By Frank Starling
Amid a global pandemic and global Black Lives Matter protests, summer 2020 has also brought about a reckoning for tech companies being held to account for racism and sexism experienced by their employees. In June, Aerica Shimizu Banks and Ifeoma Ozoma, two Black women in senior positions at Pinterest, left the company citing a toxic workplace of racial bias. Banks and Ozoma shared their experiences of unfair pay, racist comments and retaliation. Shortly after, the company’s CEO Ben Silbermann, admitted that ‘part of our culture is broken’, at Pinterest.
Current and former employees from around the world came forward in support of Banks and Ozoma, sharing their own experiences of racism at the company. What came next was a global movement, calling out the fact that many prominent companies were using social media to promote their support of Black Lives Matter, while their own employees described racism within their workplaces. This dissonance between an image of diversity and inclusion through social media channels, versus the reality of workplace cultures revealed the importance of employees coming forward. In a world where brands have so much control of the public image they put out, it’s important to know the difference between a PR exercise and a true commitment to anti-racism.
Like many other new stories of racism and discrimination in tech, attention eventually waned, Pinterest expressed its commitment to investigating and transforming company culture and the world continued to Pin and spin. Pinterest was brought back into the headlines when earlier this month, the company’s second in command, COO Francoise Brougher, was fired. Brougher cited gender exclusion and discrimination across the company. As one of few women in the C-suite, she was left out of key decision-making. This makes it particularly poignant that she notes CEO Ben Sibermann cited not ‘being collaborative’, as the reason for her dismissal, even having achieved measurable revenue wins for the company.
Brougher’s story is important. However, what’s missing from press coverage of her dismissal is a link between racism and sexism at Pinterest, and many other companies. In much of the coverage of Banks and Ozoma’s experiences at Pinterest, they are described as ‘two Black employees’, omitting that they are women. Conversely, although Brougher left months after Banks and Ozoma’s story broke, the emphasis is placed on gender discrimination without acknowledging similar patterns with racism. In an interview with Bloomberg, Brougher attributed Banks and Ozoma with giving her the courage to come forward, however few reporters have done the work to make connections between these stories. It’s as if racism and sexism are experienced separately and in a vacuum.
Understanding the intersections of race and gender in experiences of racism and sexism in the workplace is important. Both race and gender are social constructs with real-life implications. Individuals being prejudged and treated unfairly because society’s projections of race and gender onto them leads to the same result: a toxic workplace culture.
Originally posted on Forbes