Get to Know Selina Lao Mason, Program Manager!

Pictured above: Selina, her husband Ian, and their 5 month old nephew Elijah at Thanksgiving. 

Selina Lao Mason is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a first-generation San Franciscan. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley where she double-majored in molecular cell biology and rhetoric.

Before PTBi 

Selina winning the ASUC Student Advocate position

I’ve always been passionate about equity issues and how to fight for the little guy. In college, I ran for student government and served as the Student Advocate. That year (and throughout my undergraduate years), I dedicated much of my time and energy to fighting for equitable policies for undergraduate and graduate students. This included casework where individual students needed an advocate to assist them in securing financial aid or an advocate to be there for them when they were discriminated against in a class.  

It’s my background in advocacy that drew me to PTBi — but I had no idea how expansive and how many structural and discriminatory barriers that Black women face in birthing. I didn’t understand the extent of the problem until I joined PTBi. 

My role at PTBi 

A little over four years ago, I started at PTBi as a Program Analyst. At the time, I handled administrative support like scheduling and basic logistics — whatever needed to be done. That's how I ended up working in operations. At that time, PTBi was smaller and a lot more like a startup, which was great because I've always wanted to work for a nonprofit and I was really getting that boots-to-the-ground experience.  

Today, I am a Program Manager. That means: I manage our events, our policy core, and our collective impact. It's a lot! There were many different areas at PTBi where I felt I could utilize my strengths and develop. For example, I saw events as an important but underutilized vehicle to translate the impactful research and work that we're doing. How often do we conduct amazing research, publish a paper and no community dissemination or change comes from it? I saw that as an opportunity to grow our reach and at the same time, make an impact. 

Learn more about the Collaboratories that Selina produces here.   

What I’ve learned 

The framework of ‘Racism as a root cause” has greatly impacted my worldview personally and professionally. I believe that you can look at any part of a program, initiative, or company and be actively working on equity reparations. 

What do I mean by that? Let's take my event management responsibilities as an example. There are so many ways to incorporate small, Black-owned businesses and vendors and to think consciously about diversifying. Don’t just go with what's easiest but go with what is going to lift up a community. You’re getting funds to spend on these projects — so think about how you can put those dollars into circulation among the community that you are trying to center.  

It’s not just about the money — it's the relationship building as well. It is about building trust with communities and that takes time. A lot of the time, people want to rush things and be on a strict deadline. Don’t get me wrong, I love timelines, but I've learned that sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up and it is so much more valuable to get community input than it is to do things on the timeline that you think it should be done. 

It applies to every single job: No matter what you're doing you can always apply a ‘Racism as a root cause,’ equity, and reparations lens. I had never really thought about it before and it has really stuck with me. No matter where I go, I will be sure to do work from this perspective moving forward.  

What inspires me 

Selina and her family including her husband, and newest brothers and sister after Easter Sunday

I always think about my Black colleagues who talk about how this is not work that they can just shut their laptop on and feel removed from. This work is about their lives.

I try to treat my work that same way, because Black people are my family and my community. I am Chinese American, but my kids are going to be half-Chinese and half-Black. I acknowledge that I didn't have the same experiences growing up, but we need people from every background to be treating it like you cannot just close your laptop on it. That’s the only way that we can reach a place where there is true equity. You cannot just expect Black people to do all the work, right, so that is what inspires me. You lift as you climb.