Kimberly Bryant it’s official out of Black Girls Code, eight months after being suspended indefinitely from the organization she founded.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Black Girls Code wrote that it “believes that the decision to remove Ms. Bryant as CEO and as a board member is in the best interest of the organization, the girls it serves, its employees and donors. BGC has focused its efforts on advancing and expanding the success of the organization since its inception.”
Bryant handed a federal lawsuit on Aug. 11 alleging wrongful removal and a conflict of interest by board member Heather Hyles. A day later, according to Bryant, her employment as a board member and CEO was terminated. A statement provided to TechCrunch by Bryant and her attorney described the termination as “the unfortunate culmination of a hostile takeover initiated by board member Heather Hyles of the nonprofit that Ms. Bryant created from the ground up, with the ultimate desire of Hyles to gain control of over $30 million in donated philanthropic funds.”
Also named in the suit are Wells Fargo and other individual board members. Hyles and Stacy Brown-Philpot, another board member, did not immediately return TechCrunch’s request for comment. A BGC spokesman said “the timing of the board’s decision has nothing to do with Ms. Bryant’s case” and that the latest filing contains the same allegations as the state court lawsuits Bryant filed in January.
Bryant’s firing comes after a tense period between Bryant and the board of directors she appointed. In December 2021, Bryant was denied access to her email, which she eventually learned had resulted in her being suspended indefinitely from the nonprofit by its board of directors.
At the time, the board told TechCrunch that Bryant had been placed on paid administrative leave to address complaints against her.
The board’s allegations — backed up by multiple interviews conducted by TechCrunch with former BGC employees — include that Bryant misrepresented a staff member and created a toxic work environment. The board then said it would form a special committee to investigate the aforementioned allegations, but declined to provide a specific timeline.
In Bryant’s legal filing, she claims the independent investigation cost the nonprofit nearly $2 million in donations in legal fees. The inquiry, led by Aisha Adam of Adam Law, saw 26 witnesses, including Bryant, questioned over eight months. Bryant’s filing states that Adam “concluded in her presentation to the Board on Friday, August 12, that none of the witnesses substantiated the special committee’s allegations against Bryant.” It’s unclear what the special committee’s claims are against Bryant, as the board formed a special committee last year in response to allegations made by former Black Girls Code employees.
TechCrunch reached out to the lead researcher, Adam, for further comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication. A spokesperson for Black Girls Code declined to comment on the investigation’s findings on the record.
On the same day of the presentation, the non-profit organization tweeted statement from Hyles, who said: “Bryant will transition from CEO and board member of BGC. The entire community wishes her well in her next endeavor.”
In response, Bryant tweeted that she was “wrongfully removed” and “without cause or opportunity to participate in the voting of these actions.” Days later she tweeted that she was not offered severance, health care or vacation pay, the latter of which she is entitled to by law in California, where BGC is based. “Sounds like revenge?” she tweeted about the lack of separation.
A spokesman for Black Girls Code said Ms. Bryant had been paid accrued vacation time in accordance with California law, but declined to comment on Bryant’s firing and health care allegations.
In December, TechCrunch spoke with five former employees of Black Girls Code. The people spoke to TechCrunch anonymously for fear of retaliation about the state of affairs at BGC. They confirmed the board’s decision to look at the company’s culture after a summer of rapid turnover, with many citing Bryant as the main reason for parting ways with the nonprofit in the first place.
Former employees said the staff retreat was largely due to Bryant’s leadership style, which they described as “rooted in fear.” When Bryant was there, she is said to have publicly berated managers in meetings, repeatedly calling people incompetent and urging managers to “go back to school” when they were unable to complete a task.
One former employee spoke at the time about the uncertainty of the situation. “We know how it feels to take down a black man,” this person said. “And even that is not what we want to achieve. We want the organization to be under leadership that can continue the growth of our work.”
Although he believes in the mission, this man said he finally left the company, thanks in part to seeing a therapist. “To work for an organization that tries to change the way you’re treated, valued and appreciated — and when it doesn’t happen again — that’s a really special kind of betrayal,” this person added.
Meanwhile, Bryant continues to receive overwhelming public support, especially from black women founders.
Martin Pierrethe founder of cannabis company edtech Sewagetold TechCrunch that the ordeal shows how black women are never given the same grace as other groups of people, and believes that if this situation happened to a white male leader, then the outrage would be “deafening.”
“Her former and current employees deserve to be heard,” Pierre said of those who have accused Bryant of misconduct. “Their claims, if true, are not to be rejected; However, Kimberly deserved a fair review process that could alleviate any past or present problems at the company. How they ended it was ugly. There was no warning. There was no internal investigation.”
Aniesia Williamsfounder of the communications services company AW+CO, said the way Bryant was treated was unacceptable and that many black founders in the ecosystem can relate to what Bryant is going through. She also said the way the organization suspended Bryant sends a bad message to the young girls the foundation has influenced over the years.
“Even deleting her from the website, all the while using her daughter’s face everywhere, is a slap in the face,” Williams told TechCrunch. “Black women as a whole can’t make any mistakes without fear that everything we’ve built will be taken away from us.”
At the same time, Nicole Tinsonthe founder of the networking company HBCU 20 x 20, also thinks Bryant’s sudden suspension is a disservice to the black at-risk community. She said the world needs to see more black women making a global impact, and Bryant’s removal means there is one less role model.
“There are appropriate protocols and procedures in place to address and promote improvement and efficacy for leaders in any organization, and this was a missed opportunity to move the organization forward in a positive way for the Black girls it serves,” Tinson told TechCrunch.
She hopes there is a positive outcome for everyone in that “Kimberly can get on with her plans for the future.”
“Sometimes we forget that the vision the founders have is the guiding light for the future of the communities they serve,” Tinson continued. “The decision to abruptly suspend and then terminate Kimberly Bryant from the organization she founded upsets and affects the most important stakeholder – the black girls in whom she saw the future.”