Diversity Drives Innovation: 5 Activists for You to Follow

For many of us, the 2020 protests for racial justice were a watershed moment. They amplified the voices of Black people and spotlighted the necessity of anti-racism in an unapologetic, urgent way. And businesses took notice.

Like many others, we at Propllr launched our own DEI working group in response to these protests. Beyond the formation of this committee, we also engaged in anti-racism training with Chicago ROAR. Both steps were crucial for starting the work of educating ourselves on issues that impact marginalized people, both in and outside the workplace.

That (ongoing) education is critical. A lot of us in the startup space are action-oriented – we want to start solving things right away. But uninformed actions can do more harm than good.

That’s why I wrote this blog – to share some of the best resources I’ve discovered in my ongoing educational efforts.

Imani Barbarin Offers Insight into the Intersection of Race and Disability

Quick Facts about Barbarin

DEI Focus: Disability Rights and Inclusion


Barbarin’s Background

Barbarin was born with cerebral palsy and speaks on disability and racial justice from the perspective of a Black disabled woman. She’s responsible for many trending hashtags on social media that highlight disabled people – such as  #ThingsDisabledPeopleKnow and #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy – and regularly posts content to her nearly 400k followers.

Next Steps

First, read and watch these three pieces of content:

Second, follow Barbarin on your preferred platforms. If you’re looking for an academic and candid voice to guide you through various disability issues, she’s a fantastic resource.

Alok Vaid-Menon Interrogates Gender Norms

Quick Facts about Vaid-Menon

DEI Focus: Transgender Rights


Vaid-Menon’s Background

Vaid-Menon identifies as gender non-conforming and transfeminine, using the singular “they” pronoun.

During their time at Stanford, Vaid-Menon built up their profile as a key figure for trans awareness. Today, Vaid-Menon engages with the trans identity across different art forms (performance art, fashion design, poetry) and posts updates to their more than one million followers.

Next Steps

First, watch these three videos:

  • A 2013 TEDTalk, which details Vaid-Menon’s perception of success in America.
  • A filmed podcast from 2021 that unpacks the gendered nature of fashion.
  • My favorite piece of content is "Trans/Generation," which elaborates on the way Vaid-Menon’s family perceives and embodies gender, via spoken word.

Second, follow Vaid-Menon on your preferred platforms. If it feels uncomfortable to challenge your ideas of gender, keep watching and listening. You never know who in your circle might appreciate your willingness to learn.

Alice Wong Advocates for Disability Rights

Quick Facts about Wong

DEI Focus: Disability Rights


Wong’s Background

Wong was born with spinal muscular atrophy. She stopped walking around seven and now uses a motorized wheelchair and a BPAP machine to breathe.

As the only physically disabled student and one of only a few Asian students in school, Wong acknowledges she stood out. This awareness drove her to fight for access and enact systemic change, eventually creating the Disability Visibility Project one year after President Obama appointed her to the National Council on Disability.

Next Steps

First, read or listen to these three pieces:

  • This Twitter thread, which counters ableist remarks from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
  • This podcast episode, which discusses the meaning behind the viral hashtag #CripTheVote.
  • My favorite piece of content is The Last Straw, which highlights the discrimination disabled people face when using tools that benefit them. An additional draw: this article features quotes from Imani Barbarin.

Second, follow Wong on social media. In this time of shifting public health mandates and fluctuating work arrangements, her social feeds frequently spotlight important considerations for disabled people.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi Exposes Systemic Racism

Quick Facts about Kendi

DEI Focus: Anti-Racism


Kendi’s Background

Kendi teaches history at Boston University and serves as the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. But he is perhaps best known for How to Be an Anti-Racist, which elevated his national profile en route to being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2020 and securing a MacArthur Fellowship in 2021.

Next Steps

First, read these four pieces of content:

Second, follow Kendi on social media. Internalized racism can feel somewhat conceptual, but he breaks it down in a way that leaves you with actionable takeaways. Interrogating racism takes time, but it’s necessary for making the world a safer, more equitable place for everyone.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Promotes Climate Justice

Quick Facts about Martinez

DEI Focus: Environmental and Indigenous Rights


Martinez’s Background

At 15, Martinez was one of the plaintiffs who sued the US Federal Government for its affirmative actions that cause climate change in Juliana vs. United States. Three years later, he was the lead plaintiff in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which sought to deny drilling permits in Colorado.

Martinez is also known for his hip-hop, which highlights issues like climate change and the #LandBack movement.

Next Steps

First, watch and read these pieces:

  • This TEDxYouth performance, which blends hip hop with environmental activism.
  • Martinez’s book Imaginary Borders, which conveys the importance of climate change activism.
  • My favorite piece of content is this TV appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, which highlights Martinez’s ability to quickly outline talking points around environmental activism and immigration. Content warning for coarse language.

Second, follow Martinez on his social media platforms. He does a great job of sharing perspectives from activists that discuss the intersection of climate justice and indigenous rights.

A More Inclusive Workplace Starts with Learning

Diverse workplaces consistently outperform those that are more homogenous. Yet most founder teams and managers are all-white. That’s a big miss in our field.

But creating a workplace where people from a variety of backgrounds feel welcome takes work. My hope is that learning from the people featured in this piece will be part of that work so you can make your startup a safe and productive place that prioritizes DEI.