Meet Nicole Isaac: Fmr Obama Aide, Start-up Founder & Head Of US Public Policy At LinkedIn

Although women make up 51% of the US population, when it comes to being represented at our highest level of government, they only make up a mere 19% in Congress. When it comes to women of color across both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the number dips to an appalling 4.5% low. How can it be 2017 in America and this disparity still exists? Is being a politician the only way to create meaningful change across the country, especially when it comes to marginalized groups and minorities?

While policy has real world impact on our everyday lives, we should also be paying attention to how people in the private sector, as well as advocates, activists, and persistent #resistors are leading the groundswell of change. After all, politicians are representing the people, and by making our voices and issues heard, we can do a lot to make sure they act in our best interests.

One woman who has seen both sides of the coin first hand, having worked in the public and private sector, is Nicole Isaac, a badass changemaker after our own heart whose career journey is the type of blueprint that can motivate, encourage and inspire an entire generation to know the difference they can make.

From her early days growing up in a Bronx housing project, to becoming a legislative aide to former Vice President Joe Biden and special assistant to former President Barack Obama for legislative affairs, Nicole understands what it means to be a woman of color working for greater opportunities not just for herself, but for others around her.

Today, she is the head of US Public Policy at LinkedIn, working with local, state, federal and international governments, providing critical labor insights for investment opportunities. Over the years, she developed a passion for ensuring everyone, no matter your age, race, gender, socio-economic status or zip code, have access to viable opportunities and resources.

We spoke with Nicole to get to know her background a little better, gain insight to how she is using her own opportunities to create space for others today at LinkedIn, and find out what it was like to have President Obama as a boss!

Tell us about your background growing up in the Bronx and how that has impacted your desire to get into advocacy work?

I was raised in one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the Bronx. My mother, a Jamaican immigrant, came to the U.S. to complete her college education, and taught my brothers and me the importance of education as the ultimate key to success. Through this upbringing, I worked hard in school at a young age, and received a full scholarship to attend private school in Riverdale.

The juxtaposition between these two worlds – a prestigious school in a nice neighborhood and my home in the Bronx – encouraged me to excel, and I resolved to dedicate my life to working towards expanding opportunities for individuals from economically and socially disadvantaged  backgrounds.

While we think of America as the land of freedom, sadly those in certain zip codes and with certain socio-economic standings don’t have access to the same types of opportunities. What are some key strategies to make the playing field truly even?

Unfortunately while our nation has made great strides, we still see that individuals from particular backgrounds have less of an opportunity to succeed in our great nation. I think educational access is critical, in addition to greater coordination between the skills that we educate for and the jobs for which we hire. We also have to leverage public private partnerships to maximize best practices.

Tell us about your roles working in the White House and what you learned during that time.

I have served in several capacities in federal government, including as special assistant to President Barack Obama for Legislative Affairs, and I was deputy director of legislative affairs  for Vice President Joseph R. Biden. In these roles, I served as a liaison to Congress on issues and priorities for the President, Vice President, and the Administration. I also worked with Members across the aisle to accomplish shared objectives.

I learned a tremendous amount during my five years at the White House. I worked with some of the most dedicated and committed public servants, and was constantly reminded of the great responsibilities that accompany these roles. I learned how to develop consensus, work towards mutual accommodation, and assist with the passage of policies that can positively impact the lives of American across the country.

What was it like have the President/Vice President as a boss?

Working with the President and Vice President of the US was a tremendous honor and there are a multitude of lessons that I have continued to take with me throughout the rest of my career.  First, they reminded us that every voice is an important one and must be heard. They also reminded us that it was critical to understand every aspect of the problem before truly developing potential solutions to address a challenge. Finally, I valued the inclusivity and diversity of the White House– as the President, Vice President, and their teams worked very hard to ensure that more people could experience the White House and be touched by the policies of this Administration.

You are the founder of Code The Streets, a unique accelerator that helps start-ups tackle social problems. Can you tell us more about Code the Streets and the work you are doing?

I founded Code the Streets because I saw the opportunity to change the terrible reality that each day in America, youth are killed on their way to school and imprisoned by the streets around them. In a country where inner-city children have access to the internet, the possibility to also connect them to educational and economic resources is endless.

As a result of this, I founded Code the Streets, a technology accelerator dedicated to increasing resources for inner-city communities through the development and reach of the technology industry. It was my non-profit that led me to my role at LinkedIn, and I’ve worked hard over the last two years to ensure that we can leverage tools like LinkedIn to expand access to resources for those who may not currently have them.

Your vast array of experience has now landed you the role of head of U.S. public policy at LinkedIn. What do you do in your role? What are some of the most effective ways the private sector can work with the public sector?

As Head of U.S. Public Policy for LinkedIn, I am responsible for LinkedIn’s day-to-day policy and government affairs portfolio, taking on primary responsibility for engaging with the Administration, Congress and policy-oriented NGOs on issues ranging from privacy and security to workforce policy issues.

I also conduct Economic Graph outreach and engagement to educate the U.S. government and other U.S. policy stakeholders on our Economic Graph work. As a private sector workforce development partner, we work with government, non-profits, and academic institutions to advance workforce development solutions. This includes sharing best practices, leveraging information and data tools, and collectively identifying innovative solutions to impact workforce modernization.

How can companies help create a more inclusive workforce where women and minorities succeed in the workplace?

Research clearly shows that companies with more diverse and inclusive teams are consistently more successful. To create a more inclusive workforce, companies can develop programs, initiatives and cultural principles aimed at fostering an environment where employees of all backgrounds feel welcome and receive more of the support they need in order to do their best work.

At LinkedIn, our company’s vision – and the platform we’ve built to help us achieve our goals – position us uniquely as an advocate for workplace diversity and inclusion globally. We aspire to establish best practices and inspire companies around the world to also commit to building diverse and inclusive workplaces.

LinkedIn is dedicated to driving diversity efforts through employee-driven learning and development groups. We strive to empower LinkedIn employees to drive change through individual and organizational projects and programs. These programs are piloting our most innovative approaches to fostering diversity and inclusion at LinkedIn through coaching, visibility programs and opportunities to showcase talent through executive sponsorship.

Additionally, LinkedIn is challenging standard recruiting tactics in the industry. By changing where we recruit, how we recruit and who we recruit, we are aiming to break down barriers to create opportunity for a more diverse pool of candidates.

Can you explain some of the barriers that exist in low-income communities which contribute to lack of job skills and education?

The government and private sector must work together to connect the workforce with job opportunities. In low-income communities, this means we should be expanding work-based learning through career and technical education programs to ensure that people are receiving the tools they need to be successful in the current landscape.

Additionally, it’s important to align the skills in demand with the local workforce. This may include workforce modernization such as more coordination between jobs centers, career training programs, and educational programs. This may also include more comprehensive information about employer training programs, and apprenticeships.

Tell us about LinkedIn’s Economic Graph and what you hope to achieve with this project,

LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for the global workforce. With the wealth of data that exists on LinkedIn, over the last 2 years, the Economic Graph team has worked in over 10 countries around the world, dozens of cities, and with international organizations on reducing the skills gap, maximizing investments in the workforce, and on aligning educational and training curriculum for in-demand jobs.

It’s a digital map of the global economy that, when complete, will include member profiles for all 3.3 billion members of the global workforce, every single employer and their job opportunities, and all educational institutions. We want to be able to highlight the skills needed for every job, the potential opportunities, and all of the places where an individual can develop the skills needed for that job.

A question we like to ask our interviewees: What makes you a powerful woman?

I am someone who prides herself on being able to walk in any neighborhood and interact with everyone. I am also someone whose values drive everything that I do. I hope that I can be impactful in the spaces that I’m in, and influence the lives of others, because so many individuals have influenced my own life.


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