Pinterest announced this week that it would pay more than $ 20m to advance a sex discrimination lawsuit with a female action group. But for two Black workers who had previously lodged similar grievances, the settlement represents a “slap in the face”.
Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks had been public leaders for Pinterest after leading widely circulated policy changes, including information analysis features that added to vaccine content, which were previously those from technical competitors such as YouTube and Facebook. But on the inside, the two employees said, they were looking back.
In June 2020, after retiring from the Pinterest policy team, they did so went public with claims they had to fight to pay them fairly and were recalled to apply for change. Ozoma also said the company failed to protect it when a colleague shared her personal information with hate sites.
Ozoma and Banks terminated the company with half a year of separation payment. But their public comments laid the foundation for other women and men of color at the company to come forward with similar experiences.
Two months after their departure, former Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher sued the company for sex discrimination – the case that led to a $ 22m settlement this week.
To Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, chief executive of the campaign at civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, the settlement is the latest example of a Silicon Valley company demonstrating unfair treatment of its Black employees.
“It should be noted that Pinterest has still failed to offer as much as an apology or a course of action for accountability to Ifeoma and Aerica – two Black women who encouraged the heroism to speak out in public scrutiny of a toxic work culture. the company that won. this week’s settlement, ”she said.
Banks said she and Ozoma decided to step forward in June in part because Pinterest, like many companies this year, made public statements supporting the Black Lives Matter move.
“I couldn’t stand it and let a company get away with posting Black Lives Matter when they weren’t working as if black life was coming to a head in the conversations they had just come to end with us, ”Banks told the Guardian. “This was about integrity and not letting the company get away by painting themselves as this place for kindness and favor when they were completely rejected, misused and returned to us. against. ”
At the same time, allegations from these women about working conditions at Pinterest have shaken the reputation of the tech company, which has a largely female user base and has been seen for a long time. as a “nice” alternative to the more cutting-edge technical companies in Silicon Valleyand the tech-bro culture.
Brougher made her lawsuit against her former employer public in August in a blog post titled The Pinterest Paradox: Cupcakes and Toxicity, in which she wrote that while 70% of Pinterest users are women, the company is “male-led with little support from female officers. . ”
“Pinterest’s female executives, even at the highest levels, are marginalized, excluded and silent,” she said.
Following the initial complaints from Ozoma and Banks, a group of Pinterest shareholders filed a lawsuit against company executives including CEO Ben Silbermann alleging that they fair to a culture of discrimination. The complaint also alleged that there is a culture of discrimination that has damaged Pinterest’s reputation and its bottom line. He said Silbermann failed to file a complaint.
“He once again put himself in front of the company, surrounding himself with yes men and marginalizing women who wanted to challenge White Pinterest’s male leadership prank,” the suit reads. That case is expected to be heard in 2021.
A spokesman for Pinterest said the company does not share details of the specific circumstances of employees “out of respect for the privacy of those involved”. She said Pinterest issued an independent review of its workplace culture five months ago, which ended this week.
That board recommended Pinterest the need for non-informed bias training for all employees, to provide greater clarity and consistency around their roles and requirements to ensure that diverse candidates are not sufficiently promoted, and creating a centralized team to investigate workplace concerns.
In response to diversity concerns, the company has “added diversity” to its board of directors by encouraging a number of people of color, and “refreshed and expanded” inclusion training for employees. The company also announced a partnership with the NAACP to establish an Inclusion Advisory Council.
“Pinterest is fully committed to making the changes made by the Board’s Special Committee,” said the spokesperson. “We value our staff and know we have a responsibility to build a diverse, fair and inclusive environment for everyone at Pinterest. “
Banks said what she and Ozoma have at Pinterest has become commonplace for color-conscious women in the tech industry, who are hired to increase diversity and then fired for calling out the real issues which they had hired to deal with. She compared their experience to the controversy that surfaced at Google last week when a famous black scientist studying the ethics of artificial intelligence said he was fired after the company attempted its research suppressed as she criticized her diversity efforts.
“This is why diversity is not enough,” Banks said. “This is why production in technology needs to be fair. It’s just not enough for one person of color to be on board or in the C-suite. We need representation in a technology that reflects the true demography of the country. ”
The issues facing Pinterest come at a time of renewed focus on technical companies, from their diversity problems to economic power and lack of regulation under scrutiny. Google has filed three lawsuits against trust in the series this fall and Facebook is facing escalation calls to be broken up.
“The era of devolution in the tech industry is over,” Banks said. “Now is the time for outside forces to come in and manage the industry in a way that refuses to do the business for itself.”