on February 13, 2020
Interview with Bay Area First Ones Honoree Simone Hill, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead, Omidyar Network
As told to Shane Watson, uAspire Development Manager
My childhood was split almost evenly between Danbury, Connecticut, and Newport News, Virginia—very different places. I didn't grow up with a lot of means. Neither of my parents went to college, but they knew just how important education was.
I'd probably say my favorite subject in school was math, and I think it was because it was a surprise to me that it came easy. And then, it's a very close second, it would be history. I always specifically liked the cultural elements of history ... learning about the cultures of ancient civilizations was always, and still to this day still is, fascinating to me.
I was kind of on this fast track, in the gifted and talented programs. And then everything changed my freshman year of high school. My father was diagnosed, and very quickly passed from leukemia when I was 14. That kind of sent me and my mom into kind of a tailspin, and a lot of moves back and forth between Connecticut and Virginia happened in high school.
I went from being on this fast track, having the grades to go to some of the top schools in the country, to being quite frankly, very depressed, and feeling like, ‘what's the point?’ My family made a point of engaging me with things again, connecting me with mentors. I grew up in the church and that was my whole life for many years. I had my village to support me.
In high school there wasn’t a lot of advice or guidance when it came to financial aid and other college admissions issues. But I eventually got a full ride to the University of Connecticut. I remember getting there, my village took me, drove me in a church van. If you could imagine driving to college with ‘New Hope Baptist Church’ written on the side of the van. A bunch of people packed all my stuff, a bunch of snacks, and all my family, like, packed into this church van, drove up to UConn, and they set my room up and everything. I still remember this very clearly.
As a senior in college, I applied to Stanford's MBA program and was accepted, and was able to defer for a couple of years to work before going. So that was kind of my path to and through college.
I think it is important for you to choose a school that will provide you with the resources you need to be successful. Arguably that may be more important than going to a school that has your specific major because I think, for me when I actually started, I had declared a marketing major and I switched.
I also wish I would've taken some time to take some classes that have absolutely nothing to do with my major. So, as you're deciding which school to go to, I would also think about what other kinds of periphery resources and classes they may have that are of interest to you.
I think diversity work really is about influencing people. Sometimes it is actually changing hearts and minds. Sometimes it's not doing something that deep, but you are at least changing behavior. I think what speaks to me most about what I do now is the fact that I do really feel like the work I'm doing is helping people to feel like they can be their most genuine and authentic selves. I feel like when people ask me ‘why are you interested or why have you gone down this path of diversity, equity, and inclusion?’ I think there's so much of my life I've felt othered.
My role is really to help inform our strategy around equity issues. So, we as an organization are focusing on some very large multigenerational issues, like capitalism and trying to make a technology safer, more secure, more trustworthy, and dependable for very large issues, and that has a very strong impact on diverse communities.
I'm very, very grateful and blessed and fortunate and give all glory and honor both to God and to my family and my village. Everywhere that I go, I take them on my back. Anywhere I go, anything that I do, I do it with this entire village behind me.