Stefania Pomponi is a successful serial entrepreneur who is passionate about racial justice. As a founder of Hella Social Impact, a company that helps organizations show up authentically and impactfully for racial justice, she is able to bring together her experience and passions to create change. She lives and works on stolen Ohlone lands in Palo Alto, CA. She is the proud mamma of three amazing children. We are thrilled to share her thoughts on inclusive leadership in this edition of The Wider View.
Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.
My mother. She was driven by her own sense of curiosity and fearlessness, qualities she conferred to all of her children, including me. She never said no to any lesson I wanted to take and encouraged me to follow my own path. She was my role model for being an entrepreneur and supported my various endeavors.
She also taught me to be proud of my heritage—I’m half Korean-American and half Italian, and was raised in Rome, Honolulu, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I feel so lucky to have been raised a third culture kid with my feet firmly planted in all of my cultural experiences.
Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?
Silicon Valley, where I live and work, is full of serial entrepreneurs. What is different about me is the way I have done it. I graduated from college as an Art History major, spent ten years working in the audio industry, then spent three years teaching in an inner city school. I didn’t start my first company until I was 40, about to get a divorce, and just had a baby. I wasn’t afraid of failing because by the time I was 40, I had failed at lots of things in my life, and was still standing. If I failed at starting a company, what was the big deal? I am proof that you don’t need a business degree or an MBA or network of relevant connections to start your own business. You just need to believe in your vision, feel the fear, and do it anyway.
What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?
I look for resilience, the belief that all business relationships are personal, and people who feel the pain of racial injustice and want to do something about it.
“Center the lived experiences of the most marginalized people in your organization and see what happens.”
Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?
No-No Boy by John Okada. Every American should learn about what really happened to Japanese-Americans because of the racist, xenophobic policy allowing Japanese-American citizens to be relocated to concentration camps here on our own soil.
The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. This is a masterpiece that tells the history of The Great Migration, by bearing witness to real stories. This was the largest, decades-long migration of Black Americans from the South to large, industrialized cities like Oakland, Los Angeles, Detroit, and this migration changed the face of America.
2 Dope Queens is a podcast that makes me laugh out loud on planes, trains, and in automobiles.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?
… by starting a company called Hella Social Impact. We focus on helping organizations show up authentically and impactfully for racial justice. This is important to me not just because I am a woman of color and my co-founders are Black and non-Black women of color, but because we want to see white supremacy dismantled and the wants, needs, wishes, desires, and lived experiences of the most marginalized people acknowledged, centered, and lifted up.
What’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?
Agree to center the lived experiences of the most marginalized people in your organization and see what happens. (Hint: It’s not as easy as you think.)