The Free-Thinker: Tania Ibarra

Tania Ibarra helps young businesses navigate structures that weren’t built for them, and she guides companies through a nonthreatening process of intentional and effective equity work.
Tania Ibarra

Tania Ibarra, the co-founder of Step Up: Equity Matters, aims to break down barriers to access and opportunity. Photo by Paulius Musteikis

Amy Gannon taught Tania Ibarra the phrase “popcorn brain.” They both had it, says Ibarra — all these exciting ideas that pop to the surface. “I had been conditioned to sort of limit the number of ideas I put out in the world,” says Ibarra, the co-founder of Step Up: Equity Matters. “But [Gannon] helped me appreciate that strength in being an ideas generator.”

And Ibarra’s ideas aren’t frenetic or unproductive, says Jenny Price, who nominated Ibarra for the Free-Thinker Award. “It’s very focused energy,” says Price, who runs her own communications firm, JP Strategies. “She just moves with such purpose.”

Ibarra’s work involves three main efforts: Through Step Up she helps established businesses embed diversity, equity and inclusion within their strategies, operations and cultures through innovative assessment and training that help uproot bias and spark lasting change; as a consultant with a background in finance and accounting, she supports startups, many owned by women and BIPOC; and she supports the Latinx community as a member of several community boards, including the Latino Professionals Association, which she helped found.

Both the entrepreneurial ecosystem and many organizational systems were envisioned through a white lens, Ibarra says, and her mission is to break down barriers to access and opportunity. She helps young businesses navigate structures that weren’t built for them, and she guides companies through a nonthreatening process of intentional and effective equity work. “She is a persistent mentor, the voice of clarity and honesty in hard conversations and a cheerleader for those working to find solutions to the problems that we must solve in our community,” Price says.

Ibarra credits the way she thinks to being an Ecuadorian who had to fit into several molds. She attended a school her parents couldn’t have afforded if it hadn’t been for the scholarships she received to attend. “I grew up navigating different worlds, going to a very rich neighborhood with a lot of resources and then living my life in a neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of resources.” Then she moved to the U.S. for college and was introduced to more systems, physical geographies and cultural lanes. “I think I’m just conditioned to, without judgment, understand the way things work in different systems and different organizations, and then create paths of how to navigate them rather than hitting a wall,” Ibarra says.

She recognized this unique talent, and it motivated Ibarra to leave the corporate world to start her entrepreneurial journey, which was a decision Ibarra says Gannon actually helped her make. “Amy did something kind of similar where she was an established professional in academia and she decided to start Doyenne. She was very pivotal in that decision-making process,” Ibarra says. “One thing that she helped me understand, through her decision-making process and through my decision-making process, ultimately we felt that we were more effective outside the system of the patriarchy and masculinity.”

Now Ibarra is trying to decide where and how her skill set has the most impact in changing systems — does she make more of an impact as a full-time CEO of Step Up? Or what is the next consulting phase to help these businesses grow past the startup stage?

She’ll have to think on it.

Read more about The Amys here.

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