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Why Redfin’s CTO, Bridget Frey, approaches D&I like an engineering project

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One of the major goals of Transform every year, our intensive, week-long applied AI event, is to bring a broad variety of expertise, views, and experiences to the table, to be mindful of the importance of diversity, and to not just give lip service to representation, but focus on inclusion on a large percentage of our panels and talks.

Inspired by the event’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity, we wanted to sit down with some of Transform’s speakers, leaders in the AI industry who make diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) a central tenet of their work.

Among them is Bridget Frey, CTO of Redfin. She’ll be speaking at Transform this year about how she works to build diverse and inclusive teams at the company, and the potential for AI to combat redlining and diversify American neighborhoods. We had the opportunity to speak to Frey about what launched her love of tech, how Redfin makes their focus on equity and inclusion better than just lipservice, and more.

See the first in the series here. More to follow.

VB: Could you tell me about your background, and your current role at your company?

I’m the CTO of Redfin, where we build technology to make buying and selling homes less complicated and less stressful. Right now, we’re investing heavily in machine learning, services, and the cloud as we scale multiple businesses such as Redfin Mortgage and Redfin Now, our iBuyer business.

When I was five, my dad brought home an Apple IIe, and the two of us learned to code on it together. I’ve spent my career working at high-growth technology companies, and just celebrated 10 years with Redfin this spring.

VB: Any woman in the tech industry, or adjacent to it, is already forced to think about DE&I just by virtue of being “a woman in tech” — how has that influenced your career?

I’ve been the only woman in an engineering department more than once in my career. That experience of feeling isolated has had a big influence in how I approach creating a culture that listens to all voices and a team that builds inclusive products. When I became CTO, I had this realization that I was now responsible in a very real way for DE&I on my team, and it inspired me to find ways to make a difference. We still have plenty of work to do, but I firmly believe that the tech industry can improve with focused effort.

VB: Can you tell us about the diversity initiatives you’ve been involved in, especially in your community?

When I joined Redfin in 2011, I was the only woman on the Seattle engineering team. Today, 36% of our technical team are women and 10% are Black or Latinx. Some ways we’ve gotten here:

We approached DE&I the same way our engineering team approached any engineering project — we made a backlog of bugs, we prioritized them, and we started making changes in how we recruit, train, promote, pay, and so many other areas.

We sourced candidates from alternative backgrounds, and set them up to succeed. We’ve made investments in documentation and training, which let us hire more people in 2020 who don’t have traditional computer-science backgrounds. We also opened roles early to candidates from non-traditional sources.

We started hiring more engineers outside of SF and Seattle. In 2018, we opened an engineering office in Frisco, Texas, and 21% of this team is Black or Latinx. As we hire more fully remote workers, we hope to build on that momentum.

We improved the diversity of our recruiting team. From June 1 to December 31, 2020, the percentage of Redfin’s Black and Latinx recruiters increased from 15% to 23%; 47% of our recruiters are now people of color. Their personal networks, and their own Redfin experience, make our recruiters formidable advocates for hiring people of color.

VB: How do you see the industry changing in response to the work that women, especially Black and BIPOC women, are doing on the ground? What will the industry look like for the next generation?

I feel a debt of gratitude to the Black and BIPOC women who are sharing their experiences and pushing our industry to do more. Timit Gebru, as a recent example, has inspired a whole host of researchers and practitioners to speak out on issues of equity in the field of AI. And it’s spreading beyond the ethical AI folks you’d expect to be the most aware of these issues to a broad set of tech workers who are advocating for systemic change. It’s unfortunately still easy to point to things that are broken in the DE&I space, but I’m optimistic that the tech industry is getting better at confronting these issues in a transparent way and then finding concrete solutions that will make a difference.

[Frey’s talk is just one of many conversations around D,E&I at Transform 2021 next week (July 12-16).  On Monday, we’ll kick off with our third Women in AI breakfast gathering. On Wednesday, we will have a session on BIPOC in AI. On Friday, we’ll host the Women in AI awards. Throughout the agenda, we’ll have numerous other talks on inclusion and bias, including with Margaret Mitchell, a leading AI researcher on responsible AI, as well as with executives from Pinterest, Redfin, and more.]

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