BET's Debra Lee Considering a Fund for Women, People of Color in Tech

Former BET Chief Executive Debra Lee said on Wednesday said she's looking into creating a fund for women and people of color in tech, inspired by experiences at her annual gathering of powerful women - Leading Women Defined.

Lee, speaking at the eighth-annual Upfront Summit, said she found fewer people who looked like her as she climbed the ranks at the Viacom-run network. And that led Lee to create the conference which draws power players like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton as keynote speakers.


Debra Lee speaks at the Upfront Summit in Pasadena on January 29, 2020.Courtesy AirCam

Over her decades long career, Lee often found herself the only women of color in board rooms and in the c-suite – a trend that's slowly changing. She recalled walking into a gathering of the National Cable Television board where all the male members were socializing with each other, leaving the female members boxed out.

"For a company to have a board now with no women, no people of color, they should be truly embarrassed," she said at the Upfront Summit. "If you have diverse people on your board, they are going to hold you accountable."

Lee, who is working to get more women on boards as part of her work with Time's Up, sees many signs of change at companies. What she wants to see is more female chief executives. Meanwhile, a recent California law mandates that companies headquartered in the state have women on their board. "We have to hold these companies' feet to the fire," she said.

Lee, who was a member of Twitter's board and sat on the nominating committee, found herself firing off the name of CEOs when the social media giant was looking for black board nominees. The other board members were having a hard time coming up with candidates.

"I love the fact that women and men are discussing their salaries," she said "Women have to know their worth and not be afraid to ask for it. That's the only way you create wealth. That should be the norm with women and people of color."

The Upfront Summit is expected to attract more than 1,200 attendees flocking to the Rose Bowl Jan. 29-30. The invite-only event brings together a diverse mix of entrepreneurs networking with venture players armed with billions of dollars in capital, and headlined by presentations from business leaders including Steve Ballmer, Quibi Chief Executive Meg Whitman, Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, and Idealab founder Bill Gross.

Links to the conference agenda and the livestream can be found here.

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