So there we were browsing through Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 listing when we got an Islandista inkling. It’s kind of like Spidey sense but only goes off for the fabulous and Caribbean.
Something about the lady with big smile and big curly hair just struck us, even though there was nothing especially telltale about the name Maxine Williams, Facebook’s recently-appointed Global Head of Diversity.
A quick and cursory Google search brought up articles like My Black, Island Identity from the UK’s Guardian Newspaper – an eloquent exploration of where black island identity fits in the United States which has its own ‘native’ black population and where Caribbean people are second or third generation at most. The piece was peppered with mentions of Caribbean giants like Aime Cesaire, Derek Walcott and Peter Minshall.
“Hmm, could it be?” we wondered in excitement. What would be the route that would take a Minshall-quoting islandista to a top position at the social media behemoth?
The answer came in this Trinidad Express article which celebrated her Ebony Power 100 pick and told the story of how the girl from Woodbrook charted a path from Trinidad to Facebook.
And as it so happens, it’s a quintessentially West Indian success story – a bright girl (an alumna of the prestigious SJC) who studied hard and had confidence and ambition.Her personal account on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In site, of how she got accepted to Yale, is a story of “trying a ting.”
“At the age of 16, I left my home on the island of Trinidad to navigate the immigrant landscape of America. I arrived with very little understanding of American cultural norms and no road map to success. However, I did come from a people who, through the pressures of slavery and indentureship, developed a faith in achieving the impossible along with a particularly high tolerance for risk. The adage that is often heard in Trinidad is “just try a ting!” In other words, assume no limit to your potential to overcome obstacles and give every challenge your best shot. “
She later attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and she said she wouldn’t have know about the “Golden Rhodes” were it not for her Guyanese/Bajan friend who had also won one.
On her return home with her law degrees, she immersed herself in a range of activities, including teaching at UWI St. Augustine, working as a diversity professional and human rights coordinator and possibly most awesomely, playing the wonderfully wicked Isis Des Vignes in the classic Trini soap opera Westwood Park (and that’s why she looked familiar!).
Eventually her path took her north and on to Facebook, where she was appointed in September…and we couldn’t be prouder! She certainly has a huge task ahead of her because, while as an immigrant, she is not out of place in Silicon Valley, as a woman of colour, she is among a micro-minority.
There has been increasing discussion and scrutiny about Silicon Valley’s demographics and as the head of diversity at one of the biggest powerbrokers in tech, Maxine is poised to actually do something about it and is already taking part in these discussions. We look forward to seeing her blaze new trails!