Diversity Proust

Proust Goes Tech With Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, Founder And CEO Of Founder Gym

Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon’s love of change matched with her creativity and drive has defined her experience as a successful startup founder and the Founding Portfolio Services Director at Kapor Capital, but the common thread in her life has always been the empowerment of other people. That recurring theme inspired her to create FounderGym, an online training program that helps founders from underrepresented groups build their companies.

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This week, Dixon spoke with Crunchbase News to answer questions about her personality, her outlook, and the state of the tech industry for our latest interview in the Proust Goes Tech series.

What would you otherwise be doing right now?

Well, I love what I’m doing which is why I’ve turned everything else down at this point and made so many sacrifices. But, if I had to choose anything, I mean, I would love Oprah Winfrey’s job which is basically sitting down and getting inside the minds of some of the most incredible people in the world. And getting paid to do that. I think that’s an incredible job.

Your main fault?

One of the things I work on hardest to control is my focus. I think focus is everyone’s achilles heel. It’s the thing where you have so many ideas and there are so many creative inspirations– especially in this information age where you have a window into everything everyone else is doing. It can instantaneously spark something like, “oh man, I didn’t even think of that! This would be great for my business and my skillset!”

So the key thing I’m really trying to work on this year is focus and learning how to say no to most of the stuff so I can say yes to the things that matter the most.

The quality you most desire in a tweet?

Authenticity. I feel like it’s oftentimes information overload. And to cut through all of the noise, authenticity sometimes does the trick. So I appreciate that and I try to abide by that.

Your idea of misery?

Misery. Oh wow.

The most miserable situation I could imagine myself in is not having the freedom to do what I want with my life.

What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

Two things.

First, empathy. Their ability to see through someone else’s eyes and put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I think that’s a strong quality I look for.

The second thing is personal development. I try to surround myself with people who understand that they are a work in progress. They really do make an extra effort to improve upon who they are today and where they want to be tomorrow.

Your chief characteristic?

I’ve said this already with my friends attributes, but I do think I’m very empathetic and I really do try to see all sides and third alternatives in situations. I think there’s Your Truth, Their Truth, and then The Truth, so I really do try to approach every situation with empathy.

Aside from that I would probably say I’m fearless. I really don’t care what other people think about me. It’s really important that if I believe in something and I think it’s doing a good then I’m going to speak up and say it. Or if there’s a way that I want to express myself that other people may think is goofy or silly then whatever. That’s who I am.

What skill do you wish you possessed?

Presence. I feel like people who reach certain pinnacles in life… we’re Type A types of people. We’re always satisfied but dissatisfied. There’s always an undertone of dissatisfaction in our lives where we’re always striving for more and more and more. So what I would really like to have is a stronger quality of presence and enjoying the moment, stopping to smell the roses, and patting myself on the back along the way. I don’t want to always feel like I haven’t made it yet.

Your most impactful book?

Oh gosh there are so many for different reasons.

I would say A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Ekhart Tolle. It goes along again with this concept of being present and aware of your own thoughts and how your thoughts create your reality. It talks about being able to check yourself and control what you’re thinking so that you can have a more positive fulfilling reality.

What defines success?

Being who I authentically am, living my joy, and helping other people find theirs.

When is confidence lost?

I think confidence can be lost, but if you want to be successful you can’t lose it for very long.

The times I do lose confidence are when I have certain expectations of what I was going to be able to accomplish and I wasn’t able to. But I think one of my strong suits is that I look at every lesson as a blessing. I’ll give myself 24 hours. For 24 hours I’m going to cry it out, I’m going to sulk in my mood, I’m going to have a pity party and play the victim role, but then it’s like “Alright. I’m done. What am I going to do about it?”

Which buzzword is exhausted?

I guess “diversity and inclusion.” I think they’ve lost their meaning and their power. They’re just words at this point. They haven’t translated so much into action. Really what these words are saying is just “Be kind to other people. Love other people. Just see the humanity in everyone.” But they’re buzzwords now that people like to tack onto pledges like, “Oh, I’m down for the cause now.”

I guess another buzzword is definitely “woke.” People are like, “Oh, I’m woke now. I totally understand the injustices of the world da da da.” I think it’s diminishing the meaning because I don’t think the realization of injustices and inequities is really translating over into action and concrete changes.

What virtues do others have that you don’t?

Probably patience. Which is funny because I said that I’m empathetic. But I think patience. I have a very high standard that I hold myself to, and I think by consequence I tend to hold other people to that standard. Sometimes I think I need to realize that everyone is on their own journey and everyone has to go through their own experiences to have their own set of realizations.

We all have our own life curriculum that we have to go through. Even though you want to interject yourself into someone’s story and try to fix it for them, they have to go through what they have to go through to have the breakthrough that they need to get to the next level of their lives.

So I think the attribute that I hope to have that other people have is patience for other peoples’ journeys.

What impact do you want to leave behind?

The impact I want to leave behind is that I helped other people become their most fully expressed selves. I helped them break the paradigm that this society has set in place– telling you that you must be this, or that you must do this by this age. Helping other people think for themselves and become critical thinkers with the end goal of helping them be fully realized beings.

What’s the biggest problem tech is failing to solve?

It’s my buzzword, for sure, which is diversity and inclusion. But I think a bigger problem is lack of empathy. Empathy is, like I said, being able to walk a day in another person’s shoes, and being able to see the world through their eyes. But empathy also promotes pro-social helping behavior. When you can actually feel something for another being then you’re more likely to help that person.

I feel like there are a lot of insular networks that exist. Like 92 percent of white social networks are white. It’s very similar for other demographics, but that’s by far the most insular. And so if you are not conversing with, hanging out with, really getting to know– even outside of work– people from different groups and walks of life, you’re not giving yourself a chance to feel empathy for them. By consequence when you get into the work place you’re not really thinking about them. You’re not thinking about them in your hiring practices, in your promotional practices, or in the products that you’re developing. I would say one of the biggest things it’s failing on is empathy and just seeing other people and valuing them and feeling for them.

Editorial Note: Answers edited for brevity and clarity.

Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias

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