Paving Your Road to Silicon Valley
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Bari a. Williams, Facebook Inc.

Bari a. Williams, Counsel at Facebook Inc., Global Infrastructure & Operations (Source: emergeamerica.org)

The tagline ‘diversity in tech’ is everywhere we turn these days. This renewed focus of increasing the representation of underrepresented groups, specifically racial minorities and women, is opening the doors for a pipeline of opportunity for black talent. However, for many, the road to Silicon Valley may be one that is full of ambiguity and fear of the unknown. This can grow from the belief that many doors are closed, or that ‘diversity in tech’ simply equates to STEM-based occupations such as engineering and programming.

[RELATED: 10 Career Resources for Women in STEM]

In order to gain more understanding on these matters, BlackEnterprise.com recently connected with Facebook Inc.’s legal powerhouse, Bari a. Williams,  who is knocking down doors in Silicon Valley with her legal prowess, innovative ideas, and commitment to diverse talent. This legal eagle is currently Counsel at Facebook Inc., on the Global Infrastructure & Operations team. Her career, personal journey, and insights will be of great value to those interested in joining the leadership ranks of Silicon Valley, as they begin to craft their own personal blueprint.

BE: What are the many hats that you wear every single day?
Williams: I’m a woman who wears many hats and has many passions – attorney, wife, mother, daughter, community servant, proponent of diversity, and sports fanatic. In that order. I say that attorney is first because I find that being an attorney makes me better at all of the other things that follow on the list. That training helps me navigate difficult situations and advocate for myself, my family, and my community. It’s a large part of my identity. I am not just an attorney, but a strategic thinker, and I pride myself on finding a hole or a need and finding a creative and productive way to fill it.

A few of my proudest moments in my career, particularly at Facebook, don’t just stem from deals that I’ve closed, but from recognizing a need and filling it outside of my Legal role – most notably in the Supplier Diversity space. Advocating for diversity hires is another, and seeing the fruits of that labor with new hires just in my department has been very rewarding. I have a chance to work on various passions of mine in one place, and that’s awesome. I’m in a moment where I feel fulfilled in every facet of my life – the work I’m doing, community service, family – and I’m savoring that.

How would you describe the journey of your career in the legal and tech industries?
In one word: perseverance. The other key component is strong mentorship. I have one in particular, Ed Goines, who has been a huge resource. I came out of law school a few months before the crash of the stock market in 2008, knowing that I wanted to do transactional work. So, just the fact that I didn’t want to do litigation was different. Having to navigate that space as a black associate in a large law firm was difficult, particularly because most of the connections that I had were litigators, and I knew I wanted to stay the course with transactions and commercial work. But I’m not someone that balks at the word “no.”

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my career is to stay the course, and that I’m my own best advocate. Ed reminded me of this when I was hesitating on raising an issue, and he said, “If you don’t, who will? No one will fight for you like you will.” I appreciated being reminded of that, because as an attorney I negotiate passionately for my client, and Ed was reinforcing that I need to do the same for myself.

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Dr. Atira Charles

Dr. Atira Charles is CEO of Think Actuality, LLC and an Assistant Professor of Management at Florida A&M University. She is also founder of The Mask Project (www.ourmasks.com). She has presented her research internationally and has worked with many global organizations in her quest to better understand how identities impact one’s workplace and life experience. She provides workshops and consultative services to public and private sector organizations that aim to promote more productive and inclusive environments. Her research and consulting seek to shed light on the unique narratives of how people manage their individual identities while striving for professional and organizational success. Dr. Charles earned both her B.S. in Finance and her M.B.A. at Florida A&M University, and her Ph.D in Organizational Behavior from Arizona State University.


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