The co-founder of Black Girls Code has been suspended from the organization, and according to her, the reason she was suspended was “a calculated effort to paint my leadership in a negative light.”
Kimberly Bryant has been suspended from the nonprofit for more than a month. She tweeted in December that she found out about the suspension after waking up on Dec. 21 and seeing that she was locked out of the nonprofit’s email system. Bryant said the nonprofit’s governing board suspended her without letting her know.
The board has named Sofia Mohammed, vice president of programming at Black Girls Code, as interim CEO.
“Press release: so it’s 3 days before Christmas and you wake up to discover the organization you created and built from the ground up has been taken away by a rogue board with no notification,” Bryant tweeted.
Black Girls Code employees spoke anonymously to reporters in recent weeks, telling them that Bryant was prone to berating and belittling staffers during meetings. The employees said some of their co-workers have resigned from the organization because of Bryant’s leadership style.
Some employees told the Daily Beast that Bryant would call out staffers who couldn’t get work done in front of co-workers. Employees said they felt constantly under attack.
Several employees who worked under Bryant have been speaking out. One told TechCruch that Bryant had the habit of telling staffers that “you’re not living up to my expectations of what you should be” without given employees guidance on how to improve. Another employee noted that Bryant was also absent, instead focusing on press appearances.
“Someone said that it was to your benefit to stay off her radar,” said one staffer.
“We know how it is perceived to take down a Black person,” said one former worker of Bryant’s suspension. “And that’s not even what we want to accomplish. We want the organization to be under leadership that could continue the growth of our work.”
Bryant defended herself in a now-deleted tweet. “I am driven, [have] high expectations, and [am] a bit of a perfectionist. But I have never in my life misappropriated, misused, or abused anything or anybody for the org I built out of love. So don’t ever ever believe that. It’s not true,” she wrote.
The Black Girls Code governing board said it formed a special committee to investigate employee complaints about Bryant, TechCrunch reported.
Board members decided to place Bryant on leave to make sure the investigation was conducted fairly. The organization has not said when Bryant will return to work. It’s also unclear how long the investigation into Bryant’s behavior will last.
Bryant is a former engineer in the pharmaceutical industry who founded the organization in 2011. In 2016, Business Insider labeled her one of the most powerful engineers. Bryant, 55, has also been named to The Root 100 and Ebony Power 100 lists.
Black Girls Code offers workshops designed to push girls into tech-centric careers like software development or biology. It has garnered funding from major companies — including Nike, IBM, Facebook and Google. Based in California, the organization has 16 chapters across the U.S.
Bryant dismissed the allegations in a lengthy statement released last month.
“First and foremost, I know that I have not personally done anything unethical, immoral, or illegal as the founder and CEO of Black Girls Code,” the statement read. “As a founder who has built something from her own blood, sweat, and tears from the ground up, this fight for me is about justice and giving rights to founders, especially women in leadership. We must be treated fairly and just.”
Bryant also said in the statement that “none of the so-called allegations have been substantiated, no investigation has even started, and this entire process has been dishonest and unlawful.”