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First gen talent: A study on those who are first in their family to hold a professional career [current project]

In collaboration with Bernice Maldonado, I am currently conducting a diversity and inclusion study on finance and utility professionals in California. This study is the first of its kind, with a unique focus on the impact of class on one’s professional experience.

The challenge: We hypothesize that “First Generation Professionals” (FGPs) may hold unique skills that are often overlooked. Likewise, they may experience both barriers and resources throughout their career that non-FGPs may not encounter. However, very little research has been conducted on FGPs. FirstGenTalent aims to fill that knowledge gap, and provide groundbreaking research to answer the question “what is the experience of first generation professionals, and how can companies better support and utilize their unique talents?”

The methodology: A mixed-methods approach will be used, consisting of an online survey followed by a series of phone interviews.

The results: To be released in 2019.


Sisters in Action Sports Diversity and Inclusion initiative
[current project]

Sisters in Action Sports (SAS) is a nonprofit that hosts action sports events focused on women and girls. I’ve recently been brought on in a volunteer capacity as Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Operations.

The challenge: How can SAS create events that are even more inclusive, fun and welcoming to those on the gender spectrum, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those of diverse ages and abilities?

The methodology: Custom design, launch, and analysis of SAS’s first-ever participant survey, alongside DEI strategy sessions and business planning for the leadership team.

The result: Together, we’ll launch SAS’s first diversity and inclusion strategy, hand-in-hand with the implementation of a business plan with the goal of becoming sustainable. Results TBD.


“Gatekeepers and Godfathers:” new research on intersectionality in action sports

In collaboration with Linköping University in Sweden, I designed and led a study in the unique crossover of intersectional gender studies and action sports--specifically, snowboarding. As a highly unstructured sport, little is known about how participants access and move through the sport, and whether inequities exist in that access and movement. My study aimed to help fill that knowledge gap. 

The challenge: This purpose of this study, titled “Gatekeepers and Godfathers: an intersectional analysis of the impact of personal social networks on snowboarding progression,” was to discover what impact, if any, social networks have on an individual’s skill progression, and whether any differences emerge based on gender, class, race, or age. 

The methodology: Semi-structured interviews with 10 demographically diverse snowboarders in Washington State, USA, were conducted and analyzed using Castells’ networking theory, applied through an intersectional gender studies lens. 

The result: The study revealed that personal social networks are highly important to snowboarding skill progression, with nine progression benefits noted. It was also found that the type of relationship was important, with the roles of gatekeepers, “godfathers,” and crews as the most critical for progression. Lastly, respondents indicated a variety of methods to access social networks, including social media, events, organizations, industry employment and through existing social networks. An application of Castells’ networking theory revealed two overlapping values systems, one based on perceived snowboarding ability and commitment, and one based on alignment of demographics with those who are most valued in the snowboarding world--mainly young, white, middle class men. The research closes with potential solution ideas to improve equitability and inclusion, which can be applied from the grassroots level to large-scale implementation. 

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Catalyze Seattle: groundbreaking research on gender in startups

Catalyze Seattle is the first study on gender in Seattle startups. I conceptualized, designed, and led this groundbreaking study, with the collaboration of Ruchika Tulshyan, gender equity expert and author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace

The challenge: Discover the “behind-the-scenes” experiences of Seattle startups, with a gender and racial equity lens, in order to unveil how to create more equitable local businesses from inception. 

The methodology: Drawing from decades of previous research on gender in business and startups, we designed a survey that was completed by over 300 Seattle startup founders and employees. Data was collected using Qualtrics, and analyzed across a number of variables. 

The result: The data revealed six key findings, which are publicly available at www.CatalyzeSeattle.org. Perhaps most surprising, and exciting, was the discovery of what I coined as the “Female Founder Effect.” In essence, it means that the percentage of women on the founding team is linked to diversity. Women, people of color, and parents of all genders were more likely to work at a startup that has more women on the founding team. 

This project gained significant media recognition by the Huffington Post, Seattle Times, Geekwire, and more. Since the release of the data, it has been used as a resource by countless startups, changemakers, and technology companies including Microsoft. 


Transforming Tech Events

Recently, I worked with a technology event management company to build their Seattle community from the ground up. I pitched to their CEO the idea of simultaneously trying some low-risk diversity and inclusion techniques, which I would “translate” to make sense for their events. The CEO agreed, and we partnered for over a year to innovate and grow their events. 

The challenge: How can we make our events more diverse and truly inclusive, all while building a brand new Seattle community? 

The methodology: I used a variety of techniques such as partnering with local diversity organizations in speaker sourcing and marketing, updating the event language, designing and implementing a new code of conduct, and planning the sequence of speakers, event location, and other details to help all event attendees feel safe and welcome. We rolled out these interventions through a series of meetups and conferences over 18 months. 

The result: Not only did their Seattle events become incredibly diverse, they also became hugely popular. At last count, a sold out conference for software engineers boasted near gender parity, 18% LGBTQ+, nearly ⅓ people of color, and an age range from 18 to over 70. For the tech industry, particularly in Seattle, these statistics are virtually unheard of. The events received rave feedback from attendees, stating how welcome they felt, and how interesting and fun the events were due to the diversity of attendees and excellent networking. An unexpected bonus was that tech recruiters got the chance to meet talent from a wide variety of backgrounds, diversifying the pipeline of tech talent into high-value jobs. 

Seattle Startup Week Martha Burwell

Diversity and inclusion dialogue with Seattle’s tech and startup industries

While consulting and research are part of creating change, ongoing dialogue is also key. Over the past several years, I’ve led and participated in various formats of community discussion.

The challenge: Engage Seattle’s tech and startup communities in meaningful dialogue concerning intersectional gender equity.

The methodology: Participate in panels, conferences, meetups, and community events. 

The results: While I can’t list every event I’ve spoken at, a few highlights include: 

  • #DiversityInTech: Exploring Intersections of Race and Gender at Work

    • Event: General Assembly community panel

    • Role: Panel moderator

  • Understanding Unconscious Gender Bias

    • Event: ChickTech “Advancing the Careers of Technical Women” Conference

    • Role: Round table discussion leader

  • Designing Equity: How to Boost the Gender Diversity of Your Tech Team

    • Event: U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Commission tech meetup

    • Role: Panelist

  • Beyond Leaning In: Patterns of bias preventing gender equity at work and what we can do to fix it

    • Event: Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence staff “lunch and learn”

    • Role: Expert presenter

  • Catalyzing Equity: Unpacking the data on gender in Seattle startups

    • Event: New Tech Northwest meetup

    • Role: Presenter

  • Good for Business and the World: Building diversity into your startup

    • Event: Seattle Startup Week

    • Role: Panel organizer and moderator

Equalisea Martha Burwell Gender Equity


I believe strongly in the sharing of data, and the decolonization of information. I also hold a philosophy that diversity, inclusion, and equity work is a life-long process. Even though I hold a master degree in intersectional gender studies, that doesn’t mean I’m “done” learning about intersectionality. As an articulation of those beliefs, in 2015 I created EqualiSea.org, a blog documenting my ongoing learning, and sharing it with the world. Though this project is currently paused, the archives can be viewed at www.EqualiSea.org. 

The challenge: What does intersectionality mean in the unique Seattle context? 

The methodology: For this project, I relied heavily on two methods popular in feminist research: semi-structured interviews and “writing as learning.” I interviewed legal experts, anti-racism experts, politicians, and activists. I wrote on topics such as the interrconnection of LGBTQ rights and gender equity, the link between environmental activism and women’s rights, and more. 

The result: Over the course of two years, I published more than 30 articles uniquely focused on intersectionality in Seattle. My writing has been used as a resource for students, nonprofits, and activists throughout the region, and has furthered an important community conversation as well as give visibility to many of Seattle’s inspiring changemakers.