After 11 years at the helm, Kimberly Bryant, 55, became CEO and board member of Black Girls Code, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2011.
The organization announced Bryant’s departure on Friday, August 12, with a Tweeter, saying, “As BGC enters a new chapter, the mission remains the same.” The day before, Bryant filed a lawsuit against board members Heather Hiles, Stacy Brown-Philpot, Sherman Whites, Sofia Mohammed, as well as Wells Fargo, and its CEO Charles W. Scharf and chief financial officer Michael P Santomassimo.
In the lawsuit, obtained by Inc., Bryant alleges that she was unjustly removed and barred from the Black Girls Code, and that the organization’s board members wrongfully transferred her Wells Fargo account to each other. Bryant opened the account in January 2012 for Black Girls Code, which was then an unincorporated sole proprietorship.
The dispute, while ongoing and unclear as to fault, nonetheless presents a cautionary tale to founders struggling to navigate choppy cultural waters while attempting rapid growth.
Black Girls Code, which provides digital technology training opportunities for black girls ages 7-17, operates largely through donations, has grown rapidly during the pandemic; he received about $1.5 million in donations through 2019, up from $30 million at the end of 2021, according to the lawsuit. Bryant alleges that this rapid growth led to board member Heather Hiles taking on a more active role at Black Girls Code. Hiles “sought to capitalize on BGC’s growth and increase funding for his own personal gain,” Bryant alleges in legal documents. Bryant claims that Hiles tried to arrange a partnership between the online learning platform Udemy, of which Hiles is a director, before Udemy’s IPO, and that Hiles prevented the creation of an endowment, with the intention of diverting the funds to a venture capital firm. where Hiles is also a managing partner. Neither Hiles nor Black Girls Code responded to requests for comment regarding the allegations.
“Heather Hiles’ attempt to destroy BGC, which I built to help girls, especially girls of color, enter the cutting edge computer coding industry around the world, hurts me deeply,” said Bryant in a statement shared with Inc. “My painful feelings go out to the girls who will suffer from Heather Hiles’ aggressive greed to dominate and destroy this beautiful community created to uplift and celebrate black women and girls.”
Tension at Black Girls Code grew in the summer of 2021 after three employees resigned from the organization and raised concerns about workplace culture. Bryant alleges she immediately called a meeting with the board to address those concerns and suggested hiring a cultural consultant. Karla Monterroso, the former CEO of racial equity nonprofit Code2040, assumed the role in October 2021. At the 2021 board meeting, Bryant says Hiles disclosed that they had personally met with employees who quit, despite policies that did not allow them to do so; this interaction, Bryant claims, resulted in “significant tension”.
Bryant lost access to her work email on the morning of Dec. 21 and was placed on temporary leave, as the board formed a special committee to investigate these human resources grievances.
In the same statement shared with Inc.Bryant’s legal advisers Charles A. Bonner, A. Cabral Bonner and James M. Johnson allege that Bryant’s firing is the “culmination of a hostile takeover” initiated by Hiles, and that an independent investigator for Black Girls Code has not substantiated the special committee’s claims against Bryant, including that she misinterpreted a staff member as “her” instead of “they.”
After news of Bryant’s initial suspension in December became public knowledge, Technological crunch reported allegations against Bryant from five former employees, shared on condition of anonymity. Two employees described Bryant’s leadership style as “rooted in fear.” One employee noted the complexity of the situation: “We know how it is perceived to bring down a black person. And that’s not even what we want to accomplish. We want the organization to be under leadership that could continue the growth of our work. ” This week, The catch also reported that former Black Girls Code employees had shared “stories of being belittled in meetings, overworked, underpaid and a culture that forced them into regular therapy,” on condition of anonymity. .
Bryant tweeted that, upon her removal as CEO, she was not offered severance pay, medical assistance or bank holiday pay, suggesting that her removal was a “retaliation”.
Monday, the New York Times reported that Adam Neumann, the controversial founder of WeWork, has secured a $350 million investment for his yet to launch real estate startup, Flow, from venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz. That day, Bryant tweeted, “Thoughts for Monday: I just want to see women ESPECIALLY black female founders be seen as human, be able to own their agency without hostile attacks and have the same 2nd, 3rd, etc chances as our man white peers.