For Tiana Davis Kara ’06, an employment gap in 2015—when Gap Inc. downsized its marketing team, including her job—proved to be a “beautiful blessing.”
Following a hard-charging media planning career for brands from Mervyn’s to YouTube, she reassessed her options. “I was constantly drawn to things that were social impact-related (for) people of color and women,” she says. A volunteer stint for a nonprofit providing technology education to African American girls confirmed Kara’s interest.
Today, as executive director for New York-based #BUILTBYGIRLS, she’s busy setting young women’s feet on professional pathways to tech-powered fields. The organization connects girls, ages 15 to 22, with “no-fluff” resources: one-on-one mentoring, network building tools, and gets them in the door at tech companies for events, internships and first jobs.
“My vision is for #BUILTBYGIRLS to truly, truly take the industry by storm and amplify the voices of girls who are eager to step into the tech industry but are hesitant and concerned with its current state,” explains Kara, referencing the lack of gender equality and diversity among high-tech workers.
Studies forecast millions of jobs will go unfilled for lack of trainees in the pipeline, Kara says. But as their tagline asserts: #BUILTBYGIRLS is every future tech leader’s secret weapon. Participants have built robots, started nonprofits, and built apps to diagnose Parkinson’s disease and test drinking water safety.
Kara’s own secret weapon may well have been HNU.
The only child of a single working mother, there was no guarantee her path would extend much beyond her Oakland home. “I was obsessed with basketball and wanted to get better, and I wanted to leverage it into a tool to get me into college,” she says.
A basketball scholarship to attend HNU achieved her goal. She arrived as a biology major determined to become a doctor but allowed herself intellectual freedom to explore. Kara discovered a love for writing that fanned her interest in marketing. An on-campus job at a summer camp for children, 5 to 13, contained further seeds of the future she would nurture for herself—and others.
“I loved it,” she says. “I tapped into their personalities and gravitated toward the older kids. That was something that opened my eyes to working with young people.”
And she couldn’t be more contented with her role supporting the next generation.
“They are ready, they are eager, they are determined,” Kara says. “They’re at the point where they say, `I don’t care about a school dance. I’ve got a 24-hour hackathon I’ve got to crush.'”