Community Spotlight – Corey Ponder

March 23, 2022

Tech workers from across the Bay Area have joined TechEquity’s network and given their time, skills, and financial support to make their communities more equitable. We’re proud of our growing community full of intelligent, passionate, engaged citizens, and we want to show them off.

Meet Corey Ponder

Corey Ponder is currently a part of Instagram’s strategic partnership team, where he works as an advocate for his users. He is passionate about teaching leaders about empathy and community dynamics to serve underrepresented communities better. As the founder of EmPACT Strategies, he develops guides and best practices for companies to enact their values and become allies to their surrounding communities. In his free time, Corey enjoys sharing his insights into empathy and community work through his podcast, Pondering Allyship. 

What motivates you to fight against structural inequities? 

I think my moment of political awakening was the moment I realized that I am seen as different. It happened when I was a young child in elementary school; after a kickball game, one of the kids on the opposing team threw a racial slur at me. Immediately, I was hurt. I didn’t understand what possessed him to use that word to harm me; where did he learn to speak like that, why did he say it, and what was it supposed to mean to me? Throughout other experiences in my life, I had moments where I didn’t feel like I belonged in certain spaces. But it wasn’t until I started actively wondering how I could begin to address this, did I begin to feel motivated to close this very evident empathy gap. 

One of the things that keeps me motivated is this idea of the core human experience. We all just want to feel heard, feel like we belong, and feel like we are valued. I’m really trying to understand how we can connect to our shared sense of humanity, and what bias gets in the way of seeing that humanity in others. I have the capacity to question and understand why people behave the way they do and that helps keep me motivated when the bigger picture seems insurmountable.

What do you feel is the most pressing issue in California? 

The most important issue that needs to be addressed in California is racial equity, specifically around authenticity and belonging. Racial equity is very personal to me in thinking about my own journey as a Black man, but also as I look more broadly at the diversity of California. I often think about the different ways racial equity can manifest for different communities. Though we may all come from different backgrounds, there is a natural intersection of identities. At that intersection, we see the core of what is important to all communities and that is understanding what people’s basic needs are and meeting those needs. Whether it is through stable housing or well-paying, secure jobs, at the end of the day people want to feel protected and safe. 

Why should tech workers care and get involved in these issues?

It’s easy to step back and say “hey, that’s not my issue” because you think you can go about your day as a tech worker without feeling the direct impacts of these issues. But the reality is, equity issues touch us all; they change the way that we’re able to connect with other people, how we’re supported and welcomed into a neighborhood or community. Being connected to your community will invite you into opportunities that may help you understand your rights and recognize where you may have overlooked harm to the community. We don’t benefit as humans, we don’t grow as people when we become silent or stand back; we lose a critical aspect of connection when we don’t get involved. And once we get involved, we realize that we cannot tolerate inequity, hate, or violence, so we must exercise our voices and address issues that are affecting our communities. 

How can tech workers leverage their power and privilege to advance structural change?

There are many ways tech workers can use their power for structural change. But the first thing you can do is sit down and listen to the stories of people around you. You can even start with your colleagues; even if we’re all in the same place, we might have different experiences or different routes that got us there. Your colleagues can help you get started on your civic engagement journey by connecting you to organizations and resources in your community.

As tech workers, for better or worse, have an immense amount of privilege because of the company you work for. There is a lot of prestige that comes with working in tech—you can use that power  to do something about inequity.. Raising awareness in the workplace may help elevate the issues you care about and gives it the necessary teeth to put it on your executive’s radar. Your voice is a vital way to leverage change. 

Is there a TechEquity project that resonates with you? 

First, I have to shout out the TechEquity voter guide. I have always been interested in civic engagement, and the voter guide speaks directly to voters so they feel passionate about participating in political dialogue or discourse, even feeling empowered to vote. The voter guide gives you the tools you can use to understand these issues and exercise the fundamental right to vote, because people take that for granted. I just love how powerfully the guide breaks down issues, gives you relevant resources, and helps people make voting decisions by doing the work for locals to understand these issues that are affecting them. 

I also want to highlight SB 331, the Silenced No More Act, that passed recently. As someone who works in tech, specifically working in the equity, inclusion, and belonging space, this bill shows how workers’ voices have been silenced. SB 331 addressed this head-on because it advocates for greater transparency, accountability, and growth when it comes to speaking out in the workplace. 

I think about the microaggressions that I encounter as a Black man moving through the world thinking about how I have to change my mannerisms, or how I have to change the way in which I communicate or speak or be constantly aware of how body language or perception might impact my relationship to someone. SB 331 empowers workers to call out discriminatory behavior and not be immediately subjugated because of an NDA, a hush, or a gag order. That suddenly opens up a conversation around all the things that make me feel like less than or feel like I don’t belong in a space.

This bill is very personal to me because it makes experiencing discrimination and speaking out about no longer taboo. Now, we can actually be a part of a broader conversation and can get more comfortable with the discomfort of calling out these sort of things.