Ethics and Equity: An Interview with Regina Holloway, Axon’s VP of Community Impact
Sep 13, 2022
Ethics and equity are two vital elements that are baked into the Axon DNA. A leading software and technology company for public safety, Axon has long served as a thought leader for the responsible development and deployment of new technology.
Axon recently established the Ethics & Equity Advisory Council (EEAC) — an independent body to advise Axon on issues relating to the ethical and equitable development and deployment of new technologies.
Leading the council is Regina Holloway, Axon’s Vice President of Community Impact who has dedicated her career to advocating for communities.
Regina’s journey began as a Clinical Fellow at Suffolk University Law School, where she developed housing discrimination investigations. That work led to the publication of a study on housing discrimination experienced by trans and gender non-conforming residents in the Boston area. The study was published in Yale Law School’s Journal of Law and Feminism.
Regina then practiced criminal defense in the Boston District Courts, where she worked as a Bar Advocate for Suffolk Lawyers for Justice until moving to Chicago to be closer to family.
Around the same time, when Chicago officials released video footage of the shooting and murder of Laquan McDonald, the city erupted in protests and calls for police reform. The tragic incident and political fallout that ensued ultimately led Chicago to establish the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Regina accepted a position with the agency in 2017, and there, she supervised a Major Case Squad which investigated officer involved shootings.
“After [the shooting], it really disrupted the way politics and policing happens in the city,” Holloway says. “I worked supervising the major case squad, and my team handled officer-involved shootings. Here in Chicago, the civilian oversight agency has full jurisdiction of those cases,” she adds.
This situation offered her a unique opportunity to work with young police officers and to see their roles and perspectives from a different angle. Such an experience was a driving force in her decision to transition her career and take her next role at The Policing Project at NYU, where served as a Sr. Program Manager helping to implement the Neighborhood Policing Initiative in the city of Chicago.
In this position, Holloway started to consider what it means to build a stronger relationship between officers and their communities. She says her team asked themselves important questions and explore perspectives of both the community members and the public safety officers.
“Both at The Policing Project and at Axon, there is general understanding that the community is the real end customer and has a vested interested in public safety,” says Holloway. “It's imperative not only to prepare police officers with the right tools and training, but also to help them genuinely and authentically integrate within the communities they serve."
From New York University, Holloway’s career took her to Axon, where she now has the opportunity to bring her public safety ideas to life with access to more tools, bigger teams, and passionate leadership.
She started at Axon in July of 2020, only months after the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota shook the nation. She says, “Axon was in a really interesting point of leadership and asked themselves, ‘Where do we fit into all of this?’”
Holloway notes her company’s reaction to Floyd’s murder: “I liked that they saw themselves having a role. [They thought about] how people feel included, and how all of these pieces [of equity] are fitting together.”
When she first came to Axon, Holloway says, “My role… started by saying, ‘We need to reach out to these communities, we need to understand their needs better and figure out how our products relate to that need.’”
Over time, Holloway has been glad to see her position with the company evolve. “I see this as a long-term position, and if it doesn’t evolve, the work won’t be meaningful.”
Today, her role within the company involves managing ethics and equity committees that advise product teams and leadership in the development of new and current products while identifying how they impact the target communities. “The community is the real customer, and we are leading communities to say, this is what we need to feel safer, and we’re really changing the ecosystem of the way we view product development.”
Holloway adds that she doesn’t think any other company is doing product development in the same way as Axon. “Right now, we are really concentrating on how our community voices affect our product development process.”
On the topic of workplace culture at Axon, Holloway believes the organization is strongly mission-driven. She believes the company’s passion for its mission stems from CEO Rick Smith’s driving force to start the company — personal trauma.
“Our CEO experienced the murder of his two friends during an altercation on the highway. That traumatic response really led [our CEO] to say, ‘How can we make this a safer society for everyone? How can we make the idea that murder is a part of everyday life archaic?’” Holloway says.
Speaking of Smith’s vision, Holloway says, “He’s trying to change the world, and it’s very much part of everything the organization does.”
As a member and a leader of the organization, Holloway maintains a strong personal friendship with Axon’s CEO, who makes it a point to build a relationship with each member of the company.
“Because our CEO builds such strong relationships with every person at Axon, we feel like we’re at a company of ten people,” Holloway says, sharing her positive perspective of workplace culture at the organization.
While Axon’s mission and culture are clear to those who work there, Holloway says she doesn’t believe most people will understand it completely unless they are members of the organization. She shares an example: “He really makes a point to connect with his employees, their passions and concerns.”
Elaborating further on the company’s investment in the ultimate outcomes of their community and their ability to have an impact, Holloway says she believes that “authenticity is at the core of Axon’s culture.”
“The culture at Axon is so driven by authentic change,” says Holloway. “It’s not passive, like, ‘We are going to put a program in place because this is what every other company is doing, and we’ll just say that we did it.’ With everything we do at Axon, we ask ourselves why we are doing it, and how it is directly affecting our communities.”
She adds that this approach “streamlines the thought process and encourages leadership to find the correct answer in a collaborative way.”
While Holloway is passionate about her work, she believes the phrase “public safety” can be loaded, a fact that “makes her position special and challenging.”
She expands on this idea: “There’s strife regarding race relations between police and various communities, and how it plays out involves the core questions that American society is asking about itself right now — that’s our business.”
“The challenging part is that there were a lot of events during the pandemic that related to our work,” says Holloway. Through these events, she feels she and Axon have had ample opportunities to make a difference.
Holloway speaks on her vision for equity as the Vice President of Community Impact for Axon: “In order for Axon to provide an equitable experience to its employees, we need to make sure that people have access to the same opportunities.”
She adds, “This opportunity for me at Axon is huge — it’s the dream of a lifetime. But everyone should have access to be part of an organization like Axon.”
Summing up her thoughts on Axon, her position, and the company’s mission and culture, Holloway says, “I think Axon is so unique and interesting because our organization realizes that we can’t make good products if we don’t have minds from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and genders.”
“We need a collective of different types of people to make the best product. How can we serve a community if we only have a narrow view of what development looks like?” she adds.
“What’s important to our communities? How are cities part of this conversation, when you talk about public safety? We’re seeing an uptick in crime everywhere in 2022,” Holloway says. The leaders at Axon “are thinking about how our company is relating to building an ecosystem of leaders that can assist us in making change — which is very exciting for us as an organization.”
In addition to the employment history referenced above, Regina is also a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity through a partnership between Columbia University and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where she works alongside a “network of changemakers from South Africa and the United States building solidarity and action for a more equitable future.”