote in the memo. “Our board dynamics are the most dysfunctional, toxic, manipulative, and unsupportive I have ever encountered in a Board capacity.”

Earlier this month, Hiles asked Bryant’s chief of staff to send over a list of all organization employees and consultants dating back to 2018, as part of the workplace culture assessment. In a sign of how combative things had become, Bryant replied to the email personally, saying she would have to “circle back to counsel” before responding. As recently as Monday, the two sparred via email about who had the ability to call a board meeting and whether Hiles could be both board chair and interim treasurer.

In a statement sent to The Daily Beast on Thursday, Bryant again took aim at Hiles, accusing her and unnamed “cronies” of “tak[ing] advantage of a grassroots organization like BGC for their own personal gain.”

“Checks and balances of power and support have been put in place at BGC, and I absolutely believe in proper board/corporate governance,” she wrote. “There is nothing about how this matter was handled that is appropriate, and I have not been treated fairly or justly.”

She added: “My hope is that the outcome of this conflict will resolve amicably and include protecting BGC and all that we have built as a legacy over the last 10 years for Black women and girls.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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