As the Black Lives Matter movement and protests took shape across the world, two weeks ago, two black female ex-Pinterest public policy officials took to Twitter to voice out their concerns regarding discrimination, racism and other pressing issues at the tech company.
The two black women took to Twitter to expose their issues within Pinterest, which later saw their tweets go viral. The posts made by the two brave young women claimed that they were discriminated against, underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager and were subject to retaliation.
The sad part is that the Pinterest chief executive Ben Silbermann tried to play off the situation calmly by making it seem less intense than it actually was, which outraged employees.
The story was brought to light by the Washington Post in an exposé that revealed more concerning details about the entire matter at the company, which was once looked at as a small underdog in the social media scene that saw itself grow to unprecedented heights over the years.
According to the report, during a company-wide gathering on Google Meet in mid-June, more than 100 questions about the allegations had been submitted but Silbermann ended the Q&A by assuring his 2,000 employees that people who work at Pinterest have “really good hearts,” according to an employee in attendance.
Despite the company being known for its predominant female user base and its commitments to racial and gender diversity, these recent claims have shuttered that pre-convinced notion that made Pinterest seem like a safe space for gender equality and race in the current generation of multibillion-dollar start-ups.
The curtain came down after two black women – Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks – who were part of Pinterest’s policy team, quit together at the end of May and soon went public with their claims, which has made it harder for the famous image app to maintain its ‘angel-like picture’.
Former Pinterest employees Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks went public with their claims after quitting together at end of May
After Ozoma and Shimizu went public about their claims, they were later joined by other former employees, who were inspired by their Twitter threads, giving them the courage to speak up about the issues.
The duo revealed that there was little accountability at Pinterest, with some of the subordinates berated, while women found themselves pushed out without warning, and executives in Silbermann’s inner circle faced no consequences despite repeated complaints.
The Washington Post spoke with Ozoma, Banks and five other women who formerly worked at Pinterest, and viewed copies of performance reviews, investigation findings, emails and other documents. The other women spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from Pinterest and further harm to their careers.
“On the one hand, Pinterest was fine with me being the person interviewed on ‘All Things Considered,’ the person who’s doing press all around the world on behalf of the company for an initiative I’m leading,” Ozoma said. “And on the other hand, they just completely did not believe that I had enough sense and enough ability, both financially and otherwise,” to keep pursuing her bias claims, which she felt Pinterest had shrugged off.
Pinterest declined to comment on specific allegations but later on pointed to a note Silbermann sent employees Monday, which was included in a statement announcing that Pinterest’s board of directors hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent review of the company’s culture.
“This is important work that will help us make Pinterest better,” Silbermann wrote, urging his staff to prioritize following up if they were contacted by the firm.
The concerning issue, however, is that hours after Ozoma and Banks tweeted about the claims, Silbermann sent out an email to his staff disputing their allegations though he didn’t make mention of their names.
The email read: “The investigations found that we treated these employees fairly. I know that this message is not nearly detailed enough to give everyone the clarity you may have hoped for.”
The tech world hasn’t been that very kind to women who have taken on roles within the sector, and these stories aren’t anything new in the vast sea of complaints that have been issued by so many, and more in corporate America.
In regards to Ozoma and Banks, if the question was about their ability to perform within their roles, then that was just an excuse since both women had upstanding credentials since they had worked at companies like Google, Facebook and the White House, and had studied at Oxford and Yale respectively.
The pretence that the tech industry is lacking diverse talent in this current generation is rather a poor excuse for not having enough women fill up positions within the industry itself, yet they’re qualified to do so.
The pretence that the tech industry is lacking diverse talent in this current generation is rather a poor excuse for not having enough women fill up positions within the industry itself
In 2015, Pinterest announced its strategy to increase diversity inside the company, including hiring a start-up called Paradigm to train employees and executives in unconscious bias, so that it could hold itself accountable to making meaningful improvements on diversity.
However, this was far from the truth after it was revealed that four percent of Pinterest’s workforce was black, according to the latest figures released by the company.
The reality of it all is shocking, and even more devastating after one of the former black employees at the company informed The Post about how she was told to stop speaking in meetings and watched her manager use the presentations she created to speak to clients instead.
The woman, who was the only black person on her team, said an executive joked that she should act as “the servant” and “serve” her co-workers at a team dinner. “Everyone knew it was wrong, but nobody said anything at that moment,” said the ex-employee, who said she was too scared of retaliation to report the incident to HR.
Another black ex-employee said a top marketing executive told her that she was surprised that marketing material showing a black woman, created by the ex-employee, was successful.
Most of the women said they were made to feel incompetent after raising these issues. Most said they believed their experience inside Pinterest was unique until they heard what happened to Ozoma and Banks.
When these kinds of stories come to light, it goes deep to show how far as a society we need to grow, and why we have to do better when it comes to diversity inclusion regardless of gender, colour, and race.
It’s not just the Silicon Valley or corporate America but the same issues have continued to ravage other communities across the globe too, with Africa also one of the continents that need to take these matters seriously, especially when it comes to women within tech industries.
Author: Allan Bangirana
Allan Bangirana has a taste for all kinds of topics and usually writes about tech, entertainment, sports and community projects that make a difference in society.