Diversity training startup lost a client to Trump’s ban, CEO says

  • Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson said in a tweet Thursday that a recent executive order from the Trump administration banning certain types of diversity training at federal contractors already caused her to lose a a client.
  • Emerson said the type of training her startup provides does not violate the executive order, but that this company ended it just to “play it safe.”
  • She said that other companies are holding off on diversity training altogether because of confusion over the order.
  • Paradigm is especially known for providing training to Silicon Valley startups and big tech firms, which have historically struggled to achieve representation of minorities in their workforces and C-suites.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The CEO of a diversity training consulting firm said Thursday that her company has already lost a client due to President Trump’s recent executive order.


“We just lost our first client as a result of the executive order on diversity training,” tweeted Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson. “I’m sure it won’t be our last. Seems it’s having exactly its intended impact. I wish I could say I feel proud to be on the right side of history, but I just feel scared.”

Trump issued an executive order on September 22 that expanded a previous ban on certain types of racial sensitivity training at federal agencies. This September order also banned such training at contractors that want to do business with the government. A leaked memo on the ban, published by Business Insider’s Dave Levinthal, warned that government contractors who violate the ban will face “potential sanctions for noncompliance.”

Some in the corporate world voiced concerns that the move was a step backward for diversity in the workplace, including Aubrey Blanche of Australian startup Culture Amp, who described the orders as “obvious plays at white supremacy” to USA Today. The Information Technology Industry Council called it an “unacceptable step backward for racial equity,” Levinthal reported.

A freeze on diversity training could have a dramatic impact on Silicon Valley, where Black and Latinx people are poorly represented in the employee base and leadership of many companies. Venture capital struggles as well; Only 4% of all venture firm workers and 1% of all founders of venture-backed startups are Black, according to a study released last year by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC.

Paradigm provides diversity training to companies including Silicon Valley heavyweights like Lyft, Airbnb, Slack, and Twitter. 

Emerson did not reveal the name of the company that had bowed out, but said it was “a government contractor, directly impacted by the order, choosing not to pursue training as a result of it.”

Emerson said her company’s training does not violate Trump’s order, but that it did not matter because “they’re just not sure what exactly they are and aren’t allowed to do.”

“Many organizations are just trying to play it safe, and think the EO [executive order] isn’t clear, so they’re stopping all diversity training,” Emerson said in another tweet.

Emerson’s initial tweet announcing the loss garnered almost 2,000 comments, which split into messages of support versus harsh criticisms of critical race theory that frequently veered into personal attacks on Emerson.

In addition, Emerson and her husband Box CEO Aaron Levie are a Silicon Valley power couple who have been outspoken in their support for diversity initiatives. They were among the first prominent Silicon Valleys CEOs to open their pocketbooks in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd, promising to donate $500,000 to a number of racial justice organizations.

Neither Emerson nor Paradigm responded to requests for comment in time for this story.

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