As a bilingual education teacher, GSE alumna Kristin Hull, PhD ’06, recalls being on the front lines trying to diminish the multiple disparities her students faced, and tackle the inequities that were often perpetuated by school systems that were slow to change.
She couldn’t sit idly by as she witnessed the gaps grow. Hull teamed up with like-minded equity-focused educators to found North Oakland Community Charter School in 2000 just as the charter school movement was gaining momentum in Oakland. Around that same time, she decided to pursue her doctorate in education.
“I wanted to think about our systems of inequality and really understand all the different trigger points and pressure points for systems change,” Hull said. “I have always been a change maker and I wanted to know more.”
She took a deep dive into researching the myriad of ways students are excluded from education, and conversely, ways that they are welcomed into and feel successful at schools. Her dissertation, (“I’ll See You One Spanish Girl, Raise You One Mien Boy: Labeling and Sorting Mechanisms at Work in an Urban Elementary School,” Professor Jabari Mahiri, advisor, with review committee members Pedro Noguera; Barrie Thorne; and Bruce Fuller), explored labeling and sorting of students as institutional practices through a lens of language, culture, and race.
During her doctoral studies, she was also supporting her father with his trading firm, and purposefully “tiptoeing” around it because finance didn’t appeal to her, nor did the male-dominated industry feel inviting to women. But as she became more engaged in business and finance, she saw glaring inequalities there, too.
“Just like excelling at school often stems from your family and cultural backgrounds aligning with the schooling practices, with much of our schooling experiences designed to promote those who are already excelling. That's exactly how our financial system is set up,” Hull said.
“Looking at equity in educational systems through the lens of language, culture, income level, race and class, all of that translates exactly into what I do in finance, just adding on the patriarchy into our financial system.”
Inequities in Education and Finance
Consider the educational jargon that is used by school systems (such as 504, IEP, ESL/ESOL, ELL, BYOD), and how that unfamiliar language can quickly disenfranchise children and families.
“With that lens, looking at our financial system, I definitely see a wealth of acronyms and different pieces of language that, whether intentional or not, serve to distance and alienate, specifically women and people of color, from getting involved with their finances, whether that be with investing or saving for retirement,” she said.
It’s why in 2007 she transitioned a foundation endowment from a traditional investment portfolio to the country’s first 100% mission-aligned impact investment portfolio. Soon after, she founded Nia Global Solutions, a gender-lens portfolio of solutions-focused companies; and Nia Community, a 100% mission-aligned impact investment fund focused on social change and environmental sustainability.
“There are just so few women in finance. While women do work in philanthropy, the investment industry has not been as welcoming. We are working to change that,” she said, noting that only 1.3% of assets managed in the $70 trillion industry are managed by women and people of color.
Ever the consummate educator and activist, Hull has pushed corporations to develop and implement plans to increase diversity on their boards and within their employees.
Encouraging companies to report on their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Nia recently won shareholder resolutions at IBM and Fortinet, with upcoming resolutions at SunRun and Tesla.
“Nia is really fueled by my desire to achieve environmental sustainability and reduce inequalities through systems change, by increasing accessibility to and participation in financial markets,” she said.
“This isn't actually a big jump from education to finance. This is my theory of change playing out in a different space.”