When the Google News Initiative (GNI) first announced they were tackling the issue of “diversity,” many thought it was just another sop to progress. But, as it turned out, the move was — at least on the surface — genuine. But that didn’t mean that its new and first-ever head of media representation, LaToya Drake, didn’t face her fair share of issues when she first got there.
“In the beginning, it was rough for a number of reasons,” she said to AfroTech. “But through a great confluence of events at the Google News Initiative, I was able to shift the perception and the goal of the role. It became ‘hot,’ if you will, to care about these sorts of things. But, as I tell everyone I work with, this is a movement, not a moment.”
As a founding member of the GNI, as it’s known, Drake provides television and radio commentary on news, social media, and pop culture trends, usually on high-profile outlets and news programs. The goal, ultimately, is to not only change the conversation around the sensitive issue of race but to also facilitate a paradigm shift. Drake acknowledges that her role is a lot bigger than the job description.
“As part of my role in the Google News Initiative, I’m helping new voices — particularly Black voices — emerge in ways that were never thought possible before,” she said. “Black women at this company, especially, can have the most impact on what’s to come. And they don’t fully realize it, yet — though I’m happy to say that they’re slowly, but surely, becoming aware of it — but we always have to ask ourselves, who’s building these people? Who’s challenging these people? And how are we helping people reconsider their own biases, especially in the workplace?”
Google sometimes doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to dealing with marginalized voices. But, that’s something that this role appears to be tackling, merely by virtue of its existence. And while Drake admits she doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to that sort of thing, she does advise that “putting one foot in front of the other” is the best way to go forward.
“I think the best advice I can give people is to be interested, but not intimidated, by what’s going on,” she said. “The paradigm shift isn’t just happening at the Google News Initiative — it’s happening everywhere — and the path to change is far from linear. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get disillusioned — and there’s never a reason to be.”
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited & condensed for clarity.